Three days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed concern over “extremist violence” in Rakhine but did not mention the persecution of the minority Rohingya Muslim community, Dhaka, in an unusual move on Saturday, asked New Delhi to put pressure on the Myanmar government to take steps for peace and stability, and to stop the flow of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh.
This prompted New Delhi to say in the evening that India urged that the situation in Rakhine state be handled with “restraint and maturity”, with focus on the “welfare of the civilian population alongside those of the security forces”.
“It is imperative that violence is ended and normalcy in the state is restored expeditiously,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
Earlier, Bangladesh High Commissioner Syed Muazzem Ali met Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar at South Block on Saturday afternoon to explain his country’s position on the issue. Ali, sources said, went to visit Jaishankar on the instructions of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
“We explained our difficulties to the Indian government about the present crisis. The Rohingyas are coming in thousands to Bangladesh… they are a huge burden to us economically. We hardly have enough land to provide shelter to the refugees,” a top Bangladesh government source told The Sunday Express.
Ali explained to Jaishankar that Bangladesh was “under tremendous strain”, sources said. The 40-minute meeting was part of Bangladesh’s outreach to the international community to “put pressure on Myanmar to do something to restore peace and stability” and “stop the flow of refugees”, they said.
This was the first meeting the Bangladeshi envoy had with a top Indian official in New Delhi since the Rohingya refugee crisis erupted. The Indian envoy in Dhaka, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, too has been apprised of Bangladesh’s concerns, the sources said. Hasina has raised the issue with other countries, including with the visiting Turkish First Lady Emine Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Bangladeshi officials in Dhaka told The Sunday Express over the phone that Dhaka is now making diplomatic efforts to request the UN, Germany and the International Committee of the Red Cross, besides India, to set up a “safe zone” in Myanmar to ensure safety, security, food and shelter for the thousands of Rohingya fleeing violence and possible death.
“A safe zone will also help to stop further influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh, which is already overburdened with an exodus of 1,64,000 Rohingyas in the last two weeks,” said an official in Dhaka.
On Saturday evening, the MEA official spokesperson said, “We remain deeply concerned about the situation in Rakhine State in Myanmar and the outflow of refugees from that region. We had earlier strongly condemned the terrorist attacks on Myanmar security forces in Rakhine State. The two countries have since affirmed their shared determination to combat terrorism and not allow its justification under any pretext.”
This statement was markedly different from what the Prime Minister had said in Myanmar — where, with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi by his side, he had praised her “brave leadership” of Myanmar’s peace process, and described the current crisis in Rakhine as “extremist violence”.
“We hope that all stakeholders together can find a way out in which unity and territorial integrity of Myanmar is respected,” he had said on Wednesday, in a joint statement with Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw.
New Delhi’s position was viewed as strategy to protect its ties with Myanmar when Suu Kyi is under increasing pressure over the Rohingya crisis, which UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned could lead to ethnic cleansing and regional destabilisation. Though India has extended assistance for Rakhine, it has taken a strong stand on the influx of about 40,000 Rohingya over the years, vowing last month to deport them all.