India to Discuss Rakhine Situation During Modi's Myanmar Visit

Senior Indian diplomats insist that the Rohingya issue is not just about security but also contain developmental and humanitarian elements.

New Delhi: Even as Rohingya refugees continue to stream out of Rakhine, India on Friday said that stimulating economic activity in the restive Myanmarese province could help reduce communal tensions and that discussions on that front would be held during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Nay Pyi Taw next week.

The Rohingya crisis was thrust in the international spotlight again recently after terrorists attacked 30 police posts and army base in Rakhine in a coordinated manner on August 26. Credit for the attack was claimed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which had also taken responsibility for October 2016 attack on border posts.

The security crackdown has led to a major exodus of thousands of Rohingya community into Bangladesh, which has inevitably led to tragedy.

In the meantime, an Indian minister had indicated that New Delhi was on the verge of deporting Rohingya refugees, numbering around 14,000.

India reacted immediately to the terror attack, but had so far remained quiet on the unfolding humanitarian crisis. New Delhi has always supported the Myanmar government on the situation in Rakhine, even when the latter faced criticism at international platforms.

Demonstrating its total support for the Myanmar regime, India has never used the term ‘Rohingya’ in an official statement. Myanmar asserts that there is no group called the ‘Rohingya’ and rather terms as “Bengalis’, thereby denying that they have been living in the country for generations.

Speaking to the media, a senior MEA official said that India had “reached out Myanmar government after that (attack) on what is state of play and what can be done”.

On August 24, the Advisory commission on Rakhine state, chaired by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, submitted its final report

“It is a fairly elaborate report with exhaustive recommendations. We are told by Myanmar government that they are giving very careful and positive consideration to the recommendations in the report,” said joint secretary (Bangladesh-Myanmar) Sripriya Ranganathan.

After submitting the report, Myanmar announced that a new ministerial committee will be formed to implement the commission’s recommendations. An advisory board, comprising of foreign and Myanmar experts, will also be constituted to provide “external perspective”.

Modi will be visiting Myanmar on September 5-7, after the BRICS summit in Xiamen, China.

“We will be discussing how India can help them in addressing the situation that is prevailing in the state,” Ranganathan said.

However, she denied that proposal for deportation of Rohingyas marked a change in Indian policy. In line with government position, she implied that as illegal immigrants, Rohingyas could be deported. “In so far as illegal immigrants, that is again a very long state and established procedure based on Indian law, which we will continue to follow. There is absolutely no change on that,”

When asked whether India was only looking at Rohingya through a security lens, the Indian diplomat disagreed.

“It is a fact that the situation in Rakhine state has variety of aspects. It has developmental aspect, it has humanitarian aspect and it has security aspects. All aspects have been correctly highlighted by the Kofi Annan committee in their report, recently submitted. We are not by any means diminishing any of the aspects. They are all relevant, important,” she said.

Socio-economic aid

The Indian diplomat pointed out that New Delhi had been “consistently” trying to encourage with Myanmar government to “find ways to stimulate some socio economic development”.

“Because, if there is active economic activity, then many of the problems will at least reduce, if not disappear,” she added.

India has provided $1 million humanitarian assistance in the past, which was mainly used to re-build schools destroyed in previous bouts of violence.

Referring to the assistance for rakhine state, she said that while it has been used, there was still a “great deal that needs to be done”.

India’s largest development project in Myanmar – the multi-modal Kaladan project – starts in Rakhine state. “We are very confident that once entire corridor is functional, it will have positive impact on the state and we will continue to work with the government of Myanmar on see how much more we can do to support this”.

Advocating that Aung San Suu Kyi-led government has to be given space to draw up plans, she said, “I think that the Government is a new government. It is obviously taking its own steps towards devising policies that it believes are correct for the country and people”.

To a question whether indian investors can draw comfort at all from much-criticised slow pace of reforms to provide political stability, she said that India “respects” Myanmar’s right to devise its own path.

“We totally respect that and that is something that we would expect Indian companies to respect that and work with Myanmar Government how best their commercial interests can be fulfilled or advanced by the prevailing regulatory environment in Myanmar. We have no doubt that the opportunities for Indian companies and the kind of skills that they bring to the table would be recognised and appreciated by Myanmar authorities and they will find the space to bring their resources and skills to bear on my economy,” she said.

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