Myanmar’s delaying tactics blocking Rohingya return: Bangladesh PM

Rohingya refugees arriving by boat at Shah Parir Dwip on the Bangladesh side of the Naf River after fleeing violence in Myanmar. (File/AFP/Adib Chowdhury)
Updated 26 September 2018
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Myanmar’s delaying tactics blocking Rohingya return: Bangladesh PM

  • Patience is growing thin with Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and its military that wields the “main power” there
  • Myanmar has said it is ready to take back the refugees and has built transit centers to house them initially on their return

NEW YORK: Bangladesh’s leader accused neighboring Myanmar of finding new excuses to delay the return of more than 700,000 Rohingya who were forced across the border over the past year, and said in an interview late Tuesday that under no circumstance would the refugees remain permanently in her already crowded country.
“I already have 160 million people in my country,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, when asked whether Bangladesh would be willing to walk back its policy against permanent integration. “I can’t take any other burden. I can’t take it. My country cannot bear.”
Hasina was speaking to Reuters in New York, where she is attending the annual United Nations meeting of world leaders.
The prime minister, who faces a national election in December, said she does not want to pick a fight with Myanmar over the refugees.
But she suggested patience is growing thin with Myanmar’s leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, and its military that she said wields the “main power” there.
Hasina has previously called on the international community to pressure Myanmar to implement the deal.
Calls to Myanmar’s government spokesman, Zaw Htay, went unanswered. He said recently that he will no longer answer media questions by phone, but will answer questions at a biweekly press conference.
Rohingya fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh after a bloody military campaign against the Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The two countries reached a deal in November to begin repatriation within two months, but it has not started, with stateless Rohingya still crossing the border into Bangladesh and the refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar.
“They agree everything, but unfortunately they don’t act, that is the problem,” Hasina said of Myanmar. “Everything is set but ... every time they try to find some new excuse,” she told Reuters.
Myanmar has said it is ready to take back the refugees and has built transit centers to house them initially on their return.
But it has complained that Bangladesh has not provided its officials with the correct forms. Bangladesh has rejected those claims and UN aid agencies say it is not yet safe for the refugees to return.
Given the delays, Bangladesh has been preparing new homes on a remote island called Bhasan Char, which rights groups have said could be subject to flooding. Cox’s Bazar is also vulnerable to flooding but this year’s monsoon season was light.
Hasina said building permanent structures for refugees on the mainland “is not at all a possibility (and) not acceptable” since they are Myanmar citizens and must return.
Rohingya regard themselves as native to Myanmar’s Rakhine state, but are widely considered interlopers by the country’s Buddhist majority and are denied citizenship.
Human rights groups and Rohingya activists have estimated thousands died in last year’s security crackdown, which was sparked by attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security forces in Rakhine in August 2017.
This week, a US government investigation reported that Myanmar’s military waged a planned, coordinated campaign of mass killings, gang rapes and other atrocities against the Rohingya.
Myanmar has rejected similar findings as “one-sided” and said it had conducted a legitimate counterinsurgency operation.
Ahead of December’s election, Hasina and her ruling Awami League have been on the defensive following student protests over an unregulated transport industry. The protest was triggered after a speeding bus killed two students in Dhaka.
However, the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has been in disarray after its leader and former prime minister, Khaleda Zia, was jailed for corruption in February — charges she says were part of a plot to keep her and her family out of politics.


Afghan Taliban reject talks with US in Pakistan

Updated 12 min 51 sec ago
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Afghan Taliban reject talks with US in Pakistan

  • Senior Taliban leaders said that regional powers including Pakistan had approached them and wanted them to meet the US delegation in Islamabad
  • ‘We wanted to make it clear that we will not hold any meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad’
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: The Afghan Taliban rejected reports in the Pakistani media that they were prepared to resume meetings with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad and repeated their refusal to deal directly with the Afghan government.
Pakistani newspapers and television stations reported that a meeting in Islamabad was in prospect following discussions between Khalilzad and Pakistani officials including Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday.
Senior Taliban leaders said that regional powers including Pakistan had approached them and wanted them to meet the US delegation in Islamabad and also include the Afghan government in the peace process but that the approaches had been rejected.
“We wanted to make it clear that we will not hold any meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in a statement.
Talks between the two sides have stalled after the Taliban accused Khalilzad of straying from the agreed agenda and there is no clarity on when they may resume.
“We have made it clear again and again that we would never hold any meeting with the Afghan government as we know that they are not capable of addressing our demands,” said one senior Taliban leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The US says any settlement in Afghanistan must be between the internationally recognized Afghan government and the Taliban, who have so far refused to talk to an administration they describe as an illegitimate puppet regime.
The Taliban leader said peace talks with the US delegation could resume if they were assured that only three issues would be discussed — a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, an exchange of prisoners and lifting a ban on the movement of Taliban leaders.
Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Thursday and met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as the Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and other officials.
“The two sides reviewed developments post Abu Dhabi, in order to take the Afghan peace process forward,” a foreign office statement said. An Afghan Taliban delegation had a round of talks last month with US officials in Abu Dhabi.
The statement didn’t give any further details on the talks, but several local TV channels reported that Pakistan agreed to host the next round of talks between the Afghan Taliban and the US in Islamabad.
Khalilzad, an Afghan-born veteran US diplomat who served as George W. Bush’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, was named by the Trump administration four months ago as a special envoy to negotiate peace.
Washington has long been pushing Islamabad to lean on Taliban leaders, who it says are based in Pakistan, to bring them to the negotiating table.
It often accuses the south Asian nation of covertly sheltering Taliban leaders, an accusation Islamabad vehemently denies.
The US, which had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at its peak during the first term of former President Barack Obama, withdrew most of them in 2014 but still keeps around 14,000 there.