Dhaka urges ASEAN to step up on Rohingya issue

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed fresh concern over the plight of the 730,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine state. (AP)
Updated 04 November 2019

Dhaka urges ASEAN to step up on Rohingya issue

  • Diplomats and experts on international affairs expressed optimism about Dhaka’s latest move

DHAKA: Bangladesh has sought a more effective role from ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to increase pressure on Myanmar to find a sustainable solution to the Rohingya repatriation issue.
The call came during a four-day summit which began in Thailand on Saturday. 
It follows a visit by a high-powered delegation from Dhaka — led by senior parliamentarian Faruk Khan, chair of the parliamentary standing committee at the Foreign Ministry — to Thailand and Singapore, to convince ASEAN member countries to have a stronger voice on the topic.
Thailand is the current chair of ASEAN while Singapore is also an influential member of the regional bloc. Both countries enjoy good trade relations with Myanmar.
Diplomats and experts on international affairs expressed optimism about Dhaka’s latest move.
Munshi Faiz Ahmad, chairman of the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), said that as a regional platform, ASEAN had the scope to play a vital role in convincing Myanmar on the topic.
“Since the Rohingya issue is causing a security threat for this region, ASEAN can move forward for a sustainable solution of the Rohingya refugee crisis,” he told Arab News, adding that it was also important for international bodies to monitor the situation.
“Different civil authorities have a huge scope to get engaged in the repatriation process and for this ASEAN can be named as one of the best options since Myanmar is also an important member state of the regional platform,” he said.
During the last session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), China proposed a tripartite engagement — involving Bangladesh, Myanmar and China — to resolve the crisis.
However, Ahmad said that the only solution to resolving the crisis was to include the Rohingya in all discussions.
“The image of China as a superpower is very much involved with the sustainable solution of the Rohingya crisis since the country was involved in these diplomatic negotiations from the very beginning. To secure the Chinese investment in Rakhine, the country may push Myanmar in a stronger way in preparing a conducive environment for the Rohingya repatriation,” said Ahmad, who is also a former Bangladeshi ambassador to China.
Meanwhile, Professor Amena Mohsin of Dhaka University said that “the genocide which took place in Rakhine can’t be considered as an internal issue as it has become an international concern.”
Mohsin told Arab News: “At this stage, China should accelerate its diplomatic moves regarding the Rohingya issues since the country has blatantly supported Myanmar in the UN Security Council in recent months. But I am not sure how much China would play its role as there is an upcoming general election in Myanmar.”
On the ground, however, Bangladeshi authorities seem to be paying heed to Beijing’s advice, with foreign ministry officials holding talks with ambassadors from China and Myanmar in the last week of October.
“We have discussed all the aspects concerning the Rohingya repatriation and there was no immediate outcome or decision as the ambassadors were needed to consult the issues with their authorities. We will have the second meeting in next week,” Delwar Hossain, director general of the Southeast Asia desk of the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry, told Arab News.
“It was a good confidence-building initiative among the parties,” Hossain said.
However, during an address to the media on Thursday, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen said that the Rohingya issue was “Myanmar’s failure.”
“With two failed attempts of repatriation, it is now clear that Myanmar could not build trust among the Rohingya. That is Myanmar’s failure,” he said.
Momen said that the situation in Rakhine needed to be verified by independent observers to determine whether the Myanmar authorities have succeeded in creating a conducive environment for the refugees.
He suggested that Bangladesh wants ASEAN involved in the whole repatriation process, which includes sending its civilian observers to Rakhine and monitoring the wellbeing of the Rohingya after repatriation. 
Bangladesh currently hosts more than 1,150,000 Rohingya at Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, most of whom fled from Rakhine following a brutal military crackdown by the Myanmar army in August 2017.

Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

Updated 01 June 2020

Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

  • Peace hopes rest on virtual forum with Taliban amid virus threat

KABUL: Afghan government and Taliban delegates are expected to begin online talks in mid-June in a bid to end a decades-old conflict in the country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.

While past meetings have been held in person, the latest round of negotiations will take place online because of the threat of coronavirus in the war-ravaged country.

“We see no challenges, the atmosphere and preparations are all set for the talks,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, newly appointed chief of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Arab News.

Negotiations could begin in “the next 10 or 15 days,” he said.

“The announcement of a cease-fire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners were all requirements for the start of the talks, and we have had progress on them recently,” Khawzoon said.

On Wednesday the Afghan government released a list of 20 delegates due to hold peace talks with the Taliban.

The team will be led by Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a former spy chief who has held indirect negotiations with the militants in the past outside Afghanistan, he added.

In the lead-up to the talks, President Ashraf Ghani’s government will release 3,000 more Taliban prisoners, an official close to the Afghan leader told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

More than 2,000 Taliban inmates have already been freed as part of a historic peace deal in February.

In return, the Taliban released hundreds of government troops and, in a surprise move, announced a three-day cease-fire last week for Eid Al-Fitr.

The peace moves follow a buildup in fighting between the two sides despite the pandemic. Taliban attacks killed at least 146 people and injured 430 during Ramadan. 

Fears had been growing that the peace deal signed on Feb. 29 between the Taliban and the US would collapse.

The joint cease-fire followed talks in Qatar last week between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan.

Khalilzad later traveled to Kabul for meetings with Afghan political leaders over a reduction in violence and an exchange of prisoners. 

“We welcome the Taliban’s decision to observe a cease-fire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government reciprocating and announcing its own,” Khalilzad said last Sunday.

Increasing Taliban attacks on government troops, and political infighting between Ghani and Abdullah over who would assume office as president, have delayed the talks.

After Washington failed to reconcile Ghani and Abdullah, both leaders agreed two weeks ago to share power, with Ghani leading the country for another five years and Abdullah appointed as chief of the peace talks.

Khalilzad described the cease-fire agreement as a “momentous opportunity that should not be missed,” and pressed both sides to agree on a new date to start negotiations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also urged the two sides to start peace talks, with the release of prisoners as a first step. 

Pompeo said that he expected the Taliban “to adhere to their commitment not to allow released prisoners to return to the battlefield.”

Ghani said the release of Taliban inmates would be “expedited” and that his government’s negotiating team was ready to begin talks “as soon as possible.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, could not be reached for comment on the Taliban’s stance.

In the past, the group has insisted it will take part in talks with Kabul only after all 5,000 Taliban prisoners are freed.

Experts hope the latest developments are a step in the right direction.

“The Taliban do not seem to have any reservations about the structure of the government team, so the hope is high that the talks will take place by June 15,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Some of Taliban’s field commanders seem to be divided on the talks, hoping to capture power again after the departure of US forces (by next spring), while the political leaders are pushing for a political settlement,” he said.