Advisory board applauds plans for Myanmar visit to refugees

April 4, 2018
Surakiart Sathirathai, Chairman of the Advisory Board to the Committee for the Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State listens during a press conference on Tuesday, April 3, 2018, in Singapore, after their Second Session in Yangon with Interfaith Network which comprised of religious leaders, the UN Country Team, resident ASEAN ambassadors and the National Reconciliation and Peace Center. They also met with State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

SINGAPORE (AP) — A board appointed by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to offer recommendations on the crisis in Rakhine state, from which hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled state violence, on Tuesday applauded Bangladesh’s agreement to let a Myanmar state minister visit border camps where the refugees live.

The board’s chairman, Surakiart Sathirathai of Thailand, said he was happy to learn of Bangladesh’s agreement to the visit, which he hoped would take place soon. He spoke at a news conference in Singapore after he and colleagues held a meeting on Monday with Suu Kyi in the Myanmar capital, Naypyitaw.

The visit by Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye had been quietly announced Monday by Bangladeshi foreign ministry officials.

About 700,000 Rohingya who face severe discrimination in Myanmar have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape a brutal army counterinsurgency campaign. Efforts are underway to arrange their return.

The 10-member advisory board is meant to implement earlier recommendations on the Rohingya crisis made by a group led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Critics say neither group is truly independent of the government.

Surakiart said he was “happy to learn that the visit has been accepted in principal by Bangladesh and I hope that the date will be fixed and that can take place sometime in the very near future.”

“One of the ways to resolve this migration is to look at the root causes and I think the first thing that has to be in place is the security, if the safety is provided and of course now Myanmar’s government, Myanmar’s military have reiterated again and again that their security is provided,” he said.

“But I think it has to be the Myanmar government and Myanmar apparatus who would be saying this to the refugees themselves and I think if the first batch of refugees decided to come and they can see for themselves that it’s safe for them to return, then, you know, word of mouth will go to the rest and then they would come.”

Surakiart and his colleagues announced several recommendations, including closer involvement of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in development projects that could help with reconciliation in Rakhine, and organization of a formal process of reconciliation through intercommunal dialogue.

Surakiart’s delegation said it was also pleased that Myanmar’s government has agreed to receive a delegation from the U.N. Security Council. Details have not yet been worked out for the visit, and Suu Kyi’s government has spurned some previous efforts by the United Nations to investigate the problems in Rakhine.

In January, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has resigned from Surakiart’s panel, calling it a “whitewash and a cheerleading operation” for Suu Kyi.

Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and President Bill Clinton’s energy secretary, castigated Suu Kyi for blaming outsiders for the crisis instead of looking honestly at military actions that have forced the Rohingya to flee to squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh, where they have spoken of mass killings, rapes and the obliteration of whole villages in Myanmar.

“The advisory board is mainly a whitewash and a cheerleading operation for the Myanmar government, and I’m not going to be part of it because I think there are serious issues of human rights violations, safety, citizenship, peace and stability that need to be addressed,” Richardson said. “I just felt that my advice and counsel would not be heeded.”