EU calls for equal rights for all in Myan­mar’s trou­bled Rakhine

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News -

MYAN­MAR must guar­an­tee “equal rights” for ev­ery­one in trou­bled Rakhine State as talks on repa­tri­a­tion of more than 620,000 Ro­hingya Mus­lims who have fled to Bangladesh gather steam, the new EU am­bas­sador to the coun­try said on Thurs­day.

Kris­tian Sch­midt, who took over the Euro­pean Union mission in Yan­gon some two months ago, also called on the ad­min­is­tra­tion of No­bel peace lau­re­ate Aung San Suu Kyi to “break down bar­ri­ers” be­tween Bud­dhist and Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties in Rakhine.

He said the re­turn of refugees should be vol­un­tary and the in­volve­ment of the United Na­tions agen­cies in the repa­tri­a­tion process would be “ex­tremely use­ful”.

The ini­tial deal struck by Bangladesh and Myan­mar men­tions the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, but does not spec­ify its role.

Sch­midt said Myan­mar must ad­dress the “root causes” of the Rakhine cri­sis, such as decades-long dis­crim­i­na­tion against the Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion that in­cluded re­stric­tions on move­ment and lack of ac­cess to proper ed­u­ca­tion.

“The pri­mary pri­or­ity, which is for the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and the union govern­ment to es­tab­lish rule of law, non-dis­crim­i­na­tory civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion ... and equal rights for ev­ery­one,” Sch­midt told Reuters in an in­ter­view in Yan­gon.

“There are root causes that must be ad­dressed in Rakhine state so when the refugees re­turn they do not re­turn to the sit­u­a­tion ex ante – this is not sus­tain­able,” he said.

The ex­o­dus of Ro­hingya was trig­gered by an army crack­down in re­sponse to Ro­hingya mil­i­tant at­tacks on se­cu­rity forces on Au­gust 25 – at­tacks Sch­midt re­ferred to as “ter­ror­ism” and the EU has con­demned.

Sch­midt said con­fin­ing the Ro­hingya to vil­lages re­duced ed­u­ca­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties and could have rad­i­calised some.

“You should not be sur­prised later that some of the el­e­ments of that pop­u­la­tion rad­i­calises. Be­comes in­creas­ingly des­per­ate,” he said.

Amid the army crack­down, scores of Ro­hingya vil­lages were burnt and refugees have told re­porters of killings and rapes.

The United Na­tions and the United States have both ac­cused Myan­mar of “eth­nic cleans­ing”, a charge the coun­try de­nies.

In re­sponse to the army op­er­a­tion, Brus­sels sus­pended in­vi­ta­tions to Myan­mar army chief Min Aung Hlaing and se­nior army of­fi­cers.

“We are ready to re­view that de­ci­sion at any time in light of pos­i­tive or not-so-pos­i­tive news. We still of course un­der­stand the im­por­tance the mil­i­tary of Myan­mar plays in Myan­mar’s eco­nomic and demo­cratic tran­si­tion so di­a­logue is open,” said Sch­midt.

He added, how­ever, that there was the need for ac­count­abil­ity and re­it­er­ated the EU’S sup­port for a Un-man­dated fact-find­ing mission that Suu Kyi’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has op­posed and blocked from op­er­at­ing in the coun­try.

“There has to be a cred­i­ble, in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the events that led 620,000 peo­ple to flee to quite hor­ri­ble con­di­tions on the other side of the bor­der,” he said. “We need to know.”

The Dan­ish diplo­mat spoke on the side­lines of a con­fer­ence pro­mot­ing the EU’S “Eras­mus+” pro­gramme of ex­changes be­tween univer­sity stu­dents. He wants Myan­mar stu­dents to take part in it to help over­haul in­sti­tu­tions as the coun­try emerges from decades of iso­la­tion un­der mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship.

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