Dispatches from the Field: Meetings in Dhaka and Naypitaw
The Security Council delegation began their day by meeting the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Mansour Al-Otaibi (Kuwait), one of the co-leads of the visiting mission, introduced members of the delegation and said that the Council is determined to send a strong message regarding its commitment to find a solution to this humanitarian crisis. He said that members were interested in hearing what the Prime Minister expected of the international community.
Hasina spoke of why Bangladesh had taken in the refugees from Rakhine state in Myanmar, but said that little action was being taken from Myanmar to create the conditions for the refugees to return. It seems that she stressed the need to implement the recommendations of the Annan Commission and to honour the January bilateral agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Speaking to the press after the meeting, Hasina said that she would like to see the Council delegation put pressure on the Myanmar government to take back its own people. She also suggested that the refugees could return under UN supervision to ensure their safety and security.
Following this meeting, the Council delegation headed to the airport for their flight to Naypitaw for a series of meetings. A thunderstorm delayed the take-off from Dhaka and led to the cancellation of a meeting with Myanmar parliamentarians. Upon landing, the delegation met with members of the UN country team in Myanmar for an overview of the UN’s work in Myanmar and an update on the situation in Rakhine State.
The next meeting was a “courtesy call” on State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although presented as a courtesy call in the programme, key members of her cabinet were present, as were representatives of the governments of India, Laos, Singapore and Thailand. It seems that Myanmar was keen to have neighbouring countries present at the meetings with the Council delegation, although it was an unusual format for meetings during a Council visiting mission.
Following a brief presentation by Suu Kyi, there was an exchange between Council members and members of the Myanmar government covering a range of issues, including the transition from military rule to democracy, the need for accountability for the violence in Rakhine State, the status of the Rohingya, and humanitarian access. The bilateral agreement signed in January between Bangladesh and Myanmar was another point of discussion. It seems that Suu Kyi provided comprehensive answers to many of the questions, giving members the Myanmar government’s point of view on the refugee situation.
Following the meeting with Suu Kyi, the Council delegation met with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) and nine additional generals accompanying him. This meeting lasted almost twice as long as the allocated one hour, partly due to the need for interpretation. It seems that although the meeting did not reveal any new information on Min Aung Haing’s position, members felt that they were being listened to.
The Council delegation then met members of the Implementation Committee on the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State to hear about the steps that have been taken to implement the 88 recommendations of the Commission. While some action is being taken to implement some of the recommendations, there are concerns that this is to show that something is being done rather than to achieve long-term stability in Rakhine State and to address the root causes of the conflict.For example, IDP camps are being closed as recommended, but there are concerns that those in the camps may end up being relocated to long-term settlements that do not allow for freedom of movement.It also seemed that there might different views on what the root causes are with the Implementation Committee focusing largely on the idea of terrorism and its effects on the community.
With several of today’s meetings running over time, the working dinner hosted by U Kyaw Tint Swe, Union Minister for the State Counsellor’s Office, was eventually held almost two hours later than the scheduled time of 7 pm. As a result, the final meeting of the day with civil society organisations, which had been scheduled for after dinner was held at 10:30 pm. Although it was late, all Council members, except China, attended the meeting. They heard from five representatives from civil society organisations on topics that covered the history of the Rohingya in relation to the citizenship issue in Myanmar, problems faced by other minority groups like the Shan and Kachin, and the need to build confidence and trust when people return.
While Council members were still trying to digest the views they had heard over a 14-hour period during a very busy day, it is likely that the different pieces of information will be useful as the delegation embarks on a journey to Rakhine State tomorrow for the final leg of the visiting mission.