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Bangladesh wants India to pressure Myanmar on Rohingya refugees

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Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen is set to visit India next month.

New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to take up the Rohingya issue “very strongly” with India when the country’s Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen comes visiting early next month, sources told ThePrint.

During his trip – the first high-level visit by a Bangladeshi leader since last month’s election – he is expected to meet Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Rohingya issue is fast becoming a sore point in India-Bangladesh relations.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who recently won a record fourth term to office, has said multiple times that she expected India to have done more to help Dhaka repatriate the lakhs of Rohingya refugees from Buddhist-dominated Myanmar living in the country.

As many as half the 30 lakh Rohingya refugees around the world are believed to be in Bangladesh.

Over 7 lakh of these were reportedly driven to Bangladesh by a military crackdown on the Rohingya — a primarily Muslim minority Naypyidaw refuses to recognise as citizens — in 2017.

The Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh currently reside in inhuman conditions at squalid camps, with many increasingly getting involved in several crimes such as human and drug trafficking, sources said.

There have also been reports about growing resentment among locals over the Rohingya stealing jobs by working for lower wages.

Earlier this week, Momen stated during a press conference in Dhaka that there was no easy solution to the Rohingya crisis.

“It’s a very serious issue,” he was quoted as saying by Bangladesh newspapers Monday.

“We have to discuss a lot,” he added. “After the crisis broke out, our Prime Minister placed a five-point proposal in the UN General Assembly. But those proposals were not reflected in our negotiations [with Myanmar]. We want solutions,” he added.

According to a report in the Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star, the five-point proposal, meant to find a “durable, peaceful solution to the suffering of the forcibly displaced Rohingya”, stated that:

1) Myanmar must unconditionally stop the violence and the practice of ethnic cleansing in the Rakhine state (where the Rohingya are primarily based) immediately and forever.
2) The Secretary General of the United Nations should immediately send a fact-finding mission to Myanmar.
3) All civilians irrespective of religion and ethnicity must be protected in Myanmar, for which “safe zones” could be created inside Myanmar under UN supervision.
4) Ensure sustainable return of all forcibly displaced Rohingyas in Bangladesh to their homes in Myanmar.
5) The recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission Report must be immediately implemented unconditionally and in their entirety.

According to diplomatic sources, Bangladesh is going to now put pressure on Myanmar by using India as it does not want to sour its friendly ties with Naypyidaw.

“Bangladesh realises it fully that the solution to the Rohingya crisis lies in Myanmar and not India,” said former Indian envoy to Myanmar Rajiv Bhatia, now a Distinguished Fellow at the Gateway House, a foreign policy thinktank. “But they do think India should use its good offices to help Bangladesh by taking it up with Myanmar.”

Also read: Rohingyas travelling from northeast to Kerala by train pose serious security threat

Teesta river dispute

Interestingly, however, the Teesta river dispute, which was raging till about mid-2017, has taken a backseat in Bangladesh.

For the first time ever, this issue did not feature at all during the Bangladesh election campaign last year. This, in a way, comes as a boon for India as water is a state subject in India and the Modi government has not been able to achieve much headway on this subject with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

The Teesta pact has been under discussion since 1983, and was almost finalised in 2011, when it was agreed that India would use 42.5 per cent and Bangladesh 38 per cent of Teesta’s waters.

But the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was unable to sign the pact due to stiff opposition from Banerjee.

When Prime Minister Modi came to power in May 2014, he had promised as part of his ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy that the Teesta matter will be settled. Bangladesh has 230 rivers, of which 54 flow through India.

According to sources, the matter will come up for discussion, but Bangladesh is said to understand the fact that the Modi government, which is facing elections soon, will not be able to do anything about it.

Also read: Supreme Court refuses to stop deportation of 7 Rohingya Muslims

BIMSTEC and connectivity

India, meanwhile, will like to leverage Momen’s visit by pushing for connectivity and enhancement of bilateral trade through the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) initiative.

Formed in 1997, BIMSTEC is a multilateral forum that has seven nations as members – India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.

According to Bhatia, in light of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the primary forum for regional cooperation, being held up on account of differences between India and Pakistan, it is BIMSTEC that New Delhi would like to push forward.

Dhaka and New Delhi also have to take ahead the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement (BBIN-MVA), which will now have to be ratified again with Bhutan’s refusal to join the pact.

“This is now going to be only BIN,” said Prabir De, a professor at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), a policy research institute based in Delhi, where he also serves as the coordinator of the ASEAN-India Centre.

“This has to be re-ratified in both houses of Parliament. Once this is done, road connectivity between India and Bangladesh will reach the next level,” he added.

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