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Rohingya activists flay ASEAN for ‘whitewashing Myanmar military’s crimes’

DHAKA, Bangladesh):  Rohingya activists have criticized the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) efforts to encourage dialogue between the refugees and Myanmar government.

The Rohingya activists have accused the bloc of whitewashing the Myanmar military’s crimes and legitimising its flawed repatriation plans.

A team from the humanitarian arm of the 10-member trade bloc joined a Myanmar government delegation on a visit to the camps last week . It was aimed at launching fresh repatriation talks with Rohingya leaders and activists.

Almost 730,000 Rohingya crossed the border into Bangladesh and arrived in Cox’s Bazar in August 2017 after fleeing military-led massacres in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.

However, relations between members of the Rohingya and those who are supposed to help them have often been fraught.

The United Nations’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has sown mistrust by signing secret repatriation deals with Myanmar and pushing an identity card scheme that many Rohingya opposed, leading to alleged intimidation and violence when security forces tried to get them to sign up.

Bangladesh authorities, praised for their generosity in hosting the Rohingya, imposed severe restrictions on the refugees, preventing them from moving freely, getting an education, earning a living and denying them official refugee status.

At a meeting during the visit by the team, a Rohingya youth activist asked the ASEAN visitors what they were doing to help some 128,000 Rohingya in Rakhine state who are trapped in disease-ridden detention camps.

“We are not here to solve all your problems,” one of the delegates responded.

Some found the reply callous and dismissive and saw it as confirmation that ASEAN members were   unconcerned with protecting the Rohingya rights.