Friday, February 27, 2009

Burma sets condition for accepting Rohingya migrants

by Usa Pichai

Hua Hin (Mizzima) The Thai Foreign Minister has said that the Burmese military regime has agreed to take back only those migrants, who have been verified as “Bengalis” from Burma, at the regional bloc’s summit in Thailand.

Kasit Piromya, the chairperson of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), told the press on Friday after he had a meeting with foreign ministers from the 10 member countries, that the solution to the refugee problem required cooperation from these countries as well as the ASEAN Secretariat.

He said the Bengali ethnicity of the Rohingya in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia would be verified and then it would be confirmed that they were from Burma.

“The Burmese officials said that in the official ethnic groups list of Burma, there is only a Bengali group, but Rohingya has not been approved as an ethnic group in Burma,” Piromya added.

The solution to this issue would be worked out at two levels, firstly enlisting the cooperation of related countries at ASEAN and the second would be at a bigger level during the Bali Process.

Secretary General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan also said at a press conference that the Rohingya issue was a regional problem, and at the moment the solution could not be reached only by the countries in the bloc, so it would be raised during the “Bali Process” that is scheduled for April 14 to 15, 2009.

In addition, the ASEAN Secretariat would play a role in building a census of the Bengali population in Burma. However, the time frame has not been announced yet.

Apart from the Rohingya issue, the meeting also discussed matters regarding the Cyclone Nargis, expressed relief that the ASEAN‘s relief programme had succeeded. It also decided to extend the programme for another year, till the middle of 2010.

The Thai Foreign Minister also added that the common experience in humanitarian work, among member countries both during the Tsunami in 2004 and Cyclone Nargis in 2008 would help to find a solution for the Rohingya issue.

Meanwhile, the rights groups, which are concerned about the issue, said that ethnic verification was not the solution to the problem.

Kodchawan Chaiyabut from Amnesty International, Thailand, said that this reaction showed insincerity of the related government. “However, I hope that they will improve their actions in the future. We (rights group) expect the plan of setting up a new human rights body will be a new ray of hope for the region,” Chaiyabut said.

On Friday, a network of Peace for Burma (Thailand), Webster University and Burma Partnership, organized a forum “ASEAN: Is Burma an Internal Problem or a Regional Crisis?” at Webster University, Hua-Hin, to discuss and promote better understanding on the plight of Burma.

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