Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rohingya not our problem, Burma tells Bali meeting

Tom Allard in Nusa Dua, Bali

A LASTING solution to the plight of Burma's Rohingya minority remains elusive after Burma yesterday continued to deny they were its citizens or acknowledge they were persecuted.

Burma's police chief made the comments at the Bali Process meeting, a people-smuggling summit involving more than 40 regional nations and heralded as the forum that would address the Rohingya problem after several aborted attempts to tackle the issue.

The Rohingya came to global prominence this year when Thailand's military was accused of towing the boats of as many as 1000 asylum-seekers out to sea and leaving them to drift at the mercy of the currents without adequate food and water.

Those incidents in January also refocused attention on Burma's treatment of the Rohingya. Hundreds of thousands have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh or attempted the perilous sea crossing to South-East Asia.

Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, was among the leaders to hold talks with Brigadier-General Khin Yi, the deputy minister for home affairs and police chief of Burma (also known as Myanmar). Mr Smith pledged $3.2 million to aid programs for the Rohingya.

"Australia put to Myanmar all the human rights, democratic and rule of law issues that we have in the past," Mr Smith said of their discussions.

"The response from the police chief was … the traditional response of Myanmar not to accept the notion of citizenship."

Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirajuda, said he and others at the summit had told Brigadier-General Yi that "social and economic problems" were behind the exodus of Rohingyas, some of whom have washed ashore in Indonesia's province of Aceh. "Myanmar denied [the flight of the Rohingyas] was because of human-rights violations," he said.

Asylum-seekers from Myanmar have said they suffer beatings by Burma's security forces and had their property stolen while having punishing taxes levied on them.

Meanwhile, Thailand avoided scrutiny for its treatment of the Rohingya altogether after its foreign minister failed to turn up due to the political crisis in his homeland. He was represented by a deputy secretary from the Thai Foreign Ministry.

As well as towing out at least four boatloads of Rohingyas who had landed in Thailand, the Thai military is also accused of administering severe beatings to some of the asylum-seekers.

An ad hoc working group from Bali Process nations may address the Rohingya issue at a later date but any recommendations it makes will be non-binding.


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