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Bangladesh keeps an eye on Myanmar

REPORT-2-BD-13-02-2021

Since the coup in Myanmar, Bangladesh has discussed the situation in Myanmar with four countries including China and the US. In these discussions at different levels, Bangladesh has tried to assess the position of the countries on Myanmar. The issue of peace and security and peace in Myanmar features significantly in these discussions for the sake of regional stability.

Diplomatic sources in Dhaka told Prothom Alo on Monday and Tuesday that Bangladesh has held separate meetings with the US, China, the Netherlands and Sweden at senior diplomatic levels over the last two days. With the changed scenario in Myanmar, Bangladesh wants to move very cautiously to resolve the Rohingya issue.

In his statement on the military coup in Myanmar, US president Joe Biden indicated that he will take a strong stand against the country. On the other hand, the reaction from a spokesperson of China’s foreign ministry made it clear that no matter what happens in Myanmar, Beijing will stand by the country as always.

Md Shahidul Haque, former foreign secretary and the senior fellow of the South Asian Institute of Policy and Governance (SIPG) at North South University (NSU), told Prothom Alo yesterday that the stance of US and China regarding the Myanmar issue was clear. It is important for Bangladesh to find a lasting solution to the Rohingya issue. Again, Bangladesh must strive to uphold democratic values. Overall, Bangladesh has to be very cautious, take all parties into confidence and determine a strategy in its own interests.

In this 16 January 2018 file photo, a Rohingya Muslim offers afternoon prayers at a make shift Mosque at Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's bazar, Bangladesh. 

According to diplomatic and international relations analysts, within two days of the power shift in Myanmar, polarisation of the major powers is becoming clear. Bangladesh needs to be vigilant about Myanmar in the context of resolving the Rohingya issue. According to them, it is important for Bangladesh to solve the Rohingya problem quickly. Bangladesh also respects democracy and the rule of law. Therefore, while resolving the Rohingya crisis, efforts should be made to ensure Bangladesh’s position on democratic values remains intact.

When asked about contacting the new Myanmar government, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen told journalists at his office on Tuesday afternoon that it is learned that the interim government announced by Myanmar contains 11 ministers. Dhaka does not see any problem in contacting the new ministers when they begin their work. Myanmar has had such governments for most of the time. There is no reason to close the contact for this. However, he said Bangladesh has not yet had any formal contact with the new government.

Bangladesh and Myanmar are set to hold virtual talks on Thursday with the mediation of China. When asked if the meeting was postponed, the foreign secretary said, “We will until tomorrow (Wednesday). We are ready and we want to continue talks with whoever comes to power in Myanmar.”

Hints of shift in power came from Yangon

The diplomatic missions were aware of the chances of a military coup from two months ago. According to the several diplomatic missions, before the oath of the parliamentarians on 1 February, they were guessing that an army coup may take place with an unconstitutional seizing of power. But the army kept everyone confused. As a result, various missions also fell into the trap of that confusion created by the Myanmar army. However, the army coup took place on the day of the oath.

Medical workers wearing red ribbons pose during a protest against the coup that ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon General Hospital in Yangon, Myanmar on 3 February 2021

According to diplomatic sources, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a party backed by the military and former Myanmar president and army chief General Thein Sein, has been complaining of irregularities and fraud in the voter list since the election in November. Under military pressure, the USDP stopped. Army chief general Min Aung Hlaing was in talks with Suu Kyi to extend his term which was about to end in June 2021. Even hours before the military coup, the two sides reportedly tried to find a resolution. In the end, the army removed the NLD from power as the two parties could not agree.

CR Abrar, the chief executive of the Refugee and Migratory movements Research Institute (RMMRU), told Prothom Alo on Tuesday evening that there is no difference in the stance of Myanmar army and Aung San Suu Kyi regarding the Rohingya issue. Both of the sides support the inhuman treatment of the Rohingya. China is also on the side of Myanmar as always. In such a situation, Bangladesh should urge China to help solve the Rohingya crisis. China should have a special role in solving the problem as they are benefiting highly from Bangladesh through huge investments and businesses.