Bangladesh and Myanmar: A Tangled Web of Diplomacy, Trade, and Human Rights
Strengthening Diplomatic Ties Amidst Controversy
Dr Monwar Hossain, Bangladesh’s ambassador to Myanmar, has been hard at work since his arrival in Yangon in July, trying to strengthen ties with the country’s military junta. The ambassador has held several meetings with the regime, where they have discussed a range of issues including the repatriation of Rohingyas, trade, connectivity, drug trafficking, and health, security, and disaster management collaboration. The ambassador has stated that repatriation, along with the safety and sustainability of returnees in Rakhine State, is Bangladesh’s top priority. The willingness for “immediate repatriations” has been expressed by Myanmar’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing.
Fostering Public Health Cooperation
Meetings between Hossain and members of the junta have also focused on potential public health cooperation. This includes the possibility of distributing Bangladesh-produced medical products in Myanmar. On September 21, Hossain announced the resumption of visa-free travel between the two nations, which had been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rising Criticism and Human Rights Concerns
However, Hossain’s meetings have sparked anger among Rohingya leaders and human rights activists. Critics argue that Bangladesh should not collaborate with Myanmar’s military junta, which they view as an illegal regime guilty of ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity. They believe Bangladesh should instead support Myanmar’s civilian National Unity Government as the legitimate administration, and push for the junta to end military rule, widespread attacks on civilians, and release political prisoners.
The Repatriation and Trade Impasse
The issue of repatriation has also been identified as a major obstacle to trade and commerce between the two nations. U Aung Kyaw Moe, the deputy human rights minister of Myanmar’s National Unity Government, has argued that a long-term solution for the Rohingya is interconnected with the democratization of Myanmar. He believes the military’s control makes it impossible for the Rohingya to return with dignity, safety, and peace.
Escalation of Border Tensions
In recent weeks, there have been repeated violations of Bangladesh’s land and airspace by Myanmar. This has led to shells landing inside the Bangladesh border. An 18-year-old Rohingya youth was killed and five others were injured after a mortar shell fired from Myanmar exploded in a Rohingya camp. These incidents have prompted the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) to be put on alert, highlighting the escalating tensions between the two countries.
Looking Forward: Time for a Policy Revisit?
In light of this situation, it might now be time for Bangladesh to revisit its bilateral policy towards Myanmar, including in trade, commerce, and diplomacy. The recent failures of diplomatic maneuvers to stop shelling at the border suggest that a revision of diplomatic ties with Myanmar may be necessary. At the same time, Bangladesh should continue its engagement with the international community to defuse the situation with Myanmar and find a suitable rehabilitation solution for the Rohingyas.
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