Rakhine violence on Modi's agenda as he visits Myanmar

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a dinner at the presidential house in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Sept 5, 2017.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a dinner at the presidential house in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Sept 5, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

NEW DELHI • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Myanmar which is coming under growing pressure - particularly from countries with large Muslim populations including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey - to halt the violence against Rohingya Muslims after nearly 125,000 of them fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Officials said Mr Modi, who arrived in Myanmar late yesterday for a three-day visit, would discuss the rising violence in Rakhine state as well as push for greater progress on Indian infrastructure projects.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi was due yesterday in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, after meeting Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as well as Myanmar's army chief Min Aung Hlaing to urge an end to the bloodshed.

"The security authorities need to immediately stop all forms of violence there and provide humanitarian assistance and development aid for the short and long term," Ms Retno said after her meetings in the Myanmar capital.

She told a news conference later that Indonesia was ready to ease the burden of Bangladesh in dealing with Rohingya Muslims fleeing from Myanmar, but that the help was likely to be only humanitarian and not financial.

The latest violence in Myanmar's north-western Rakhine state began on Aug 25, when Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base. The ensuing clashes and a military counter- offensive have killed at least 400 people and triggered the exodus of villagers to Bangladesh.

Myanmar says its security forces are fighting a legitimate campaign against "terrorists" responsible for a string of attacks on police posts and the army since last October.

Myanmar also blames Rohingya militants for the burning of homes and civilian deaths but rights monitors and Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh say the Myanmar army is trying to force them out with a campaign of arson and killings.

"Indonesia is taking the lead, and ultimately there is a possibility of Asean countries joining in," said Mr H.T. Imam, a political adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He added that the Bangladesh foreign minister had briefed his Indian counterpart on the Rohingya crisis ahead of Mr Modi's trip to Myanmar.

"If we can keep the pressure on Myanmar from Asean, from India as well, that will be good... If the international conscience is awakened, that would put pressure on Myanmar," the Bangladesh official added.

Meanwhile, Malaysia yesterday summoned the Myanmar ambassador to express displeasure over the violence.

In an official statement, Malaysia criticised Myanmar for making "little, if any" progress on the Rohingya problem, adding that the issue should be "elevated to a higher international forum".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2017, with the headline 'Rakhine violence on Modi's agenda as he visits Myanmar'. Print Edition | Subscribe