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January 22, 2020

Statement by U Myint Thu, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Press Conference on the developments in Rakhine State Ministry of Information, Nay Pyi Taw, 14 March 2018

Excellencies,

Members of the Diplomatic Crops,

Member of the Media,

Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good afternoon.

For the benefit of the Diplomatic Crops and the international media, allow me to make my intervention in English.

At the outset, it is my honour to join this Press Conference on the developments in Rakhine State organized by the Ministry of Information.

I am confident that at the end of the Press Conference, you all will have the first-hand information on the recent developments in Rakhine State as well as our readiness to receive the verified returnees from Bangladesh.

I will focus my intervention on three parts: 1) prospective returnees and the people living on the boundary line; 2) involvement of the international community; and 3) involvement of the UNHCR and WFP in Rakhine.

 

  1. Prospective Returnees and People living on the Boundary line

Excellencies,

Members of the Media,

Let me start my intervention on the prospective returnees and the people living on the boundary line, which recently draw attention of the international community.

As a demonstration of good faith and our seriousness towards successfully cooperating in the repatriation process, we have handed over to Bangladesh about 1,250 names, consisting 508 people of Hindu faith and 750 people of Muslim faith during the first Joint Working Group Meeting held in Nay Pyi Taw on 15-16 January 2018. We are awaiting their repatriation.

We have recently received a list of 8032 people from Bangladesh during the Myanmar-Bangladesh Home Ministers’ Meeting held in Dhaka on 16 February 2018.

Verification process was accordingly conducted by our Immigration Authorities. However, it was found out that the forms received from the Bangladesh side were not the Verification Form agreed by both sides during the First Meeting of the Joint Working Group.

Moreover, those forms did not provide basic information, including former place of residence, voluntariness of return, signature and finger prints of each member of the household, clear photograph and other supporting documents in order to accelerate the verification process.

We therefore informed the Bangladesh side on 25 February 2018, through the Bangladesh Embassy in Yangon and the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry in Dhaka, to comply with the agreement reached between the two countries and to use the agreed Verification From, which was indeed annexed to the Physical Arrangement.

 

Excellencies,

Members of the Media,

There were international media coverage on the people temporarily living on the Myanmar-Bangladesh boundary line between Boundary Pillar No.34 and 35.

In fact, we have engaged, form the earliest dates, with them at the District Authorities as well as Senior Officials levels to promote awareness on the Article 14 of the Treaty signed between the two Governments on 12 November 1998.

For instance, National Security Advisor, together with Ambassadors from neighboring countries, including Bangladesh, visited the boundary line on 6 February 2018 and met with the leaders and villagers.

Myanmar Delegation, led by Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, also visited the boundary line on 9 February 2018 and met with the village leaders and encouraged them to return to their original places of residence and abide by the Treaty and 1998 between the two governments.

The Article 14 clearly stated that “In order to make the boundary line easily identifiable and prevent the emergence of boundary-intersected villages, neither High Contracting Parties shall allow to build new houses or other structures of permanent or temporary nature, within a zone of 150 feet on each side of the boundary line.”

In order to repatriate those temporary residents from the boundary line, Myanmar authorities applied two-pronged approach: negotiation with the people and show of force to protect the officials from ARSA terrorist threats. The Government of Myanmar cannot allow this area to become an “ARSA foothold”.

We have explained intensively to those people that they cannot lawfully occupy and inhabit the area between the boundary line and the 150 feet from it. We also told them that in line with the physical arrangements, Myanmar will repatriate them after verification process.

At that time, they said that they would abide by the laws and wanted to return to the places of origin. While Myanmar authorities decide to address their reasonable concerns, they came back with demands with pre-conditions.

Much of the media reports were made by Dil Mohamed, who has also publicly made the demands that have nothing to do with the repatriation of the people in a safe and voluntary manner but are of a political nature.

We must stress here that the area occupied by them, under Border Treaty and Law, cannot be inhabited by anyone. More importantly, it will be extremely dangerous as this area is bound to become a foothold of ARSA terrorist.

Hence, Myanmar cannot allow unlawful occupation of the prohibited area, especially since it is a deliberate attempt by ARSA to obstruct the entire repatriation process agreed by Myanmar and Bangladesh under the Arrangement signed on 23 November 2017 in Nay Pyi Taw.

 

Excellencies,

Member of the Media,

The Myanmar Border Police Force accordingly made necessary reinforcement to take preventive measures to ensure peace and stability, and safety of the people near the boundary line as there are some elements of ARSA terrorists who mingle with the people currently residing on the boundary line.

The purpose of the reinforcement is solely to preserve law and order, and not intended to adversely affect the repatriation process. Moreover, the security personnel are not equipped with heavy artillery but with small arms to perform their duties.

As of now, some members of the security forces have been withdrawn and only minimum numbers of security personnel stationed in that area to provide security and protect government officials serving in the border area.

 

  1. Involvement of the International Community

Excellencies,

Member of the Media,

There are many areas where international community can play a constructive role in our endeavours in Rakhine State.

Our main focuses, at the moment, are humanitarian situation, repatriation, resettlement, development, reconciliation and peaceful coexistence of the communities in Rakhine State.

We therefore call for constructive approach and understanding on the complexity of the challenges in Rakhine State. We also seek support from the international community to help our efforts in finding a durable solution.

The international community can best help us by understanding the prevailing situation and supporting the ling-term reconciliation and sustained socio-economic development in Rakhine State.

 

III. Involvement of UNHCR and WFP

Excellencies,

Member of the Media,

Myanmar authorities met with the UNHCR Representative and UN Resident Coordinator in Nay Pyi Taw on 23 February 2018.

We are discussing with these two Agencies for their involvement in the repatriation process in line with the Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State signed on 23 November 2017 between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The Paragraph 4 of the Arrangement, signed in Nay Pyi Taw on 23 November 2017, clearly stated that “the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar agreed that the services of the UNHCR could be drawn upon as needed and at the appropriate time”.

The Paragraph 14 of the Arrangement also stated that “UNHCR and other mandated UN agencies, as well as interested international partners would be invited to take part, as appropriate, in various stages of return and resettlement, and to assist the returnees to carry on life and livelihood as member of Myanmar society”.

We consider that the time is now appropriate to invite the UNHCR and UNDP to involve in the repatriation and resettlement process of displaced persons as well as in carrying out livelihood development for all communities in Rakhine State.

They have come back with their proposals and concept papers on 9 March 2018 to involve in the repatriation process under the government-led mechanism. The Government is now considering their proposals.

 

Excellencies,

Member of the Media,

At this moment, the humanitarian assistance is being provided to all affected communities through the Red Cross Movement, AHA Centre, Philippines Red Cross, Thai Red Cross Societies and local volunteers of various faiths.

In fact, we have already allowed the World Food Programme (WFP) to resume their food assistance operations in Rakhine since November 2017.

It was reflected in the WFP’s Comprehensive Report on the Myanmar Country Strategic Plan (2018-2022), which was submitted to the Executive Board Meeting held in Rome on 26-28 February 2018.

Under the sub-heading “food distribution, it was stated that “Since WFP regained access to Maungdaw District on 6 November 2017, monthly food distributions have resume in Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships. WFP is currently the only United Nations Organisation with day-to-day access in the deep field.”

It also mentioned that ‘In January 2018m WFP assisted 39,000 people, including 5,700 pregnant and lactating women and 1,400 children under the age 5 years old from Buddhists, Muslim and Hindu villages.”

 

Excellencies,

Member of the Media,

The Government is duty bound to keep its bilateral commitments with Bangladesh and ready to commence, since 23 January 2018, a systematic repatriation after duly verification in accordance with the Arrangement agreed by the two countries.

I am happy to answer any question you may wish to raise during the Q and A Session.

Thank you.

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