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Engage proactively setting aside Rohingya issue, Myanmar activist tells Bangladesh

April 14, 2015

A Yangon-based activist has suggested Bangladesh to be “proactive” in its engagement with Myanmar, keeping the decades-old Rohingya refugee issue aside for the benefit of both the neighbours.

“Bangladesh should appoint a PR in Myanmar for improving relations,” Khin Zaw Win says, “and solve refugee issue using third party, UN or others”.

Win, director of tTampadipa Institute that works on policy advocacy and capacity building, spoke to on the sidelines of a conference on Bangladesh’s engagement with India and Myanmar that ended in Dhaka Monday.

Bangladesh’s relation with India is intense in almost all sectors, but there is nothing to talk about when it comes to ties with the other neighbour.

Though Myanmar, erstwhile Burma, was the sixth country that recognised Bangladesh in 1972, its internal politics and Rohingya refugee issue were being seen later as the stumbling blocks in building the relations.

Bangladesh did not focus on improving the ties, until recently.

But boosting ties was also “important” for Bangladesh, Win said, since Myanmar served as a “gateway” for Dhaka to connect the Southeast Asian economies.

“Let the UN and others solve the long-standing refugee issue,” he said.

Bangladesh gave shelter to thousands of Rohingya who fled sectarian violence in Rakhine state along the border. But Naypyidaw has denied them citizenship.

Dhaka showed interest to connect China by both road and railways through Myanmar.

It is also pushing for energy and power sector co-operations with Myanmar.

“The UN Human Rights Commission is working on it (Rohingya) and even the US is also critical about the (Myanmar) government on refugee issue. So you can urge the UN to redouble their effort to solve this.

“But at the same time, we can continue to talk on other issues. We can talk about people-to-people contacts, trade, tourism and many more,” he said, stressing on “track II” level engagements.

“The maritime boundary demarcation also gave opportunity to work together on blue economy,” he said.

“We have to consider that the relations are important. If you don’t improve the relations, the situation will get worse,” he said.

“This is something we need to work on,” he insisted.

Win is known for his liberal views in Myanmar. He served 11 years from 1994 behind bars as a prisoner of conscience for his writings against his country’s military junta.

He suggested appointing PR for Bangladesh in Myanmar and said this PR can help Dhaka even improve its trade with Naypyidaw.

Myanmar sells more than what it buys from Bangladesh, though the latter has diverse range of products to export.

“Your PR can organise trade fair regularly to showcase your products. People will know then (aboupt the products),” Win said.

He observed that improving relations between the two countries were never a priority.

“The interest was not very high, and also there are some misconceptions and other issues that countries did not prioritise to solve,” he said.

Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali during the conference had said his government gave a “fresh start” to the relations in 2009.

He also offered a list of future engagements that he believed would take the relations to a “new height”.

Two sides held talks at the foreign secretary level and are currently working on the visit of the Myanmar foreign minister.

A proposal on Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) is currently being considered, which, if implemented, will help improve the bilateral trade.

Political analyst Win said the mindset of the Myanmar leadership was also changing “slowly”.

“They had a totally different mindset,” he said, recalling those days when the authoritarian government used to jail dissenting voices.

He said “extremist” views still remained high in Myanmar, “but we can change many perceptions through regular interactions”.

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