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The agreement was signed during India’s foreign secretary S. Jaishankar’s Myanmar visit. File photo: HT
The agreement was signed during India’s foreign secretary S. Jaishankar’s Myanmar visit. File photo: HT

Rohingya crisis: India, Myanmar sign pact for socio-economic development of Rakhine State

The MoU is intended to help the Myanmar achieve its objective of restoration of normalcy in Rakhine State and enable the return of displaced Muslim Rohingyas

New Delhi: Amid the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis, India and Myanmar on Wednesday signed an agreement for socio-economic development of Myanmar’s violence hit Rakhine state from where hundreds of thousands of mainly Muslim Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh.

The agreement was signed during India’s foreign secretary S. Jaishankar’s Myanmar visit. Jaishankar and Myanmar’s deputy minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement U. Soe Aung signed the bilateral MoU (memorandum of understanding) on Rakhine State Development Programme.

This MoU is the first government to government agreement signed by the ministry of social welfare, relief and resettlement of Myanmar with a cooperation partner focussed on socio-economic development and livelihood initiatives in Rakhine State.

“This is intended to help the Government of Myanmar achieve its objective of restoration of normalcy in Rakhine State and enable the return of displaced persons. Under this MoU, Government of India proposes to take up, among others, a project to build prefabricated housing in Rakhine State so as to meet the immediate needs of returning people," said an official statement from India’s ministry of external affairs (MEA).

The agreement comes nearly two months after India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, during her Bangladesh visit in October 2017, had said that it is deeply concerned with the violence in Rakhine State, a predominantly Buddhist region, from where hundreds of thousands of mainly Muslim Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh, putting pressure on the Bangladesh government. Swaraj had also said that India had conveyed to Myanmar that the “situation be handled with restraint, keeping in mind the welfare of the population."

“It is clear that normalcy will only be restored with the return of the displaced persons to Rakhine state. In our view, the only long-term solution to the situation in Rakhine state is rapid socio-economic and infrastructure development that would have a positive impact on all the communities living in the state. India, for its part, has committed to provide financial and technical assistance for identified projects to be undertaken in Rakhine state in conjunction with the local authorities," Swaraj had said.

As per United Nations, nearly 600,000 Rohingyas have crossed the Myanmar border since 25 August. Severe violence against them due to an ethnic cleansing campaign is one of the major reasons behind their fleeing from Myanmar, which is a Buddhist-majority country. As per a Reuters report, about 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims are denied citizenship in Myanmar, with their movement and access to services restricted.

India’s Supreme Court is also hearing a batch of pleas regarding Rohingya refugees and the next date of hearing is 31 January. The apex court, on 13 October, had said the Rohingya refugee problem was of a great magnitude and the state would have to play a big role while dealing with the contentious issue.

As per a Press Trust of India (PTI) report, SC had decided to give a detailed and holistic hearing on the central government’s decision to deport the Rohingya to Myanmar, observing that a balance has to be struck between national interest and human rights as the issue involved national security, economic interests and humanity. The central government, however, wants to deport over 40,000 refugees who came to India after escaping from Myanmar.

Meanwhile, Jaishankar also met Commander in Chief of the Myanmar Defence Services, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, with whom, “all matters relating to security, bilateral cooperation as well as the situation in Northern Rakhine State" were discussed.

India’s foreign secretary also called on Myanmar’s state counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, union minister in state counsellor’s office U. Kyaw Tint Swe and union minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement Dr. Win Myat Aye.

“All matters relating to bilateral cooperation, including follow up on decisions taken during recent visit of Prime Minister of India to Myanmar, as well as matters pertaining to Rakhine State were discussed during these meetings," the MEA statement said.

In addition to the Rakhine State project proposals, a number of ongoing friendship projects were reviewed during the meetings.

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