Al-Jazeera on 23 November reported Bangladesh and Myanmar have finally signed a deal for the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Cox Bazaar. In the same week, the Myanmar Times constructed a triumphantly sounding report declaring, “Refugee deal inked, repatriation to begin”.
It is understandable that, after years of senseless genocide, mass displacement compounded with Myanmar’s stubborn headedness in accepting the Rohingya as its constitutional citizens – the news might come as a change in tone to most.
However, there is a need to dissect this matter to provide an intelligible conjecture.
It is worth noting the MoU between Bangladesh and Myanmar is signed at the executive level. Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor, U Kyaw Tint Swe and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali represented each country in inking the document.
However, the agreement at the executive level has also excluded key Myanmar military officials.
This is an important observation to be brought to the light of the day, considering how the persecution of the Rohingya’s is strategized and coordinated largely by the Myanmar Military. The monopoly of such critical portfolio equals to Tatmadaw’s coverage on policy and decision making power. In addition, the Military fills a quarter of Parliament’s seats, enough to block any constitutional amendment that would limit its authority.
Hence it is fair to argue the recent MoU can’t be taken at its face value. Ministries headed by civil officers and Ministers including Aung San Suu Kyi arguably do not have any control over the country’s military forces that are enacting the brutal campaign against the Rohingya.
As put forth but various commentators in the region, the signing of the recent agreement may have meant as a strategic effort to mitigate Myanmar’s image abroad after receiving a barrage of criticism on its Rohingya policy. Others have also pointed how it may have been executed to prepare for the arrival of Pope Francis to Myanmar in the same month.
For the record, the pope has been an ardent critic of Myanmar’s treatment of the minority group in Rakhine.