THE food minister Qamrul Islam ignored an alert that Bangladesh’s embassy in Yangon issued in the third week of August for Bangladesh to keep off any high-level engagement with Myanmar. Yet the minister visited Myanmar in the first week of September on an official visit to sign a memorandum of understanding on the import of rice from Myanmar. This is disparaging in that the minister visited Myanmar at a time when its security forces were going ahead with violence against the Arakan Rohingyas in Rakhine State, in a manner which the United Nations likened to a textbook example of ethnic cleansing, forcing a massive exodus of the Rohingyas to neighbouring countries, mostly to Bangladesh. The number of Rohingyas fleeing violence at home to Bangladesh since August 25, when the latest spate of the so-called security operations began in Rakhine State, is now estimated to be some 3,79,000, mostly women, children and elderly people. With more than 4,00,000 Rohingyas already living in Cox’s Bazar, in official camps and in unofficial shelters, the latest influx of people, who are undocumented, has taken the total number of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh to more than 8,00,000. Many of them have, however, lived here since the early 1980s since when violence against the Rohingyas has continued in Rakhine State.
In such a situation, the visit of the Bangladesh food minister, for the purpose of importing rice, would definitely send out a wrong signal, especially to the international community. The Bangladesh mission in Yangon issued the alert to the visit of any high-level Bangladesh delegation or any high-level engagement such as this as it might provide Myanmar with grounds to campaign that it was maintaining good relations with Bangladesh. Such an engagement also falls no short of creating an impression of the acceptability, on part of Bangladesh, of what Myanmar is doing — a humanitarian crisis borne out of Myanmar’s total disregard for humanism, any diplomatic relations and international laws. It is understandable that Bangladesh would import rice in the event of a looming food shortage, as the government’s rice stock has recently reduced to less than half a million tonnes of rice, pointing to a shortfall of 2.5 million tonnes, especially after the flooding that have persisted since April-May. But Bangladesh could have imported rice from any ASEAN countries such as Cambodia, Thailand or Vietnam as rice import agreements have already been there in place with these countries. The minister in question, however, sought to explain in the parliament on Sunday that the had been to Myanmar as the prime minister had said that ‘trade’ and ‘diplomatic efforts’ would continue with Myanmar. But should that mean the visit by a minister and the import of rice at the state level?
The government, in the situation, must stop doing anything that could offer legitimacy of a sort for the humanitarian crisis that Myanmar, through its genocidal action against the Rohingyas, is forcing on Bangladesh. The government should also investigate the minister’s visit to Myanmar to see whether he had any personal interest in procuring rice from Myanmar in these times of critical bilateral relation with the killer state.
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