This week’s Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) has been positive, forcing regional states like Myanmar and Bangladesh to work together to find a solution for the return of Rohingya Muslim refugees, a top Swiss foreign ministry official has declared.
The ASEM meeting external linkin Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw was beneficial both for Bangladesh and Myanmar, as it “obliged them to cooperate in finding a solution for the repatriation of the refugees”, Switzerland’s Secretary of State Pascale Baeriswyl told the Swiss News Agency on Tuesday.
She made her remarks at the end of the two-day gathering, attended by 51 states including Switzerland.external link The meeting had been scheduled in Myanmar before the outbreak of the Rohingya crisis.
More than 600,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August, driven out by a military clearance operation in Buddhist majority Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Amid a growing humanitarian disaster, human rights groups have accused the Myanmar military of atrocities, which it denies.
Baeriswyl said Switzerland did not intend to give lessons, especially to a country where the army still has a lot of influence, but it “clearly demands that the facts be established and those responsible for the violations be punished”.
Last month, Switzerland welcomed a Myanmar army delegation to Bern to confront the junta about human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims. Amnesty International criticised the visit, especially as the European Council had suspended invitations to senior Myanmar officers.
But speaking to Swiss public television RTS, Swiss ambassador Paul Seger said it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to put Switzerland’s message across.
On Monday, China proposed a three-stage approach to the crisis. It called for a first phase involving a ceasefire on the ground, followed by talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh to find a workable solution for the return of refugees, and the final phase should be to work towards a long-term solution based on poverty alleviation.
The following day, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said she hoped talks with Bangladesh this week would result in a memorandum of understanding on the “safe and voluntary return” of Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh over the past three months.
She said talks would be held with the Bangladesh foreign minister on Wednesday and Thursday. Officials from both countries began discussions last month on how to process applications by Rohingya wanting to return to Myanmar.
ASEM has been an interregional forum for multilateral exchanges between Europe and Asia since 1996. The Rohingya refugees were one of the main issues discussed during the meeting, as well as North Korea and Ukraine.