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Bangladesh urges Russia to mediate in Rohingya crisis after China-led efforts fail

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Bangladesh has approached Russia to use its good offices with Myanmar’s junta to bring them around to taking back Rohingya refugees, after a China-led effort failed in facilitating it.

Dhaka has urged Russia to launch a ‘trilateral initiative’ with Myanmar, like China did, to resolve the crisis, brought on by Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar to escape the military’s campaign.

Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen told reporters that he had made the proposal to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, at a meeting in Tashkent last week on the sidelines of the international conference on connectivity.

Momen was speaking to reporters in Dhaka after his return from Central Asia.

“I told Lavrov that we have tried a lot bilaterally with Myanmar and even tri-laterally involving China. But in the last four years, not a single Rohingya returned,” the Bangladesh foreign minister said. “So, I told him to help us. I told him that you can take a trilateral initiative as you have good relations with them (Myanmar) and they will listen, if you say.”

Momen recalled that for the first time, Russia and China gave their support in adopting the “Human Rights Situation of Rohingya Muslims and other Minorities in Myanmar” resolution in the UN recently.

“It’s an achievement. It’s a shift,” he said, adding that the adoption of the resolution by consensus is a “big milestone” towards negotiation of Rohingya repatriation.

According to sources, Lavrov did not make any commitment straightaway, as any such initiative will be a tightrope walk for Moscow, given that Myanmar’s junta is one of the biggest customers of Russian-origin defence equipment in SE Asia and has decided to tilt towards Russia for defence purchases, rather than China.

In 2020, the current military junta chief of Myanmar, who was then commander of the armed forces, was among the few senior dignitaries who attended the Victory Day parade in Moscow. Also, the general was in Moscow recently. People in the know said Russia has plans to sell fighter aircraft to Myanmar’s junta.

However, on the other hand, Russia enjoys goodwill with the ruling Awami League government for its role during the 1971 war of independence and backing India through Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty and in the UNSC.

Russia’s nuclear major Rosatom is constructing Bangladesh’s only nuclear power plant and has a trilateral with its Indian counterpart for providing assistance to the project.

Russia is emerging as a key negotiator in various conflict theatres in Asia, which includes Syria and Afghanistan.

Since August 25, 2017, Bangladesh has hosted over 1.1 million forcefully displaced Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar district, who arrived there after a military crackdown in Myanmar, which the UN called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and other rights groups dubbed as “genocide”.

In the last nearly four years, not a single Rohingya has returned home, although Myanmar has agreed to take them back.

The tripartite discussion between Bangladesh and Myanmar mediated by China was started in 2019, and following a series of meetings at ministerial, secretary and high official levels, Naypyidaw had hinted that it would start taking back Rohingyas from the second quarter of this year. But the tripartite discussion has been suspended since the coup.

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