CAMBODIA’S assumption of the Asean chairmanship for 2022 and its appointment as the Special Envoy of the Asean chair to Myanmar will help it play a significant role in solving the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Bangladesh Minister of Foreign Affairs A.K. Abdul Momen said on Jan 18 that the Cambodian chairmanship of Asean would provide a great opportunity to facilitate the safe return of Rohingyas, now sheltered in Bangladesh, to Myanmar.

According to media reports, during a telephone conversation recently with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Prak Sokhonn, also the country’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, Momen laid emphasis on the potential security risks to Bangladesh, Myanmar and to the greater region if the Rohingya crisis is left festering for much longer.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed raised the issue at a United Nations (UN) General Assembly on Sept 25, 2021 to draw the attention of global leaders in solving the Rohingya crisis. She focused specifically on the engagement of Asean leaders, who can solve the issue peacefully.

The Rohingya crisis is an important international issue. More than 1.1 million Rohingyas have taken refuge in Bangladesh since August 2017 due to genocide and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. About 50,000 newborn Rohingya children are added to this every year. Momen mentioned the vulnerability of the displaced people to radicalism, extremism, terrorism, cross-border crimes, etc.

He congratulated his Cambodian counterpart on the Asean chairmanship and the nation’s appointment as Special Envoy to Myanmar. Referring to the longstanding and excellent bilateral relations between the two countries, Momen mentioned that Bangladesh highly values its relations with Cambodia as an important partner in the region.

Lauding the “big heart” demonstrated by Bangladesh in sheltering 1.1 million displaced Myanmar nationals, Prak Sokhonn expressed his understanding for the difficulties faced by Bangladesh.

As chair and an active member of Asean, Cambodia can help resolve this crisis by being a mediator.

In the last four and a half years, despite various initiatives, no real progress has been forthcoming in resolving the Rohingya crisis. Under pressure from the international community, the Myanmar government signed an agreement on Rohingya repatriation, but to no avail.

According to the agreement, the Rohingyas were to be repatriated in stages but the process has yet to start. Bangladesh has repeatedly urged various international forums to take effective steps to resolve the crisis.

At the UN General Assembly, Hasina not only ended her duty by calling on the international community to repatriate Rohingya but also presented six specific proposals. The prime minister also raised the issue during her recent visit to France.

The UN has unanimously passed a resolution urging Myanmar to end the Rohingya crisis. Most importantly, Russia and China did not oppose the proposal.

The resolution, introduced by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the European Union, was unanimously passed by the Social Humanitarian and Cultural Committee, known as the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly.

Momen said the support of Russia and China is important. He said both countries also want a solution to the Rohingya problem.

In this regard, Cambodia can play a holistic, significant and strategic role. It can raise the issue within the Asean platform. Cambodia can negotiate with Myanmar diplomatically and bilaterally as it has good relations with Myanmar.

Jubeda Chowdhury is a freelance columnist. Comments: