As Rakhine crisis festers, ASEAN mus

On the last Sunday of 2018, acrimonious elections were held in Bangladesh with the likelihood of ripple effects on regional issues. The elections were the first in a series of similarly consequential elections slated to be held across the region this calendar year -- in India, Indonesia, Australia, possibly Singapore, and of course Thailand.

Nowadays it is apparent that no country can set totally its own agenda divorced from adequate appreciation of external circumstances. 

Because Bangladesh said it would revisit the Rohingya repatriation issue after its Dec 30 elections, discussions are likely to start again soon. First, we trust that Bangladesh will keep its highly praised promise not to return refugees against their will.

Furthermore, all those engaging with Myanmar should take account of new information about what has been happening on the ground in Rakhine state. The government's access restrictions remain in place and independently verified information is scarce. But on Dec 18, Reuters released a worrying report about infrastructural and physical work commissioned by the Myanmar government.

It concludes that refugees returning to Rakhine will not be allowed to go back to their homes or original villages. It is more likely that they will be taken to several dozen Rohingya-only settlements, segregating them from the rest of the population. This would imply the continuation of the very apartheid-like state that the Rohingya fled from.

Under the statute of the International Criminal Court, acts of apartheid qualify as "inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity".

As 2018 ended, news from Myanmar's restive Rakhine State was dominated by armed clashes between the country's military and the Rakhine Buddhist Arakan Army (AA). Fighting escalated in November and left hundreds fleeing their villages in both central and northern Rakhine State. Those affected are mostly ethnic Rakhines and Khami.

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