When U Tin Oo spoke to Bangladesh journalists at the ruling National League of Democracy’s (NLD) headquarters in Yangon, Aung San Suu Kyi’s most trusted patron did not once utter the word ‘Rohingya’.
The 89-year-old veteran leader and former army chief, who is well aware of the affairs of Bangladesh, was pitching for “peaceful solutions” to problems between the neighbours during the interaction on Monday.
Only a few days ago, hundreds of Buddist monks staged a protest in front of the US mission in Yangon because the embassy had used the word Rohingya in one of its statements to refer to the stateless population in Arakan.
U Wynn Lwin, a member of the Myanmar foreign ministry think-tank Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS), was, however, open in denying the existence of Rohingyas.
“We can bring Bangladesh-Myanmar closer as long as we don’t use this (Rohingya) word,” the former ambassador told the Bangladesh group.
“Yes, this is the spirit of the government and the common people of Myanmar”.
Fleeing sectarian violence, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have taken refuge in Bangladesh, but Myanmar authorities have denied their citizenship and refused to take them back.
This denial is being seen as a stumbling block in the relations between the two neighbours.
The Rohingya community has been hoping for decades that one day their democratic leader Suu Kyi would end their plight by recognising them as Myanmar citizens.
But that hope seems to be fading now with Suu Kyi silent on the issue since the country’s election in November.
“Truly speaking, Rohingyas are so sincere, dedicated, honest and well wishers of Aung San Suu Kyi since her father’s death and had full confidence on her. So to us, her silence is harsher than the previous military governments”, Mohamed Ibrahim, a member of the community told bdnews24.com.
Ibrahim is the founder of a news portal, Burma Times, and works with a Rohingya organisation campaigning in Europe for their Myanmar citizenship demand.
“As for me, I have lost hope that Suu Kyi will recognise the Rohingyas as one of Myanmar’s minority groups,” he said.
Bangladesh, however, remains optimistic and has changed its diplomatic tack to build relations with the neighbour, which serves as the gateway to China and ASEAN economies.
Dhaka is stepping up its public diplomacy, keeping aside the refugee issue, to brand Bangladesh among Myanmar’s Buddist community.
For the first time, the embassy in Yangon celebrated Bangla New Year in a big way, flying in cultural troupes of the Bangladesh tribal community to stress the similarities.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was among the first to send a congratulatory message to Suu Kyi soon after her election. Hasina also greeted her over phone.
Talks are underway to ink formal mechanisms of holding security dialogues between the countries and also to establish border liaison offices.
Bangladesh is also planning railway links from Chittagong to Kunming through Myanmar, apart from a BCIM economic corridor to link the two countries with the two biggest economies – India and China.
Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director of Mizzima Media Group, Soe Myint, also wants “good relations” between the two neighbours and suggests greater people-to-people contacts.
He also feels it is time to begin a discussion on the Rohingya issue.
“We’ll not be able to solve it in the near future. But at least we can start serious discussions now”, he told bdnews24.com, outlining the sensitivity of the issue in Myanmar and the other priorities of the NLD including economic development.
“But we should do that (discussion)”, he said, adding that the dialogue could be among the communities, two countries, and the international community.
General Secretary of the Myanmar Muslim National Affairs Organisation in Yangon, Kyaw Khin, said, as Muslims, they face no problems in Myanmar.
“Basically, they (Burmese) have a problem with that specific ethnic group (Rohingya),” he told bdnews24.com.
The upcoming ‘Panglong Conference’ could be such an event to discuss ethnic reconciliation.
Suu Kyi is planning to hold this conference, the first after her father Aung San organised such a meet in 1947, the year when he was killed, to reconcile Shan, Kachin and Chin ethnic minority leaders.
The NLD veteran, Tin Oo, said they would hold this conference as ethnic reconciliation was a matter of “priority” for them.
Asked, he said, the Muslim minority issue, too, would figure in that conference.
Rohingya leader Ibrahim said they were people of the Arakan state and that their ancestors had been living in Myanmar for centuries.
“We are pro-democracy activists and the whole Rohingya community was in favour of or supporter of her (Suu Kyi’s) father Aung San.
“Since his assassination, the Rohingya community in cooperation of other minority groups have been working and chanting slogans in favour of his daughter.
“We even voted for her in the 1990 general election. She won but the military did not let her come to power.”
But after this election, “we realised that she is not honest about ending the sufferings of Rohingyas and she has never spoken in their favour anywhere”.