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India looking towards SAARC nations for developing northeastern states

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NewsGram Staff Writer

New Delhi: Aiming to usher in development in the country’s northeastern region, India is engaging with SAARC nations, especially Bangladesh, said BJP leader Ram Madhav on Saturday. Working with the SAARC nations is also a part of the Center’s Look East policy, he mentioned.

“The emotional disconnect between the people of the northeast and the rest of the country is our own creation,” Madhav, BJP’s national general secretary and in-charge of the northeast, said.

He was speaking during a panel discussion on “Northeast’s strategic importance and Act East policy” organised as part of the ongoing Northeast Festival in the capital.

“We, as a government, are committed to bridge this emotional disconnect,” he said, adding, India’s development is incomplete sans the development of the northeast.

“The Indian government is taking many steps for the development of the region and is talking to Bangladesh and other SAARC nations as well in this regard. As part of our Look East Policy, we are looking to improve the physical connectivity and infrastructure in the region,” he said.

Ram Madhav attributed the backwardness of the northeastern states to emotional disconnect, physical disconnect and bad governance.

“I believe that clean and efficient governance is also required for the development of the region,” Madhav said.

“Our priority is on developing good relations with our neighbors, and the biggest beneficiary of that would be the northeastern region,” he said.

Ravi Capoor, joint secretary in the union commerce ministry, said that during the pre-Independence days, the northeast was one of the most prosperous regions.

“There used to be free flow of trade, commerce and people between the countries, which was the main reason for this,” he noted.

Citing Nasscom figures, he said, about 20 per cent of the people working in the outsourcing industry are from the northeastern states.

“If we can improve the internet and digital connectivity of the region, there is no reason why it cannot become a major IT hub of the country, and that alone can contribute significantly to the development of the region,” Capoor said.

AM Singh, joint secretary in the union ministry of development of the northeastern region (DoNER), said his ministry was trying to sort out all the issues related to trade and commerce in the region and it required a coordinated effort from all the stakeholders.

“At DoNER, we are trying to provide a lot of opportunities to facilitate investments in the region. The most important thing is that we need to believe in the northeast,” he said.

Nani Gopal Mahanta, professor of political science in Guwahati University, said that since the northeastern region was landlocked, development and commerce was a problem.

“I believe that the northeast can develop on its own. As a region, it historically had seamless connectivity with Southeast and South Asian countries and that should be looked at once again. What is required is integration of road, rail and water transport and people-to-people connect,” he said.

Organised by Trend MMS, a Guwahati-based socio-cultural trust, the three-day Northeast Festival will conclude today.

(With inputs from IANS)

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Violence And Intimidation Directed Towards Rohingyas In Bangladesh Camps

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies.

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Rohingya, Violence
Rohingya refugees carry a hume pipe in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

The failed attempt to send thousands of Rohingya back to Myanmar starting this month has drawn attention to alleged violence and intimidation by security forces against members of the Muslim minority living in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps.

Bangladesh has boosted its international reputation by hosting more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled a vicious campaign by Myanmar’s military last year that U.N. investigators have labelled genocide – an accusation Myanmar has consistently denied.

But Bangladesh appears keen to demonstrate that Rohingya refugees will not be welcome there indefinitely. The planned repatriations sparked fear and chaos last week as Rohingya went into hiding – and in a handful of reported cases attempted suicide – to avoid being sent back.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Meanwhile, allegations of sporadic beatings, looting and intimidation by Bangladeshi soldiers, police and camp officials have underscored the bleak conditions faced by Rohingya in their host country, where most are denied official refugee status and face restrictions on freedom of movement.

The repatriation of some 2,000 refugees was scheduled to begin last Thursday, but Bangladesh has now put the plans on hold until next year after failing to find any Rohingya willing to go back.

Rohingya in the camps have told VOA that soldiers were stationed near the homes of those who were told they would be sent back last week, fueling fears of forced repatriation and adding to widespread distress in communities already suffering extreme trauma after last year’s violence.

One Rohingya man told VOA anonymously that block leaders in the camps were also “announcing with loudspeakers… that it’s essential for everyone to carry ID with them whenever and wherever they go if they leave their homes.”

Late last month, security forces looted property from Rohingya shopkeepers at the Balukhali camp, said John Quinley, a human rights specialist with the non-profit organization Fortify Rights.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugees walk under rain clouds on June 26, 2018, in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. VOA

“Right now the security forces are operating in the camps with total impunity,” he said.

In another case earlier this month, Fortify Rights reported that security forces rounded up 18 Rohingya leaders and slapped and hit some of them while telling them to instruct other refugees to cooperate with a new U.N.-backed project to provide them with “smart cards.”

Many Rohingya oppose the identity cards because they fear the information on them will be shared with the Myanmar government.

Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, Abul Kalam, told VOA he was unaware of the allegations of violence but would follow up. “Generally, it is not acceptable that someone would apply force on or beat someone to do or not to do something,” he said.

Quinley called on the U.N.’s refugee agency to “do everything in their power to make sure that the Bangladeshi authorities are respecting human rights.”

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Spokesperson Caroline Gluck said the agency has notified the authorities of a “small number” of reports of violence related to the smart card project. The agency has “been following up with them to ascertain the circumstances of what happened,” she told VOA.

Officials have responded that the incidents were “not linked” to the smart card project, she said.

She added, “The new ID card will enable refugees to be better protected and will streamline access to assistance and services.”

Mohammed Sheikh Anwar, a Rohingya activist, told VOA the Bangladeshi government “needs to keep the lower-level authorities in check. There should be an accountability measure.”

“Committing violence against genocide survivors to make them agree to the authorities’ terms is not the solution,” he added.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
A Rohingya refugee woman draws water from a hand pump at a temporary shelter in New Delhi, India.

Last week a Rohingya man named Ata Ullah said he was beaten at the office of an official at the Chakmarkul camp, the Guardian reported, after he failed to provide the official with a list of refugees.

Ata Ullah said in a video circulated on social media that when he couldn’t provide the official with a list he “was beaten with a large stick… they stepped on my neck, I could not stand it.”

Also Read: Bangladesh Government Build a New Rohingya Camp

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies and Rohingya refugees to “create any structures, infrastructure, or policies that suggest permanency.”

As a result, the report said, “refugee children do not go to school, but rather to ‘temporary learning centers,’ where ‘facilitators,’ not ‘teachers,’ preside over the classrooms. The learning centers are inadequate, only providing about two hours of instruction a day,” the report said. (VOA)