YANGON – Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees would be able to return to Myanmar’s Rakhine state after a deal struck with Bangladesh on Thursday, according to a statement from the Myanmar state counsellor’s office.
Some 620,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled a brutal Myanmar army crackdown launched in the wake of Rohingya militant attacks in August, amid reports of rape, killings, and arson by security forces.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali signed the deal with Myanmar’s minister for the state counsellor’s office, Kyaw Tint Swe.
The repatriation process will begin within two months, the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry in a statement on Thursday.
That event came after Mahmood Ali met one-time democracy icon – and current state counsellor – Aung San Suu Kyi in the morning, according to a statement in English on the the state counsellor’s Facebook page.
The two countries also signed boundary agreements which establish the Naf river as a border between the two countries, according to a post on the Myanmar Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page.
The two countries disagreed on a time frame, the Dhaka Tribune reported, citing comments made by Bangladesh’s foreign minister on Wednesday. Myanmar refused to agree to a time limit for repatriations, while Bangladesh wanted it to be completed within one year.
They also agreed to establish a joint working group at the foreign secretary level, the paper reported.
Thursday’s statement from the office of Suu Kyi said Western countries and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation “had portrayed the matter as an international issue by passing resolutions at the UN,” when it was really a bilateral issue.
The United States on Wednesday determined that violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar constitutes ethnic cleansing.
“After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.
The move prompted the US government to restrict employees travelling to parts of Rakhine State, including the state capital, Sittwe, as a “prudent” measure in case of potential protests until the end of December.
Amnesty International earlier this week released a report documenting the Myanmar government’s systematic discrimination against the country’s 1.1 million Rohingya, saying the actions amounted to “apartheid,” a crime against humanity.
The organization revealed a “deliberate campaign” by the government to strip Rohingya of what little identification documents they possess, making it cumbersome to register newborn babies and deleting names from official records if people were not home for “population checks.”
The human rights monitor warned that this would make it “virtually impossible” for Rohingya refugees to return to their homes. -dpa