|File photo: Rohingya refugees shelter from the rain as they wait to receive permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue their way after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, at a port in Teknaf, Bangladesh|
More than 600,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since late August, driven out by a military clearance operation in Buddhist majority Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The Rohingyas’ suffering has caused an international outcry.
“Bangladesh and Myanmar are in the process of negotiation for a bilateral agreement for repatriation of displaced people and expect to form a Joint Working Group to facilitate the repatriation,” said a ministry statement, quoting remarks by Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali at a meeting with his Japanese counterpart in Dhaka on Sunday.
A senior aide to Ali said he would leave for Myanmar late on Sunday to attend an Asia-Europe (ASEM) meeting on Monday and Tuesday and would stay on another couple of days for bilateral talks on the Rohingya.
The official said Ali hoped for an agreement on allowing Rohingya to return to Myanmar. “Both countries have almost reached an understanding on this issue and there are a few points (still) to be agreed … We hope to reach an agreement.”
There was no immediate comment from Myanmar. On Nov. 1, Myanmar insisted it was ready to set up a repatriation process but voiced fears Bangladesh was delaying an accord to first get international aid money. A senior Bangladesh home ministry official described the accusation as outrageous.
ALLEGATIONS OF ETHNIC CLEANSING
Stung by international criticism and accusations of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has said Rohingyas who can prove they were resident in Myanmar would be accepted back.
Last week a United Nations General Assembly committee called on Myanmar to end military operations that have “led to the systematic violation and abuse of human rights” of Rohingya.
The move revived a U.N. resolution that was dropped last year due to Myanmar’s progress on human rights.
However, in the past three months there has been a Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh after the Myanmar military began an operation against Rohingya militants who attacked 30 security posts and an army base in Rakhine on Aug. 25.
Myanmar’s army released a report on Monday denying all allegations of rapes and killings by security forces, days after replacing the general in charge of the military operation.
Top U.N. officials have denounced the violence as a classic example of ethnic cleansing. The Myanmar government has denied these allegations.
Rohingyas have been denied citizenship in Myanmar, where many Buddhists see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
A U.S. congressional delegation, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of Germany, Sweden and Japan visited Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar at the weekend to raise awareness of their plight.
“We support Bangladesh’s efforts towards a lasting solution, including the repatriation of displaced persons,” Japan’s Taro Kona told Ali at their meeting, where Tokyo pledged $18.6 million in aid to ease the Rohingya crisis.
Mogherini told reporters: “More than putting pressure, our approach has always been and will continue to be to offer a negotiating space, encourage the taking care of a situation that is not going to disappear.”