KUTUPALONG: Talks between Myanmar and Rohingya leaders will be extended after “positive” discussions about the refugees’ return to their homeland, Bangladesh officials said yesterday. Some 740,000 Rohingya fled a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar’s military and joined another 200,000 already living in squalid conditions in nearly three dozen camps in Bangladesh’s coastal Cox’s Bazar district.
The two nations signed a repatriation deal two years ago but so far virtually no Rohingya have volunteered to go back to Myanmar, where the group has faced decades of repression. The delegation, led by the country’s permanent foreign secretary U Myint Thu, arrived at Cox’s Bazar district on Saturday to “explain the preparations” for the Rohingyas’ return to northern Rakhine state.
“We have in principle agreed to discuss further on three areas,” Thu told reporters after the group-which included other representatives from Southeast Asian nations-visited the world’s largest refugee settlement Kutupalong. The three areas are extending the dialogue between the two parties, involving delegates from Southeast Asian nations in the discussions, and holding talks with Bangladeshi ministries over the repatriation of Hindu and Christian Rohingyas.
Bangladesh refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said the talks were “positive”. “If the refugees continue to press for talks, they (Myanmar) will listen. It is exactly what is happening now,” he said. Rohingya Muslim community leader Mohib Ullah said he told the delegation people wanted citizenship, safety and security as preconditions for their return to Rakhine. They also wanted to return to their villages and not to camps constructed by the government, he added.
“They patiently listened to us. We requested them to return with an answer after two months and to continue the talks,” he told AFP. Rohingya Christian leader Abu Taher said his community also demanded freedom to practice their religion in Rakhine. Myanmar so far denies the minority citizenship and refers to them as “Bengalis”-inferring that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
It is the second time in less than a year officials have tried to convince the Rohingya to return to violence-wracked Rakhine, with the first repatriation offer rejected by camp leaders in October. The massive camps have sparked tensions between the neighbors, with Bangladesh blaming Myanmar for delays in repatriating the refugees. Dhaka has said it will not force any Rohingya to leave, while Myanmar has faced international pressure to allow the refugees to return and grant them citizenship rights. The UN has complained that progress to address the refugee crisis has been far too slow.–AFP