Rohingya Muslim children, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, stretch out their arms to collect aid Credit: AP Photo/Dar Yasin
A Burmese minister on Monday proposed taking back hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh after a military crackdown, according to Dhaka’s top diplomat.
However, no details of the planned repatriation were given by Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H Mahmood Ali, and there was widespread scepticism over whether any of the Muslim Rohingya now in Bangladesh would return.
Half a million have arrived over the last five weeks after militant attacks in Burma’s Rakhine state sparked violent reprisals.
The United Nations has said the attacks carried out by the Burmese military could amount to ethnic cleansing in the Buddhist-dominated country.
The talks between Mr Mahmood Ali and Burma’s Minister of the Office of State Counselor Kyaw Tint Swe came as UN representatives were allowed to access Rakhine for the first time since the crisis erupted on August 25.
UN officials, diplomats and aid groups were taken on a one-day visit organised by Burmese authorities.
They were flown by helicopter to Maungdaw, epicentre of the violence. Mr Mahmood Ali held what he called “friendly” talks in Dhaka with the representative of Burma’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Myanmar has made a proposal to take back the Rohingya refugees,” the minister told reporters, using another name for Burma.
“The two sides have agreed to a proposal to set up a joint working group to coordinate the repatriation process.”
Ms Suu Kyi, who has been severely criticised for her failure to curb the military crackdown, said last month that Burma would take back “verified” refugees.
This would be done according to criteria agreed in 1993, when tens of thousands of Rohingya were repatriated, she said.
The Bangladesh minister gave no timeframe for repatriation and did not say whether Burma would also take back 300,000 Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh during earlier violence.
He said refugees would be verified by the joint working group, but without UN involvement.
“Bangladesh has proposed a bilateral agreement [with Burma] to help implement the repatriation,” he said.
There was no immediate comment from Ms Suu Kyi’s representative, who was to return to his country on Monday.
Burma denies the Rohingya minority citizenship even though many have lived there for generations. It considers the Muslims illegal migrants from Bangladesh.