Myanmar says it's ready for UN help with Rohingya return

Myanmar's Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs Ministry Myint Thu speaks to journalists during a press conference about the situation of Rakhine State at Information Ministry in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Myanmar's authorities on Tuesday said it is an appropriate time to invite the United Nations refugee and the development agencies to involve in the repatriation of Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh from violence in Myanmar. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

Myanmar officials say the time is right to have U.N. agencies become involved in the repatriation of Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh to escape violence against them

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar — Senior officials in Myanmar announced Wednesday that they have begun talks with U.N. agencies to see how they could assist with the repatriation of Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh to escape violence against them.

Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Myint Thu said the offices of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the U.N. Development Program responded last week with a proposal and concept paper to the government's invitation for U.N. involvement, which the government is now studying.

"We considered that the time is now appropriate to invite UNHCR and UNDP to be involved in the repatriation and resettlement process, as well as in carrying out activities supporting the livelihoods and development for all communities in Rakhine state," Myint Thu said.

Human rights experts believe safety cannot yet be guaranteed for about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled the western state of Rakhine to Bangladesh after security forces carried out brutal crackdowns in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents last August.

Antagonism between Rakhine's Buddhist community and Rohingya Muslims led to communal violence in 2012, forcing at least 140,000 Rohingya from their homes into squalid camps for internally displaced people. Most Rohingya are treated as stateless persons with limited rights, and the insurgents drew support from the discontented as prejudice against their community grew in overwhelming Buddhist Myanmar.

Stanislav Saling, a U.N. spokesman in Myanmar, confirmed that in response to Myanmar's initiative, the U.N. agencies submitted a note proposing how they could help create conditions "for the safe, dignified and voluntary return for refugees, in line with international principles."

Neither the U.N. nor the government made public details of the proposal.

The international community has accused Myanmar's military of atrocities against the Rohingya that could amount to ethnic cleansing, but the government and military deny any organized human rights violations.

Myanmar's civilian government led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has pledged to start the gradual repatriation of the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.

Myanmar's government says 374 refugees out of more than 8,000 whom Bangladesh has verified as qualified to return are free to return at their convenience.

"We have handed the list of 374 people to the Bangladesh Embassy so that they can immediately start their repatriation," Myint Thu said. "These 374 people can be the first repatriation batch."

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