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Bangladesh says it’s in talks with Burma on Rohingya repatriation deal

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel speaks with a Rohingya family during his visit to Kutupalong Refugee Camp Bangladesh in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on 19 November 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

DHAKA — Bangladesh is in negotiations with Burma aimed at a deal to repatriate displaced Rohingya and Dhaka’s foreign minister will address the matter at talks in Burma this week, the Bangladeshi foreign ministry said on Sunday.

More than 600,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since late August, driven out by a military clearance operation in Buddhist-majority Burma’s Rakhine State. The Rohingya’s 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 Burma 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 Burma. “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 Burma. On 1 November, Burma 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.

Stung by international criticism and accusations of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, Burma’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has said Rohingya who can prove they were resident in Burma would be accepted back.

Last week a United Nations General Assembly committee called on Burma to end military operations that have “led to the systematic violation and abuse of human rights” of Rohingya.

The move revived a UN resolution that was dropped last year due to Burma’s progress on human rights.

However, in the past three months there has been a Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh after the Burma military began an operation against Rohingya militants who attacked 30 security posts and an army base in Rakhine on 25 August.

Burma’s military 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 UN officials have denounced the violence as a classic example of ethnic cleansing. The Burmese government has denied these allegations.

Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Burma, where many Buddhists see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

A US 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.”