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Two senior government officials over the weekend inspected camps being readied in anticipation of the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Rakhine State, who are currently sheltering in neighbouring Bangladesh.
Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Dr. Win Myat Aye and Nyi Pu, the chief minister of Rakhine State, visited at least four villages on Sunday, where preparations are underway to receive the refugees.
At the 124-acre site Hla Po Khaung, described by state media as a “temporary medium camp” apparently designating it as a kind of transit settlement pending further relocation, some 625 buildings are to be constructed to house about 30,000 refugees. More than 650,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since 25 August, when Rohingya militants staged deadly attacks on several police posts in Rakhine State, prompting a harsh crackdown by Burmese security forces.
Under the terms of a repatriation agreement inked in November between Burma and Bangladesh, the first returnees could be processed as soon as 23 January, though questions remain as to the feasibility of that tentative timeline.
“We have not yet received the paperwork that needs to be sent to us from Bangladesh as of now,” Win Myat Aye told reporters during his trip to Rakhine State yesterday. “However, as signed in the bilateral agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, we have made preparations for the repatriation process to begin on the set date. We have established the camps to get ready for accepting the refugees.”
In addition to potential administrative stumbling blocks, questions loom large over the Rohingya refugees’ willingness to return.
The counter-insurgency campaign that followed the 25 August militants’ attacks has been described by the UN human rights chief as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” though the Burmese government and military both deny any widespread misconduct by security forces.
According to reports, the situation remains tense in the northern Rakhine State townships where the refugees are expected to be resettled: Distrust of the Burmese security forces accused of perpetrating grave human rights abuses against the Rohingya — the reason many of the refugees in Bangladesh have said they fled — is combined with fears that Rohingya militants may stage more attacks that would further destabilise the fragile inter-communal dynamics in northern Rakhine.
Perhaps helping to fuel the latter anxiety, a local administrator in the affected region told DVB that 32 weapons were discovered on Sunday in a pond near Thetkeipyin village, Maungdaw Township, where three civilians from neighbouring Aung Mingalar village came upon them while on a frog-catching expedition.
The trio informed local authorities and security forces were dispatched to inspect the area, according to Kyaw Kyaw Oo, the village administrator of Aung Mingalar village.
“They found one launcher, 17 launcher-like arms and 14 homemade guns, totalling 32 firearms in the pond,” he said, without elaborating on what constituted a “launcher.”
Local village administrators handed the firearms over to security forces.
In a Facebook post, the Office of the Commander-in-Chief described the weapons cache as being made up of “one homemade launcher with two props, 29 small homemade guns which can open fire with the use of gunpowder, and two homemade guns without barrels which can open fire with the use of gunpowder.”
A photo accompanying the Facebook post showed an array of several crude-looking armaments propped up against a bench.
“It is most likely the arms were hidden by Bengalis,” said Kyaw Kyaw Oo, using a term accepted by many in Burma to refer to self-identifying Rohingya Muslims. “All the firearms function well. There may be more firearms hidden elsewhere.”