Bangladesh, Myanmar sign Rohingya repatriation deal
Published : Thursday, 23 November, 2017 at 2:45 PM Count : 1792
Bangladesh and Myanmar finally signed a deal on Rohingya repatriation on Thursday with no ending deadline amid high hopes that the forcibly displaced Rohingyas will start returning to their homeland within the next two months.
The two neighbouring nations struck the deal following a meeting between Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in the morning at the Myanmar de facto leader's office.
Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Myanmar's Minister for State Counsellor's office Kyauw Tint Swe signed the instrument. They also exchanged ratification of boundary agreement 1998.
Mahmood Ali made the disclosure of signing the 'Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State' after they reached a much-sought consensus on the Rohingya repatriation. The meeting began at 10:00 am (Myanmar time) and lasted for 45 minutes.
Over 622,000 Rohingyas have crossed the border and taken shelter in Cox's Bazar district since August 25 amid persecution by Myanmar military in their Rakhine State.
According to International media, the agreement comes a day after the US government said on Wednesday that abuses directed at the Rohingya ethnic group in Myanmar amount to ethnic cleansing.
"After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement earlier.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson welcomed the MoU signing events and hoped that this step will reduce the tension in the region.
Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to cooperate on the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, who have fled what the UN has described as "textbook ethnic cleansing" in Myanmar's northern Rakhine State.But given the violence and Myanmar's history of refusing citizenship to Rohingya, many refugees may be unwilling or unable to return. Al Jazeera's Florence Looi reports from Yangon.
Radio free asia reports that a statement issued later in the day said that Bangladesh and Myanmar authorities agreed to a â€œsustainableâ€ repatriation of Myanmar citizens from Bangladesh, but avoided referring to the refugees as Rohingya.
Officials from both sides who participated in the ministerial-level meeting earlier on Tuesday also discussed implementing the recommendations by the Myanmar government-appointed Advisory Commission on Rakhine State led by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan, employing counterterrorism measures, taking action against separatists, eliminating cross-border human trafficking and drug smuggling, and maintaining a peaceful border, the statement said.
â€œIt is agreed that the chiefs of the border security forces of both countries will meet once a year, and the regional level official will meet on a quarterly basis to resolve border concerns,â€ it said.
Meanwhile UNB reports, referring to the influx of Rohingyas to Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told a programme on the outskirts of Dhaka on Thursday that these Myanmar nationals are a burden on Bangladesh and urged Myanmar to start their repatriation soon.
Bangladesh in a senior officials meeting here on Wednesday raised the issue of keeping a provision for a timeframe over completion of the Rohingya repatriation, a senior official told UNB.
Bangladesh also sought involvement of the international community, including the UN agencies in verification process.
Myanmar did not meet Bangladesh's full expectation on the repatriation timeframe as it only agrees on starting time but not the ending point, a senior diplomat told UNB.
"We've agreed on many things though our expectation is not met fully. It's not possible in any negotiations," he said wishing to remain unnamed.
Another diplomat said Myanmar wants to start the repatriation within the next two months once the deal is signed.
He said Bangladesh wants to end the Rohingya repatriation by one year though Myanmar keeps it as an open-end one without giving any specific timeframe for completion.
On involvement of UN agencies in repatriation process, Myanmar shows a bit soft position but nothing will be legally-binding one, an official told UNB.
Bangladesh and Myanmar, however, agreed on formation of joint working group at foreign-secretary level to start the repatriation process of all Rohingyas.
â€œWe are ready to take them back as soon as possible after Bangladesh sends the forms back to us,â€ Myint Kyaing, a permanent secretary at Myanmarâ€™s ministry of labor, immigration and population, told Reuters, referring to forms the Rohingya must complete with personal details before repatriation.
Myint Kyaing said that the memorandum of understanding was based on the 1992-1993 repatriation agreement between the two countries which had been inked following a previous spasm of violence in Myanmar.
The forms that the refugees will have to fill include names of family members, their previous address in Myanmar, date of birth and a disclaimer that they are returning voluntarily, said Myint Kyaing.
He said that based on the 1992-1993 agreement, Myanmar would accept those who could present identification documents issued to the Rohingya by Myanmar governments in the past. Those include the currently distributed national verification cards, as well as now-withdrawn â€œwhite cardsâ€, as well a s receipts the Rohingya received when returning their â€œwhite cardsâ€, he said.
Diplomats and aid workers have said the key elements of the deal will be the criteria of return and the participation of the international community, such as the United Nations refugee agency, in the process.
Other important points include safeguards for the Rohingya against further violence, a path to resolving their legal status and whether they would be allowed to return to their own homes and farms.
Myint Kyaing declined to elaborate on those points.
Earlier, the Foreign Minister and the Myanmar's Minister for State Counsellor's office had a marathon meeting when they discussed various issues of bilateral interest, including the Rohingya issue.
Soon after the one-to-one lengthy meeting, the Foreign Minister attended the ministerial meeting on 'Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State'.
Senior Officials Meeting was co-chaired by Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar U Myint Thu and Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque.
Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor Kyaw Tint Swe hosted a dinner in honour of visiting Foreign Minister of Bangladesh at Shwe San Eain Hotel in the capital after the meetings.
US Secretary of State Rex W Tillerson has said the United States will pursue accountability through US law, including possible targeted sanctions on Myanmar if the situation does not improve in Rakhine State.
"After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," said the US Secretary of State on Wednesday.
The international community is also watching the talks and its subsequent outcome as they want to see the safe and dignified return of the Rohingyas as quickly as possible.
Amid mounting international pressure, Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday said they have planned to sign a MoU with Bangladesh this week which will enable them to start the repatriation process of all the Rohingyas from Bangladesh to Myanmar.
"What we're trying to do is to sign a MoU that will enable us to start the repatriation of all those refugees who've gone over the border," she told a crowded press conference at Myanmar International Convention Centre here.
European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, earlier, expressed her hope that Bangladesh and Myanmar will reach a decision to sign a MoU and an agreement on safe repatriation of Rohingyas from Bangladesh.
She said the EU is supporting this process and will stand ready to accompany this process in the coming week.
Earlier, the foreign ministers of Asian and European countries, in general, agreed in many areas on Rohingya issue and asked for immediate cessation of hostilities, halting of outflow, early return of externally displaced Rohingyas from Bangladesh.
They also asked for implementation of recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission for durable solutions.
Earlier in the morning, Bangladesh handed over an ambulance to Myanmar authorities for Rakhine State.