Representatives from Myanmar, Bangladesh and China called this week for enhanced cooperation in repatriating Rohingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh back to their homes in Myanmar, saying political will is needed to move the issue forward, media reports said.
Meeting informally on Monday on the sidelines of U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, Bangladesh foreign minister A.K. Abdul Momen, and Myanmar Minister of the State Counselor’s Office Kyaw Tint Swe also called for the creation of a trilateral working group “mechanism” to oversee repatriation efforts.
Strong political will and improvements in the economic conditions of Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state to promote regional stability are needed for real progress to be made, said parties to the meeting, which was presided over by China’s foreign minister, with Christine Schraner Burgener – the U.N. Secretary-General’s special envoy on Myanmar – also attending.
Speaking later to Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews, Hou Do Suan – Myanmar’s permanent representative to the U.N. – downplayed China’s proposed new role in the working group, saying a bilateral group already exists in promoting joint efforts by Myanmar and Bangladesh, and that only “sincere will” is needed to bring the Rohingya refugees back.
“I want to clarify that the forming of this working group is not a [new] mechanism,” Hou Do Suan said, adding, “We already have a joint working group.
“China is just helping us in facilitating the implementation of the agreements we already have,” he said.
“Speaking frankly, if we can implement the bilateral agreement for repatriating these people with the real intention to get it done, we will succeed,” he said.
Call for safety, rights
Since August 2017, more than 740,000 Rohingya fled from Rakhine to neighboring Bangladesh amid brutal clearance operations by Myanmar’s military in response to Muslim militant attacks on border police posts.
More than 1 million Rohingya live there in refugee camps, mostly in the district of Cox’s Bazar.
Refugees have given U.N. investigators horrific accounts of rape, murder and the burning of their homes as they escaped from Rakhine, though Myanmar military officials have rejected claims of atrocities, saying their troops were conducting legitimate counter-offensives against militant attacks.
Rohingya in the camps have called on Myanmar’s government to grant them full citizenship rights and to ensure their safety in the Buddhist-majority country before they decide to return under a repatriation agreement that Myanmar and Bangladesh signed in November 2017.
Attempts to reach the Bangladesh mission to the United Nations for comment were unsuccessful on Tuesday.