The Irrawaddy

Myanmar-Bangladesh Meeting Fails to Reach Repatriation Agreement

The joint press conference of Myanmar and Bangladesh in Naypyitaw. (Photo: Htet Naing Zaw/The Irrawaddy)

Naypyitaw — Myanmar and Bangladesh on Tuesday agreed to cooperate to restore stability in restive Rakhine State but failed to reach an agreement over the repatriation of refugees.

“Bangladesh wants to repatriate as soon as possible. But we will go step by step and form a joint working group for repatriation,” U Kyaw Zeya, permanent secretary of Myanmar’s foreign affairs ministry, told reporters after the meeting.

About 600,000 self-identifying Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since Aug. 25, when insurgent attacks on police outposts in Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township prompted clearance operations by the Myanmar Army.

Myanmar’s home affairs minister lieutenant general Kyaw Swe and his Bangladeshi counterpart Asaduzzaman Khan met in the administrative capital on Tuesday, agreeing to halt the mass exodus of refugees to Bangladesh, and restore normalcy in Rakhine State in order to make repatriation possible.

“We are however yet to rebuild infrastructure and draw up resettlement plans to accept them back. These works are being handled by state leaders themselves, and so it is difficult to predict [when they will be complete],” said U Tint Myint, permanent secretary of the home affairs ministry.

Union minister for the State Counselor’s Office U Kyaw Tint Swe, during his meeting with Bangladeshi foreign minister Abdul Hassan Mahmood Ali in Bangladesh’s Dhaka in October, discussed principles agreed by the two countries in 1993 regarding repatriation, and Bangladesh made a proposal, according to U Zaw Htay, spokesperson of the President’s Office.

The cabinet meeting has discussed the proposal, and submitted the decision to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Zaw Htay told the reporters last week.

He said he hoped there would be a final discussion on the proposal during the visit of the Bangladeshi home affairs minister.

However, at Tuesday’s meeting, the two countries only signed two agreements covering security and border cooperation, but not on the repatriation of refugees.

The meeting mainly focused on opening liaison offices, cooperation in counter-terrorism and combating drug trafficking, exchange of information, and holding regular meetings and ensuring rule of law at the border, according to attendees.

“We didn’t discuss plans for refugees. What we discussed is repatriation— to verify and accept back those who have settled in Myanmar and fled to Bangladesh after violence,” said police Brig-Gen Aung Htay Myint of the cross-border crime department.

There is a huge gap regarding the numbers of people who fled to Bangladesh between the ground survey of Rakhine State government and UN statistics, according to the President’s Office.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Myanmar also handed over a list of suspects reportedly involved in the attacks who fled to Bangladesh and requested the authorities there to investigate and return them to Myanmar.

“The Bangladeshi home affairs minister said that his country has never and will not accept any unlawful organization, insurgents and terrorists on its soil,” said U Tin Myint.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.