The Irrawaddy

Myanmar Touts Repatriation, Time Frame Remains Unclear

NAYPYITAW — Bangladesh will start repatriating some 3,000 refugees who left Rakhine State following last year’s crisis in western Myanmar, said President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay at a press conference on Friday in Naypyitaw.

“It is a welcome move that the Bangladeshi minister will repatriate about 3,000 people in the first batch. We’ve been working for that to happen,” said U Zaw Htay.

He did not speak about the time frame for the repatriation process. The Myanmar government hopes that the cooperation of Bangladesh will speed up the repatriation and resettlement process so that Myanmar can alleviate international pressures, he added.

There have been calls from the international community for the Rakhine issue to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC last week ruled that it could prosecute Myanmar for alleged crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, which the government promptly rejected.

Lawmaker U Aung Thaung Shwe representing Buthidaung Township in Rakhine State’s Parliament spoke against the repatriation plan, referring to Rohingya refugees as rebels who committed violent acts.

“I want [the government] to consult with local people as opposed to giving in to pressures from the international community,” said U Aung Thaung Shwe.

“I don’t think submitting to international pressure is good for our future. I also don’t think that the pressures will decline once the repatriation process is implemented,” he said.

U Zaw Htay said the repatriation process will be implemented according to the latest agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh and that the Myanmar government believes it will be successful.

“The [agreement] is based on the 1993 agreement, which was successful. We believe that the agreement will be realized successfully,” he added.

U Tun Kyi, a former political prisoner, said he believes that international pressures will let up if these 3,000 Rohingya refugees are able to return to Rakhine State and live in a secure and dignified manner.

“If we have a good start, we can hope to reduce some of the international pressure,” he said.

Besides the bilateral agreement with Bangladesh, Myanmar is also implementing a memorandum of understanding signed with the UNHCR and UNDP, as well as the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission report on Rakhine State, U Zaw Htay said.

“We have done 81 of 88 recommendations made by Kofi Annan’s commission. We have to fulfill the pledges we have made. Our country must be responsible and accountable. The international community at present is calling for Myanmar to be accountable,” he said.

The Myanmar government formed an independent investigation commission led by Rosario Manalo, a former deputy foreign minister of the Philippines, on July 30. The commission has already started investigating rights abuses in Rakhine State, he added.

U Zaw Htay said that Myanmar has been ready to accept Rohingya refugees since it signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh on Jan. 23.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.