The Irrawaddy

Repatriation Deal With UN No Threat to Sovereignty, Minister Says

NAYPYITAW — The Union Minister for Labor, Immigration and Population on Wednesday moved to calm fears that the government’s invitation to United Nations agencies into the country to help deal with the Rakhine issue posed a threat to the nation’s sovereignty.

The Myanmar Army, or Tatmadaw, has called for caution on cooperating with international agencies, and opposition parties including the Union Solidarity and Development Party and Arakan National Party have continuously opposed foreign intervention in the issue.

“We don’t need to worry about the UN [agencies] coming into the country. The government has taken steps that are in the nation’s best interest,” Union Minister U Thein Swe told reporters in Naypyitaw.

Myanmar must cooperate with UN agencies on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees in order to make the process credible, he said.

“Under current circumstances, our country can’t handle the issue alone. Only by cooperating with the UN agencies will we be able to take firmer steps and win the trust of international organizations,” he said.

The ministry signed a memorandum of understanding on June 6 in the administrative capital of Naypyitaw with the UNDP and UNHCR on the repatriation of refugees to Rakhine State.

Myanmar previously cooperated with the UN on the repatriation of refugees in 1993, the minister said.

“The repatriation process will not be led by the UN agencies. We will implement the process in accordance with the procedures of UEHRD,” the minister said, referring to the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine State. “They will assist us in coordinating with their offices in Bangladesh,” he added.

U Pe Than of the Arakan National Party said the Arakanese people have concerns, as the government has not made public any details of its agreement with the UN.

“We have concerns about what agreements and compromises the government has made over the repatriation process. Terrorists may enter the country by impersonating refugees. The problem may grow worse if we can’t prevent this,” U Pe Than said.

Minister U Thein Swe said the government will allow UN agencies to go to northern Rakhine State and provide the media with free access to the area, depending on the security situation.

“We hope there will not be one-sided allegations and exaggerations. There will be correct reports, and the image of Myanmar will improve,” U Thein Swe said.

The UN and the international media have reported that nearly 700,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh following Tatmadaw clearance operations in the wake of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya State Army in northern Rakhine on Aug. 25 last year.

Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete the voluntary repatriation of refugees within two years.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.