MOU on refugee repatriation signed


State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi greets Bangladesh foreign minister A H Mahmood Ali after signing of MOU on refugees.

Bangladesh and Myanmar finally signed a deal on the refugee issue on Thursday without a deadline on repatriation but with much expectation that the Rohingya will start returning to Myanmar in 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 Suu Kyi's office.

Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Myanmar's Minister for State Counsellor's office Kyaw Tint Swe signed the instrument.

They also exchanged ratification of boundary agreement 1998.

Minister Mahmood Ali made the disclosure of signing the 'Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State' after they reached a consensus on the Rohingya repatriation.
This is the ‘first step’, Ali told Mizzima. " The two countries will now have to work on the ‘next steps’, he said.

When asked how soon the repatriation process would start, the foreign Minister said : “Not in three months. We have to start the process.

"The houses there have been torched and razed to the ground. They need to be rebuilt.”

"We are ready to take them back as soon as possible after Bangladesh sends back the forms to us," said Myint Kyaing, a permanent secretary at Myanmar's ministry of labour, immigration and population, referring to registration forms the Rohingya must complete with personal details before repatriation.

Ali's meeting with Suu Kyi began at 10:00 am (Myanmar time), and it lasted for 45 minutes.

More than 622,000 Rohingyas have crossed the border and taken shelter in Cox's Bazar district since August 25 amid allegations of persecution by Myanmar military in Rakhine State.

Referring to the influx of Rohingyas to Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said during an event on the outskirts of Dhaka on Thursday that these Myanmar nationals are a burden on Bangladesh and urged Myanmar to start taking them soon.

Bangladesh in its senior officials meeting here on Wednesday raised the issue of keeping a provision for a time frame over the completion of the Rohingya repatriation; a senior official told Bangladesh news agency  UNB.

Bangladesh also sought the involvement of the international community, including the UN agencies in the verification process.

Myanmar did not meet Bangladesh's full expectation on the repatriation timeframe as it only agrees on a starting time but not on a deadline to complete the process; a senior Bangladesh diplomat told media persons.

"We've agreed on many things though our expectations are not met fully. It's not possible in any negotiations," he said wishing to remain anonymous.

Another diplomat said Myanmar wants to start the repatriation within the next two months after the deal.

He said Bangladesh wants to end the Rohingya repatriation within one year though Myanmar keeps that an open-ended issue without giving any specific timeframe for completion.

On the involvement of UN agencies in repatriation Myanmar seemed to soften its position without committing itself to a legally-binding one, an official told Mizzima.

Bangladesh and Myanmar, however, agreed on the formation of the joint working group at a foreign-secretary level to start the repatriation process of all Rohingyas.

On Wednesday, both Aung San Suu Kyi and Mahmood Ali had expressed hopes of signing an MOU to start the repatriation of the refugees.

The Foreign Minister and 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 long one-to-one meeting, the Foreign Minister attended the ministerial meeting on 'Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State'.

The 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 on Wednesday.

Earlier in the morning, Bangladesh handed over an ambulance to Myanmar authorities for Rakhine State.

US Secretary of State Rex W Tillerson has said the United States would pursue accountability under 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.

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