Bangladesh, Myanmar talks on repatriation begin


Newly arrived Rohingya refugees wait at the top of the hill to put up their tents into the newly expanded Balukhali camp, Ukhiya in Coxsbazar, Bangladesh, 20 November 2017. Photo: Abir Abdullah/EPA-EFE

Bangladesh and Myanmar have begun negotiations to find a solution to the Rohingya refugee problem, with Foreign Minister A H Mahmood Ali saying he is hopeful of a positive outcome.

"We hope to finalise and sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will enable us to start repatriation of all the Rohingyas from Bangladesh to their homeland Myanmar," Mahmood Ali told Mizzima ahead of the talks between senior officials of the two countries at Nay Pyi Taw.

Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque is leading the Bangladesh delegation, accompanied by Bangladesh Ambassador in Yangon M Sufiur Rahman and other top officials from the Foreign Ministry, Home Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.

After lunch, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Myanmar’s Minister for State Counsellor’s Office Kyaw Tint Swe will hold the second round of meetings.

On Thursday, the Foreign Minister will hold the final meeting with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw.

The meeting is primarily focusing on the formation of a joint working group and related terms and conditions for the smooth operation of the repatriation process.

Bangladesh is likely to seek a time frame for finishing the repatriation of the Rohingyas, a senior official at Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry told Mizzima.

“If things go well at the meeting, both sides will sign the MoU on Thursday,” said the official adding that the two sides will minimise differences.

Bangladesh wants the involvement of the international community, including the UN in a verification process which is yet to be accepted by Myanmar side.

Myanmar’s State Counsellor  Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday said they planned to sign a MoU with Bangladesh this week which will enable them to start the repatriation of all the Rohingyas from Bangladesh to Myanmar.

“What we are trying to do is to sign a MoU that will enable us to start the repatriation of all those refugees who’ve gone over the border,” she told a crowded press conference at Myanmar International Convention Centre in Nay Pyi Taw.

Suu Kyi, however, said restoring peace and stability in the troubled Rakhine State will not be possible overnight. “Nothing can be done overnight. However, we believe we will be able to make steady progress.”

She said the Asian and European countries are keen to help Myanmar in its efforts to bring about peace and stability in Rakhine as quickly as possible.

Bangladesh has been negotiating with Myanmar bilaterally apart from international engagement on the safe and voluntary return of Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh in the past months.

Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali who led the Bangladesh delegation at the ASEM Foreign Ministers’ meeting overstayed to further discuss the repatriation process with Myanmar leaders on Wednesday and Thursday.

“Chances look good. Let’s see,” he said expressing optimism over striking a deal with Myanmar on the Rohingya repatriation process.

European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini has expressed her hope that Bangladesh and Myanmar will reach a decision to sign a MoU and an agreement on safe repatriation of Rohingyas from Bangladesh.

“There’s a real possibility of Myanmar and Bangladesh reaching a MoU and an agreement for the safe repatriation of refugees (Rohingyas),” she told journalists after a photo session with ASEM Foreign Ministers.

She said the EU is supporting this process and will stand ready to accompany this process in the coming week.

In the morning, the EU top diplomat had informal meetings restricted with some ministers on the situation in Rakhine State.

“That was extremely encouraging. We discussed the need to start implementing the Annan Commission Report,” she said. 

"I am very encouraged by willingness and readiness of the Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi."

A US Congressional delegation led by Senator Jeff Merkley now in Myanmar also pitched for the safe and voluntary return of all Rohingya refugees and a credible investigation into the atrocities in Rakhine. 

"The world is watching so Myanmar lives up to its commitments," Jeff Merkley said.

More than 620,000 Rohingyas have crossed the border and taken shelter in Cox’s Bazar district since August 25.

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