DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on Monday to set up a “working group” to plan the repatriation of more than half a million Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled to Bangladesh to escape an army crackdown, the Bangladeshi foreign minister said.
The United Nations has called the exodus of 507,000 Rohingya since late August the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency, and says Buddhist-majority Myanmar is engaging in ethnic cleansing against its Rohingya Muslim minority.
Myanmar denies that. It says its forces are battling Rohingya “terrorists” who triggered the latest wave of violence with coordinated attacks on the security forces on Aug. 25.
Myanmar says more than 500 people have been killed since, most of them insurgents, whom it has accused of attacking civilians and setting most of the fires that have reduced to ashes more than half of more than 400 Rohingya villages in the north of Rakhine State.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali said he and Myanmar official Kyaw Tint Swe had agreed in their talks to set up the working group to draw up plans for repatriation.
“We are looking forward to a peaceful solution to the crisis,” Ali told reporters.
Kyaw Tint Swe did not speak to the media and government spokesmen in Myanmar were not immediately available for comment.
Waves of Rohingya have taken refuge in Bangladesh over the years complaining of persecution, in particular in the late 1970s, the early 1990s and in October last year, following smaller insurgent attacks on the security forces.
The neighbors have agreed on repatriation plans before, but the fundamental problem – the status of Rohingya in Myanmar – remains unsettled.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots in Myanmar that go back centuries, with communities marginalized and subjected to bouts of communal violence over the years.