Decision on Rohingya repatriation Thursday morning

Frederick Owens
November 15, 2018

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi has rebuffed criticism over her government's treatment of its ethnic Rohingya Muslims.

More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees crossed into Bangladesh from western Myanmar, UN agencies say, after Rohingya insurgent attacks on Myanmar security forces in August, 2017 triggered a sweeping military crackdown. Pence also said Myanmar's arrests and convictions of two Reuters journalists was "deeply troubling" to millions of Americans.

"We are in a better position to explain to you what is happening, how we see things panning out", she added.

The strengthening of rhetoric in the draft was flagged earlier this year by Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan who said his ASEAN peers had urged Myanmar to give the inquiry commission a full mandate to hold those responsible accountable. "And I'm sure you will say the same of yours, that you understand your own country better than anybody else does".

Nur Islam, another leader in a different part of the camps, said the military were more visible in recent days as Bangladeshi officials try and convince refugees they will be safe if they go back.

In August, the United Nations released a report detailing the military crackdown with genocidal intent, which has the huge numbers of Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh.

United Nations officials and global organizations have said such a return is unsafe due to ongoing violence and conditions that continue to force refugees to flee the country.

It was the highest level meeting between the USA and Myanmar under the Trump administration, and Pence's blunt message comes as Myanmar and Bangladesh are set to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar despite warnings from the United Nations and humanitarian groups that they will return to persecution, oppression, and possibly violence.

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Sources say that for many Rohingya whose names appeared on the initial list, the prospect of returning at this point - with no guarantees of security and scant details on how the process will be conducted - has sent them into hiding amidst the sprawling tent cities that have cropped up along the border.

"It would seem that Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to defend what is indefensible", the 93-year-old told reporters in Singapore.

Bangladesh officials remain optimistic the large-scale refugee returns will start as planned Thursday.

In July, Myanmar established a commission of inquiry to probe allegations of human rights abuses in Rakhine, which includes two local and two worldwide members from Japan and the Philippines.

The two countries had originally agreed to begin repatriating Rohingya last January, but that was called off amid concerns among aid workers and the Rohingya that their safety wasn't guaranteed.

The draft statement repeated ASEAN's previous calls on the importance of the repatriation of displaced persons to Myanmar, humanitarian relief and reconciliation among communities, but went further in calling for accountability for the alleged atrocities.

Citing a senior official at the commission, BBC Bangla said the 150 Rohingyas on the list of the first batch for repatriation do not want to return to Myanmar.

Myanmar has denied citizenship to the Rohingya since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 ethnic groups it officially recognizes, which effectively renders them stateless.

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