Myanmar announces repatriation of first Rohingya family
Move comes despite warnings that mass repatriation would be premature
YANGON Myanmar's government said it has repatriated the first family of Rohingya refugees, among 700,000 who fled a brutal crackdown, but the move was slammed by rights groups as a publicity stunt that ignored warnings over the security of returnees.
The refusgees have been massing in squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh since the Myanmar army launched a ruthless campaign against the community in northern Rakhine State last August.
The United Nations (UN)has said the operation amounts to ethnic cleansing, but Myanmar has denied the charge, saying its troops targeted Rohingya militants.
Bangladesh and Myanmar vowed to begin repatriation in January, but the plan has been repeatedly delayed as both sides blamed the other for a lack of preparation.
According to a Myanmar government statement posted on Saturday, one family of refugees became the first to be processed in newly built reception centres earlier in the day.
"The five members of a family... came back to Taungpyoletwei town repatriation camp in Rakhine State this morning," said a statement on the Facebook page of the government's Information Committee.
A Rohingya community leader in the camp also confirmed the family's return.
The move comes despite warnings from the UN and other rights groups that a mass repatriation of Rohingya would be premature, as Myanmar has yet to address the systematic legal discrimination and persecution the minority has faced for decades.
Many Rohingya refugees say they fear returning to a country where they saw their relatives murdered by soldiers and Buddhist vigilantes who drove them from their homes.
Doctors Without Borders said the violence claimed at least 6,700 Rohingya lives in the first month alone.
The Myanmar authorities have since bulldozed many of the burned villages, raising alarm from rights groups who say they are erasing evidence of atrocities and obscuring the Rohingya's ties to the country.