Rohingya deal aims to repatriate refugees 'within two years'

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YANGON Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to repatriate Rohingya displaced by an army crackdown "within two years", Dhaka said yesterday, outlining the first clear timeline for a return of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The agreement says the process will be "completed preferably within two years from the commencement of repatriation", according to a statement from the Bangladeshi government following talks in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw.

The deal applies to Rohingya who fled Myanmar following two major outbreaks of violence since October 2016, when militants from the stateless Muslim minority first attacked border-guard posts in northern Rakhine state.

It does not cover Rohingya refugees who were living in Bangladesh prior to that date, who the United Nations estimates number at 200,000.

"During this two-day meeting, we agreed on the form that refugees will have to fill to be able to come back to Myanmar," Mohammad Sufiur Rahman, Bangladesh's ambassador in Myanmar told AFP.

"We should be able to start the process in the coming days," he said, but added Myanmar's stated deadline of next week for starting Rohingya repatriation was "not possible".

The agreement follows a pact between the countries in November, paving the way for repatriations from Jan 23, a deadline that is likely to slip given the logistical challenges.

Myanmar has faced intense diplomatic pressure to allow the safe return of Rohingya refugees driven out by its army.

But many Rohingya in crowded camps in Bangladesh say they are reluctant to return to Rakhine state having fled atrocities including murder, rape and arson attacks on their homes.