Rohingya to return to Myanmar in 2 months

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Dhaka, Naypyitaw ink deal on refugees, but uncertainties abound

YANGON Bangladesh and Myanmar will start repatriating Rohingya refugees in two months, Dhaka said yesterday as global pressure mounts over the crisis that has sent more than half a million people fleeing across the border.

Around 620,000 Rohingya have poured into Bangladesh since August to what is now the world's largest refugee camp, running from a Myanmar military crackdown that Washington said this week clearly constitutes "ethnic cleansing".

The statement from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is the strongest US condemnation yet of the crackdown, accusing Myanmar's security forces of perpetrating "horrendous atrocities" against the group.

Following talks between Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Dhaka's Foreign Minister A. H. Mahmood Ali, and after weeks of tussling over the terms of repatriation, the two sides inked a deal in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw yesterday.

Dhaka said a working group would be set up within three weeks to work out the arrangements for the repatriation.

"This is a primary step. (They) will take back (Rohingya). Now we have to start working," Mr Ali told reporters in Naypyitaw.

It remains unclear how many will be allowed back and how long the process will take.

Rights groups have raised concerns about the process, including where the minority will be resettled after hundreds of their villages were razed and how their safety will be ensured in a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is surging.

Despite the squalid conditions in the overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, many of the refugees say they are reluctant to return to mainly Buddhist Myanmar unless they are granted full citizenship.

"We will not go back to Myanmar unless all Rohingya are granted citizenship with full rights like any other Myanmar nationals," said Mr Abdur Rahim, 52, in Bangladesh.

He was a teacher at a government-run school in Buthidaung in Myanmar's Rakhine State before fleeing across the border.

The signing of the deal came ahead of a highly-anticipated visit to both nations by Pope Francis, who has been outspoken about his sympathy for the plight of the Rohingya.- AFP