Suu Kyi: Myanmar hopes for deal with Bangladesh on Rohingya

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Myanmar's leader warns that it 'takes time' for Rakhine issues to be resolved

NAYPYITAW Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said yesterday she hopes talks with Bangladesh this week will result in a memorandum of understanding on the "safe and voluntary return" of Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh in the past three months.

A counter-insurgency operation launched in Myanmar's Rakhine state has driven more than 600,000 Rohingya out of the Buddhist-majority country since late August.

Rights groups have accused Myanmar's military of atrocities, including mass rape, against Rohingya during the clearance operation.

"We can't say whether it has happened or not. As a responsibility of the government, we have to make sure that it won't happen," Ms Suu Kyi told reporters in response to a question about human rights violations at the end of a meeting of senior officials at an Asia-Europe Meeting, or Asem, in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw.

Her less than two-year old civilian government has faced international criticism for its response to the crisis, though it has no control over the generals it shares power with.

On the repatriation of Rohingya, Ms Suu Kyi said discussions would be held with the Bangladesh foreign minister today and tomorrow.

Officials from both countries began discussions last month on how to process applications by Rohingya wanting to return to Myanmar.

"We hope that this would result in an MOU signed quickly, which would enable us to start the safe and voluntarily return of all of those who have gone across the border," Suu Kyi said.

The Nobel laureate did not use the term "Rohingya". Myanmar rejects use of the term for the Muslim minority, which is not on an official list of the country's ethnic groups.

The Rohingya are largely stateless and many people in Myanmar view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Ms Suu Kyi said Myanmar would follow the framework of a 1990s agreement to cover the earlier repatriation of Rohingya, who had fled to Bangladesh to escape previous bouts of ethnic violence.

That agreement did not address the citizenship status of Rohingya, and Bangladesh has been pressing for a repatriation process that provided Rohingya with more safeguards this time.

"It's on the basis of residency... this was agreed by the two governments long time ago with success, so this will be formula we will continue to follow," said Ms Suu Kyi said.

She said the country was doing everything it could to"make sure security is maintained" in Rakhine, but warned that"it takes time" to resolve the issues there.

Myanmar intends to resettle most refugees who return in new "model villages", rather than on the land they previously occupied, an approach the United Nations has criticized in the past as effectively creating permanent camps. - REUTERS