Myanmar’s head of government Aung Sun Suu Kyi says Bangladesh must start the return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, Reuters reports.
“The returnees have to be sent back by Bangladesh. We can only welcome them at the border,” she said at an event in Singapore on Tuesday.
“I think Bangladesh would also have to decide how quickly it wants the process to be completed.” It was difficult to set a time frame for the process, she said.
Some 700,000 members of the Rohingya minority had crossed the border into Bangladesh last August following a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
The UN has called the operation ‘ethnic cleansing’. Myanmar says it is a response to insurgent attacks launched by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army ‘terrorist group’.The Muslim majority Rohingyas regard themselves as Rakhine natives, but have been denied citizenship and face persecution at the hands of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority.
Suu Kyi stressed that terrorism in the Rakhine region was still a concern for Myanmar.
“The danger of terrorist activities, which was the initial cause of events leading to the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine remains real and present today,” she said.
“Unless this security challenge is addressed the risk of inter-communal violence will remain. It is a threat that could have grave consequences, not just for Myanmar but also for other countries in our region and beyond.”
Myanmar has rejected accusations of ethnic cleansing and dismissed most accounts from refugees of atrocities, instead blaming Rohingya “terrorists”.
Myanmar and Bangladesh had reached an agreement on the repatriation of the refugees late last year. However, the process has not formally begun. Space has been allocated for the resettlement of the Rohingyas, Suu Kyi said.
“Our relationship with the army is not that bad,” the Nobel peace prize winner said. “Don’t forget that we have three members of the cabinet who are in fact military men, generals, and they’re all rather sweet.”
The military, which seized power in Myanmar after a 1962 coup, ruled for nearly 50 years.
In 2010 the military began major reforms, including releasing Suu Kyi from house arrest. It later transferred power to her after her party won a 2015 election.