Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi 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.
Clearance operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine State have driven more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh since late August.
Rights groups have accused Myanmar’s military of atrocities during these operations.
“We cannot say whether it has happened or not. As a responsibility of the government, we have to make sure that it will not happen,” Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters at the end of a meeting of senior officials at an Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw.
Her fledgling government has faced heavy international criticism for its response to the crisis, though the army controls the three key ministries of Home, Defence and Border Affairs and one-fourth of the lawmakers in the parliament are men in uniform.
Turning to the question of repatriation of Rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi said discussions would be held with the Bangladesh foreign minister on Wednesday and Thursday. Officials from both countries began discussions last month on how to process applications by Rohingya wanting to return to Myanmar.
She did not use the term “Rohingya”. Myanmar rejects the 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.
Aung San Suu Kyi said Myanmar would follow the framework of an agreement reached in the 1990s 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 is on the basis of residency…this was agreed by the two governments a long time ago with success, so this will be a formula we will continue to follow,” she said.
Earlier talks between the two countries reached a broad agreement to work out a repatriation deal, but a senior Myanmar official later accused Bangladesh of dragging its feet in order to secure funding from aid agencies for hosting the refugees.
It was hard to tell exactly how close Myanmar and Bangladesh were to an agreement, Suu Kyi said.
Aung San Suu Kyi 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 criticised in the past as effectively creating permanent camps.