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'Publicity stunt': human rights groups slam Myanmar Rohingya repatriation


Myanmar has accepted what appears to be the first five among some 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled military-led violence against the minority group, even though the United Nations says it is not yet safe for them to return home.

The stateless Muslim minority have been massing in squalid refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh since the Myanmar army launched a brutal campaign against the community in northern Rakhine state in August.

The UN has said the military-led operations that started last August amount to ethnic cleansing, but Myanmar has denied the charge, saying its troops targeted Rohingya militants.

According to the Rohingya Blogger, however, the individuals in the photos are the family members of the administrator of Taung Pyo Latya, the designated entry point for returning refugees.

In a statement on Saturday, the Myanmar government claimed: "Five members of a Muslim family came to the Taungpyoletwea reception centre in Rakhine state in the morning".

The agency said that in the absence of a tripartite agreement between UNHCR, Myanmar and Bangladesh, The UN agency has continued to engage with governments of both the countries in negotiations on two separate agreements meant to ensure that any future returns are conducted in line with the worldwide standards of voluntariness, safety and dignity.

The two countries agreed in December to begin repatriating them in January, but they were delayed by concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that they would be forced to return and face unsafe conditions in Myanmar.

The most recent one, carrying 70 Rohingya, reportedly set out from Myanmar toward Malaysia on Thursday, the same day the family of five returned to Rakhine.

"This is in no way a repatriation, rather it is propaganda", Kalam told Reuters. But it did not mention plans for further returnees expected in the near future.




A Facebook post on the official page of Myanmar's Information Committee appears to show the family getting health checks and receiving packages of rice, mosquito netting, and blankets.

The reported repatriation comes days after Myanmar's social welfare minister, Win Myat Aye, visited a Rohingya camp in Bangladesh's border area of Cox's Bazar.

Although the Rohingya have lived in Burma for many generations, most Burmese consider them unwanted immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and refer to them as "Bengalis", a term the Rohingya consider derogatory.

"Before proceeding with the repatriation of Rohingya, the Myanmar government must recognize and guarantee all their fundamental human rights", he said.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday that "conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for returns to be safe, dignified, and sustainable".

Since August previous year, more than half a million Rohingya have undertaken perilous journeys to Bangladesh to flee persecution and violence in Myanmar.

Many refugees say they fear a repeat of the persecution that forced them off their lands if they go back under the repatriation deal, and of being placed in temporary transit camps for an unknown period of time as they await new housing.

Many of their original communities were burned to the ground in the violence that Doctors Without Borders says claimed at least 6,700 Rohingya lives in the first month alone.

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