By Shoon Naing
NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – Myanmar and Bangladesh on Tuesday agreed to cooperate on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees and took steps to boost border security as relations between the neighbours have been strained by the continuing flow of refugees into Bangladesh.
Over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since Aug. 25, when Rohingya insurgent attacks sparked a ferocious military response by the Myanmar army that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.
At a meeting in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw, attended by Myanmar’s home affairs minister lieutenant general Kyaw Swe and his Bangladeshi counterpart Asaduzzaman Khan, the countries signed two agreements covering security and border cooperation.
The two sides have also agreed to “to halt the outflow of Myanmar residents to Bangladesh,” and “to form a joint working group,” Tin Myint, permanent secretary from Myanmar’s home affairs ministry told reporters after the meetings.
“After joint working group, the verification, (the) two countries have agreed to arrange different steps so that these people can return to their homeland safely and honourably and in secure conditions,” said Mostafa Kamal Uddin, secretary from Bangladeshi home affairs ministry.
The officials did not elaborate on the specific steps the authorities would take for the repatriation, adding that the bulk of discussions was dedicated to border and security cooperation agreements which have been long in the making.
Tin Myint said the two countries agreed “to restore normalcy in Rakhine to enable displaced Myanmar residents to return from Bangladesh at the earliest opportunity.”
He also said Myanmar had sent a list of suspects who had fled to Bangladesh and requested the authorities there to investigate and return them to Myanmar.
Thousands of refugees have continued to arrived cross the Naf river separating Myanmar’s western Rakhine state and Bangladesh in recent days, even though Myanmar says military operations ceased on Sept. 5.
The United States said on Monday it was considering a range of further actions over Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority.
While on Tuesday the officials said the talks were friendly, tensions are still high between the two countries. Bangladesh last month accused Myanmar of repeatedly violating its air space and warned that any more “provocative acts” could have “unwarranted consequences”.
On border and security, the two sides decided to establish border liaison offices, carry out regular meetings between two security forces, jointly combat drug trafficking across the border and set up a mechanism to communicate directly.
Bangladesh has for decades faced influxes of Rohingya fleeing persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where the Rohingya are seen as illegal migrants. It was already home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya before the latest crisis.
Though Rohingya families have lived in Myanmar for generations, they are denied citizenship and access to basic civil rights such as freedom of movement, decent education and healthcare.
Hundreds in Rakhine on Sunday protested to urge Myanmar’s government not to repatriate the Rohingya.
(Reporting By Shoon Naing and Antoni Slodkowski in NAYPYITAW; additional reprorting by Thu Thu Aung in YANGON; Writing by Yimou Lee; Editing by Hugh Lawson)