Myanmar not ready for refugees' return:UN

YANGON • Myanmar is not ready for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, said the most senior United Nations official to visit the country this year, after Myanmar was accused of instigating ethnic cleansing and driving nearly 700,000 Muslims to Bangladesh.

"From what I've seen and heard from people - no access to health services, concerns about protection, continued displacements - conditions are not conducive to return," Ms Ursula Mueller, the UN's assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said after a six-day visit to Myanmar.

The Myanmar government has pledged to do its best to ensure repatriation, under an agreement signed with Bangladesh last November, would be "fair, dignified and safe".

Myanmar has verified several hundred Rohingya Muslim refugees for possible repatriation. They would be "the first batch" of refugees and could return to Myanmar "when it was convenient for them".

Ms Mueller was granted rare access in Myanmar, allowed to visit the most affected areas in Rakhine state, and the met army-controlled ministers of defence and border affairs, as well as de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian officials.

The exodus of Rohingya Muslims followed an Aug 25 crackdown last year by the military in the north-western Rakhine state.

Rohingya refugees reported killings, burnings, looting and rape, in response to militant attacks on security forces.

Myanmar says its forces have been engaged in a legitimate campaign against Muslim "terrorists".

Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete a voluntary repatriation of the refugees in two years. Myanmar set up two reception centres and what it says is a temporary camp near the border in Rakhine to receive the first arrivals.

Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The UN has described Myanmar's counter-offensive as ethnic cleansing, which it denies.

Ms Mueller said she is "really concerned about the situation". Part of the problem is that Myanmar has bulldozed at least 55 villages that were emptied during the violence, said New York-based Human Rights Watch. Myanmar officials have said it was done to make way for refugee resettlement.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2018, with the headline 'Myanmar not ready for refugees' return:UN'. Print Edition | Subscribe