Rohingya refugee leaders ‘issue demands’ before repatriation

 PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 January, 2018

Rohingya leaders in a Bangladesh refugee camp have drawn up a list of demands they want Myanmar to meet before authorities begin sending back hundreds of thousands in a repatriation process expected to begin next week and last for two years.

Half a dozen Rohingya elders, saying they represented 40 villages from Rakhine State, showed the list of demands to a reporter at Kutupalong refugee camp, where most of the 655,500 Rohingya refugees are staying.

The petition, handwritten in Burmese, says none of the Muslim Rohingya would return to mainly Buddhist Myanmar unless the demands were met.

 It demands the Myanmar government publicly announce it is giving Rohingya long-denied citizenship and inclusion on a list of the country’s recognised ethnic groups. It asks that land once occupied by the refugees be returned to them and their homes, mosques and schools rebuilt.

It wants the military held accountable for alleged killings, looting and rape, and the release from jail of “innocent Rohingya” picked up in counter-insurgency operations.

It also wants Myanmar to stop listing people with their photographs as “terrorists” in state media and on government Facebook pages.

Myanmar state newspapers this week issued a supplement listing the names and photos of alleged members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), whose attacks on security posts on August 25 triggered a sweeping counter-insurgency operation.

The United Nations has described the Myanmar military operations in the northern part of Rakhine as ethnic cleansing.

The military says it only conducted legitimate operations and denies there have been cases of sexual assault.

But the military said last week soldiers had killed 10 captured Muslim “terrorists” during insurgent attacks at the beginning of September, after Buddhist villagers had forced the captured men into a grave the villagers had dug.

It was a rare acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the Myanmar military during its operations in Rakhine state.

ARSA said in a statement last week the 10 Rohingya in the mass grave were “innocent civilians” and not members of its group.

The Rohingya elders said they were still finalising their list of demands before showing it to Bangladesh authorities and to aid agencies administering the camps.

They said the 40 village leaders they discussed the petition with represent the interests of all Rohingya at the camp.

Bangladesh and Myanmar this week agreed to complete the return of the refugees over the next two years, with the process starting on Tuesday.

But even as preparations get underway for the repatriation, Rohingya Muslims continue to pour into Bangladesh.

More than 100 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar since Wednesday and scores more were waiting to cross the Naf river that forms the border, newly arrived refugees in Bangladesh said.

The new arrivals said they fled Myanmar because of military operations in their village of Sein Yin Pyin, and gave accounts of young men being rounded up and of discovering dead bodies in a pond and a forest.

They said they fled out of hunger, after hiding in their homes for days, unable to go to work in the fields and forests that provided their livelihood.

Myanmar Police Colonel Myo Thu Soe, spokesman for the military-controlled Home Affairs Ministry, told Reuters on Thursday “there’s no clearance operation going on in the villages”.

But, he added, “security forces are still trying to take control of the area” in northern Rakhine. He declined to elaborate.

Aid agencies and rights groups have warned that the repatriation exercise cannot succeed unless the fears and concerns of the refugees in Bangladesh are addressed.

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