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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Myanmar accuses Bangladesh of delaying Rohingya repatriation

More than 600,000 members of the Muslim minority are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh after fleeing a brutal army crackdown in mainly Buddhist Myanmar over the past two months

Rohingya refugee children sit in a line in the rain as they wait to receive permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue their way after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, at a port in Teknaf, Bangladesh on October 31, 2017. Hannah McKay / Reuters
Rohingya refugee children sit in a line in the rain as they wait to receive permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue their way after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, at a port in Teknaf, Bangladesh on October 31, 2017. Hannah McKay / Reuters

Myanmar on Wednesday accused Bangladesh of delaying the repatriation of Rohingya Muslims who have fled Rakhine state since August, as conditions worsen for the minority group penned into squalid refugee camps.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled a brutal army crackdown in mainly Buddhist Myanmar over the past two months.

After weeks of intense global pressure and UN accusations of ethnic cleansing, Myanmar vowed to take back Rohingya who meet "verification" standards.

But the criteria remains vague, raising fears it will be used to restrict the number of returnees.

On Wednesday, Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay pointed the finger at Bangladesh - an impoverished country overwhelmed by the influx of refugees - for allegedly delaying the repatriation.

"The Myanmar government already declared we are ready to receive [the refugees] at any time ... but the Bangladeshi government is still considering the agreement between the two countries," he said.

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Dhaka has yet to send an official list of the Rohingya who have fled since August 25, he added.

The Myanmar spokesman declined to elaborate on comments he made to the local press linking the delay to US$400 million (Dh1.5bn) in aid which Dhaka had received to expand housing for Rohingya.

"Currently they have got nearly $400m. Over their receipt of this amount, we are now afraid of [them] delaying the programme of deporting the refugees," he was quoted as saying.

A senior Bangladeshi foreign ministry official denied Dhaka was dragging its feet, saying the two countries were working to overcome differences in drafts of a repatriation agreement.

Myanmar "were themselves not prepared", the official said.

Myanmar has said Rohingya will have to prove prior residence in Rakhine in order to return - but this could be difficult for many members of a stateless minority who lack proper documentation.

The government has previously only issued ID cards to Rohingya willing to identify as "Bengalis" - a name that brands them as foreigners.

Repatriation will also be complicated by the scale of destruction in Rakhine, where hundreds of Rohingya villages have been reduced to ash, allegedly by soldiers and Buddhist mobs.

Relief workers say some refugees have expressed reluctance to return if it would mean living in camp-like settlements or being barred from the land they had before.

Meanwhile, Myanmar authorities have begun a new drive to issue National Verification cards inside Rakhine, where a dwindling number of Rohingya have stayed on despite severe food shortages and soaring communal tensions.

Those who sign up are rewarded with food and mosquito nets, reported the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

Myanmar has steadfastly denied charges of ethnic cleansing, instead blaming the violence on Rohingya militants.

The militants staged deadly attacks on police posts on August 25, prompting a ferocious army backlash against Rohingya communities.

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