MYANMAR is willing to take back all 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled to Bangladesh if they volunteer to return, the country’s National Security Adviser Thaung Tun said last Saturday (2). He was speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security conference in Singapore, where he was asked if the situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where most Rohingya live, could trigger use of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) framework of the United Nations. The so-called R2P initiative was adopted at the 2005 UN World Summit, in which nations agreed to protect their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. “If you can send back 700,000 on a voluntary basis, we are willing to receive them,” Thaung Tun said. “Can this be called ethnic cleansing? “There is no war going on, so it’s not war crimes. Crimes against humanity could be a consideration, but we need evidence. These serious charges should be proved and they should not be bandied about lightly.” Since August 2017, about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled a military crackdown in mainly Buddhist Myanmar, many reporting killings, rape and arson on a large scale. The UN and other aid agencies have described the crackdown on the Rohingya as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, an accusation that Myanmar rejects. Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete the voluntary repatriation of the refugees within two years. Myanmar signed an agreement with the UN last Thursday (31) aimed at eventually allowing the Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh to return safely and by choice. It also said it would set up an independent commission to investigate “the violation of human rights and related issues” in Rakhine State following the army operation there.
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