COX'S BAZAR, BANGLADESH - Two days of meetings between a team of Myanmar government representatives and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps have not yielded progress on repatriation, several participants say.
Myanmar's government and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) sent delegations to meetings Wednesday and Thursday in southeastern Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district. But the representatives offered no new incentive for Rohingyas to return to their homes in Myanmar's Rakhine state, said Mohammad Zubair, a central member of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, an advocacy group.
Speaking separately at the first Global Refugee Forum in Geneva on Wednesday, Myanmar diplomat Ei Ei Tin offered a more optimistic view of the issue. She said her government is "ready to receive the returnees and confident that, with the concerted efforts of all stakeholders and cooperation of the international community, we can start repatriation process in the near future and practical and sustainable solution can also be achieved."
Zubair, who lives in Lambashia camp within the sprawling Kutupalong megacamp in Cox's Bazar, represented the rights group at a meeting with the visiting delegation Wednesday in Kutupalong.
Zubair said the Myanmar delegates reiterated their government's refusal to recognize the name Rohingya for the predominantly Muslim ethnic group. According to Zubair, the Myanmar delegation said the government is considering relabeling Rohingyas as Rakhine Muslim instead of the government's current designation as Bengali.
Zubair said camp representatives argued that some individuals have official documents issued by the former British colonial government and by Myanmar's own education ministry — identifying them as Rohingyas. The Myanmar delegation contended that the ministry does not speak for the Naypyitaw government.
According to Zubair, the Myanmar delegation also said that as a sovereign country, Myanmar would not permit U.N. forces to protect the Rohingya returnees but would see to their safety with its own troops.
Chan Aye, an official with Myanmar's foreign ministry who led the government delegation, also spoke about safety and security for returnees, VOA's Burmese Service reported. He said the military is fighting Arakan Army insurgents but not Muslim civilians, and maintained there is currently no mass displacement of Muslims in northern Rakhine state.
Reports by human rights groups and a U.N. fact-finding mission previously have alleged that in August 2017, the Myanmar military led a bloody crackdown on Rohingya communities that was conducted with "genocidal intent." The U.S. says about 745,000 Rohingya have taken refuge at camps in neighboring Bangladesh and others have fled elsewhere.
Myanmar has said its military was legitimately responding to security threats. In an address last week at the International Criminal Court of Justice, where Myanmar faces charges of genocide, its civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, said Myanmar troops might have used "disproportionate force" that led to the deaths of some civilians. She said any troops accused in those cases should be tried by Myanmar military courts.
Myanmar and ASEAN delegates on Wednesday also visited Balukhali camp, where refugee leaders raised concerns about citizenship, fundamental rights and a requirement for a national verification card to re-enter the country, a refugee named Islam told the Burmese Service.
Delegates also met Thursday afternoon with Hindu Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar.
This story originated in VOA's Bangla Service. The Burmese Service also contributed.