January 14, 2018 1:30 am JST

Japan's foreign minister visits Myanmar Rohingya villages

Work underway at border areas to prepare for return of refugees

HIROSHI KOTANI, Nikkei staff writer

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono visits a village in Maungdaw region in Rakhine that used to be home to around 1,000 Rohingya Muslims.

RAKHINE, Myanmar -- Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono visited Myanmar's Rakhine state on Saturday after meeting with the country's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in the capital of Naypyitaw a day earlier.

About 650,000 Rohingya have fled the western state of Rakhine and elsewhere to neighboring Bangladesh, the United Nations estimates, after an attack on police by extremist Rohingya militants in August set off a violent backlash.

Kono is the first minister of a foreign country to visit the region since the unrest began.

Kono visited a village in Maungdaw region in Rakhine that used to be home to around 1,000 Rohingya Muslims. The village chief explained to the minister how the village had been set on fire, and about progress in rebuilding.

"Japan is willing to help [the Myanmar government] make the country a place where communities from different faiths can live together peacefully," Kono said to the village chief.

In a district on the border with Bangladesh, Kono viewed the planned return route for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, including a small bridge close to the border under tight security control. The return of the Rohingya is expected to begin as early as Jan. 23.

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