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The Future of Asia 2019

Myanmar says Bangladesh not helping refugee return

Minister says Myanmar will take back all Rohingya and provide resident certificates

Myanmar Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor, Kyaw Tint Swe, speaks during 25 th international conference on The Future of Asia on May 31, in Tokyo. (Photo by Yuki Nakao)

TOKYO -- Bangladesh is not cooperating in Myanmar's efforts to repatriate and provide residence cards to all refugees who fled its western region, a senior Myanmar official told a conference here on Friday.

Kyaw Tint Swe, a minister for the Office of the State Counselor, said Bangladesh has not honored a bilateral arrangement inked in November 2017 meant to facilitate the repatriation of Rohingya and other minorities who fled ethnic violence in the state of Rakhine.

The repatriation process should have begun in January 2018, he said, but to date no Rohingyas have returned via the official channel.

"Some 200 people have come back on their own will from Bangladesh through a very difficult journey," Kyaw Tint Swe said at the 25th International Conference of the Future of Asia, organized by Nikkei.

Implementation of the 2017 repatriation agreement has been repeatedly delayed, despite a deal signed last year with two United Nations agencies to ensure that Rohingya are guaranteed a safe and voluntary return.

But human rights groups say without legal protection such as citizenship, Rohingya refugees will continue to face persecution in Myanmar, where they are denied freedom of movement and access to healthcare and education.

Kyaw Tint Swe said the Myanmar government is ready to grant all those who come back with a "certificate of residence" while those who are eligible can apply for citizenship.

The minister said besides Rohingya, some 444 Hindus are also trapped across the border in the area of Cox's Bazar and have not been released by Bangladesh despite official requests from Myanmar.

"Some 20 Hindus have returned on their own arrangements. None came back via the official channel," he said.

More than 720,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh since 2016 to escape a campaign of violence that the United Nations has said may amount to genocide. Myanmar authorities deny the allegations, claiming they were carrying out an anti-terror operation.

The violence in Myanmar was also roundly condemned including by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as critics demanded action from Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Some have called for her Nobel Peace Prize to be revoked.

As for relations with China, Kyaw Tint Swe characterized them as "very good," noting his government wants to remain friendly with all its neighbors.

China and Myanmar enjoys a "family or kinsmen" ties, he said, in which both countries enjoy enhanced mutual trade and investment.

"There has been a lot of Chinese investment in Myanmar," he said, adding that fears of Myanmar falling into a debt trap are unfounded.

Kyaw Tint Swe explained that a infrastructure financing agreement with China inked by the previous government was renegotiated by the Suu Kyi-led government to avoid a debt trap.

The minister also invited investment from all trading partners, including Japan. Myanmar's investment policy has also been restructured to be more friendly to foreign investment, he said.

"We are also inviting investment from Japan. And I'm very happy that recently it has been announced that Toyota is coming to (invest) in Myanmar," he said.

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