WASHINGTON: The US wants Myanmar to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in their own villages following their exodus from the country’s violence-wracked Rakhine state for Bangladesh, a senior State Department official said Saturday in Dhaka.
Simon Henshaw, acting US assistant secretary of state who visited refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh, said Myanmar should also punish those who committed atrocities in Rakhine.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August carrying accounts of murder, rape and arson at the hands of Myanmar’s powerful army during a military crackdown dubbed as “ethnic cleansing” by the UN.
They have taken refuge in squalid camps in southeast Bangladesh, joining the more than 200,000 Rohingyas who had set up homes there after escaping earlier bouts of violence.
“First of all, it is (Myanmar’s) responsibility to return security and stability to Rakhine state. Secondly, it’s their responsibility to investigate reports of atrocities and bring those who committed them to accountability,” Henshaw told reporters in Dhaka.
“Part of bringing people back to Rakhine state requires these people be allowed to return to their land…. And for those whose villages are burnt, quick efforts need to be made to restore their homes and their villages,” he said.
After weeks of intense global pressure, Myanmar agreed 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.
Experts say repatriation will also be complicated by the scale of destruction in Rakhine, where hundreds of Rohingya villages have been reduced to ash.
Relief workers say some refugees have expressed a reluctance to return if it would mean living in camp-like settlements or being barred from occupying the land they had before.
US lawmakers on Friday proposed sanctions against Myanmar’s military, in some of the strongest efforts yet by Washington to pressure the Southeast Asian nation to end abusive treatment of the Muslim minority.
Myanmar authorities say the security crackdown was in response to attacks by Rohingya militants on police posts in late August.
For decades, the Rohingya have faced discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and denigrated as illegal “Bengali” immigrants.