Myanmar's Suu Kyi vows to deliver on Rohingya repatriation deal
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Singapore - Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi reaffirmed her country's commitment on Tuesday to repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people living in overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh, saying the pace would however be set by Dhaka.
Suu Kyi has been criticized internationally since close to 700,000 people fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in a mass exodus since August last year, provoked by a crackdown at the hands of Myanmar security forces in Rakhine state.
"We hope to work with Bangladesh to affect the voluntary, safe and dignified return of displaced people from Northern Rakhine," said Suu Kyi in a speech at a hotel in Singapore, in reference to a deal that was struck between the two countries last November.
"Both sides agreed, inter alia, to deliver on the commitments made to speed up implementation of bilateral agreements on repatriation," she added.
As evidence for the government's readiness to comply with the agreement, Suu Kyi pointed to the fact that Myanmar had "mapped out the official sites for the resettlement of refugees," and that United Nations officials had been granted access to 32 villages.
However, Suu Kyi was reluctant to provide a timeline as to when the resettlement process would be completed, saying only that "it depends on the timeline."
"The returnees have to be sent back by Bangladesh. We can only welcome them at the border," she said in response to a question by the audience.
"Bangladesh would also have to decide how quickly it wants the process to be completed."
Suu Kyi also warned about the dangers of terrorist activities, calling them "the initial cause of events leading to the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine" and that they remained "real and present today."
"Unless this security challenge is addressed, the risk of inter-communal violence will remain. It is a threat that could have grave consequences, not just for Myanmar but also for other countries in our region and beyond," she added.
Myanmar has repeatedly maintained that security forces "clearance operations" were carried out to target "terrorists" in the Rohingya community, referring to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, who mounted attacks against police outposts in August 2017.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who was once seen as the darling of Myanmar's fight for democracy, has come under intense criticism for failing to speak out on the humanitarian crisis in the Rakhine state, which the United Nations has termed "ethnic cleansing."