YANGON: Rohingya militants on Saturday hit out at a repatriation plan for refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar set to begin next week, saying it aims to trap the Muslim minority in long-term camps while their ancestral lands are seized.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to send back around 750,000 refugees who arrived since October 2016 over the next two years, a process set to begin as early as Tuesday.
But the deal has been pilloried by many Rohingya refugees who say they do not want to return to Rakhine after fleeing atrocities including murder, rape and arson attacks on their homes.
Rights groups and the UN say any repatriations must be voluntary with safety assured in a state where communal hatred still runs sky high.
Concerns are also mounting about conditions in Myanmar, where hundreds Rohingya villages have been razed by soldiers and Buddhist mobs, with fears huge numbers of Rohingya will be corralled for the long-term in camps.
In a statement circulated on Twitter the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) said the “deceitfully and crookedly (repatriation) offering” will lock Rohingya in “so-called temporary camps ... instead of allowing them to resettle in their own ancestral lands and villages”.
Citing the tens of thousands of Rohingya IDPs languishing in camps in state capital Sittwe since communal violence in 2012, ARSA said Myanmar’s intention is to distribute Rohingya lands to industrial and agricultural projects.
The aim is to “ensure a Buddhist majority” in Rakhine meaning Rohingya “will never be able to settle down” in their own homes, the statement on @ARSA_Official handle said.
Most Rohingya are denied citizenship in Myanmar as well as free movement and other basic freedoms.
They are officially described as “Bengalis” — Muslim interlopers to a predominantly Buddhist land despite many living there for generations.
The group has been driven out in successive waves since the late 1970s.
The latest followed deadly coordinated attacks by ARSA in late August which sparked an army crackdown that sent 655,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. They carried with them a cascade of accounts of rape, mass murder and torture.
Beyond admitting its troops were involved in shooting dead 10 captured suspects, Myanmar’s army has cleared itself of any wider wrongdoing.
What the UN and US has described as “ethnic cleansing”, the military says is a proportionate response to an attempt by Muslim militants to take over Rakhine.
The state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar on Saturday carried photos of one of the reception camps for refugees at Taung Pyo Letwe, in Maungdaw, showing basic wooden structures closed off by high wire fences.
The same outlet has this week carried several pages of colour headshot photos of the alleged 1,000 or more wanted “ARSA Terrorists”.
The photos, which include women and young men, with their names and ‘father’s names’, have been circulated to Bangladeshi authorities urging them to handover the suspects.
Dhaka is unhappy at the slow pace of the returns negotiated by Myanmar — with only a few hundred likely to be processed each day.