Deal on Rohingya return likely today
Although some contentious issues remain unresolved, Bangladesh and Myanmar are likely to sign an agreement today on the return of Rohingyas to Rakhine.
"We had a good discussion today [Wednesday]. We hope to sign the deal tomorrow. It's now at the final stage," Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali said yesterday.
He made the comment after a meeting with Myanmar Minister for State Counsellor's Office Kyaw Tint Swe at a hotel in Naypyitaw.
Issues like setting a timeframe for completion of repatriation and UN involvement in the process still remain unresolved, diplomatic sources told The Daily Star.
Myanmar didn't agree to full involvement of the UN and other international organisations in safe and sustainable return and rehabilitation of Rohingyas in their place of origin.
It, however, agreed to involve the UNHCR in the process (if and when required).
Naypyitaw was yet to agree on repatriating all the Rohingyas from Bangladesh. It said the focus should rather be on those who entered Bangladesh since August 25 this year.
It further said there should not be any timeframe for completion of the repatriation process.
Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque, Bangladesh Ambassador to Myanmar M Sufiur Rahman and representatives from the home ministry and Prime Minister's Office also attended the ministerial meeting on "Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State", reports UNB.
Earlier in the day, Mahmood and Kyaw Tint Swe in a marathon meeting discussed various issues of bilateral interest, including the Rohingya issue.
Another meeting of senior officials of the two countries was held at the same venue yesterday morning.
The Bangladesh foreign minister will hold talks with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi today.
The two neighbours began their two-day talks with high hopes that it would yield an outcome to sign an MoU to start the repatriation of Rohingyas from Bangladesh.
The international community is also keeping a close eye on the talks and its subsequent outcome as it wants to see a safe and dignified return of the Rohingyas at the earliest.
A senior official said Bangladesh at the meeting raised the issue of keeping a provision in the agreement for a timeframe on completion of the repatriation.
He said the two sides would bridge the gap addressing differences, if any.
According to the official, Dhaka also wants the involvement of the international community, including the UN, in the verification process.
Myanmar didn't fully meet Bangladesh's expectations on the timeframe of Rohingya repatriation, a senior diplomat told UNB, wishing to remain unnamed.
"We agreed on many things though our expectations were not met fully. It's not possible in any negotiations," he said.
Another diplomat said Myanmar wanted to start the repatriation within next two months if a deal was signed.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last night talked to the foreign minister over the phone about his meeting with the Myanmar minister.
The PM discussed the Rohingya repatriation issue with Mahmood during a meeting of the Awami League Parliamentary Party at the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban, said meeting sources.
Amid mounting international pressure, Myanmar's de facto leader Suu Kyi on Tuesday said they have planned to sign an MoU with Bangladesh this week to start the repatriation of Rohingyas.
"What we're trying to do is to sign an MoU that will enable us to start the repatriation of all those refugees who've gone over the border," she told a press conference at Myanmar International Convention Centre in Naypyitaw.
Suu Kyi said the Asian and European countries were keen to help Myanmar bring about peace and stability in Rakhine as soon as possible.
Apart from international engagement, Bangladesh has been in talks with Myanmar on the safe and voluntary return of Rohingyas.
Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali, who led the Bangladesh delegation to the ASEM Foreign Ministers Meeting, has been in Naypyitaw to discuss the repatriation process with Myanmar leaders.
Escaping persecution in Rakhine, over 622,000 Rohingyas have crossed the border and taken shelter in Cox's Bazar since August 25.
EU FOR DIGNIFIED RETURN OF ROHINGYAS
The European Union has called for steps to ensure a voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingyas to Rakhine.
"Conditions for voluntary, safe and dignified return to their places of origin have to be put in place," said a high representative of the EU in a declaration on Myanmar.
In the context of the 13th ASEM Foreign Ministers Meeting in Naypyitaw on November 20-21, the EU welcomed the way forward outlined by Suu Kyi, starting by swiftly finalising a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh on return, and proceeding with implementing recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.
The EU reiterated its call for the immediate end to all violence and the establishment of non-discriminatory rule of law and civilian administration in Rakhine.
It urged the Myanmar government to ensure accountability for those responsible for committing atrocities.