Myanmar minister hopes to visit Rohingya in refugee camps

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2018, file photo, Rohingya refugees come out of their homes after the visit of Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo at Jamtoli refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The Myanmar state minister overseeing the planned repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh said Thursday, April 5, 2018 that he hopes to talk to them when he makes a visit there this month. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)

BANGKOK — The Myanmar state minister overseeing the planned repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh said Thursday he hopes to talk to them when he visits this month.

Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye will be the first Myanmar Cabinet minister to visit the camps since the refugee flow began in August last year in response to a brutal counterinsurgency campaign.

Win Myat Aye told The Associated Press by phone that he will meet with officials working on repatriation during his April 11-12 visit.

"If the Bangladeshi government makes arrangements for us, we have requested to meet the refugees in the camps," he said. "My visit is to negotiate and to make the repatriation process smoother and quicker."

Win Myat Aye is seeking to convince the Rohingya that it is safe to return.

"It is our responsibility to accept them back," Win Myat Aye said. "Our main purpose is to tell the refugees that we are ready to accept them back and we want to explain to them about that."

Rights groups have raised concerns about the safety of returnees being sent back to Myanmar, where authorities have razed many Rohingya villages in the western state of Rakhine.

Myanmar's security forces have been accused of rape, killing, torture and the burning of the homes of Rohingya villagers after insurgents attacked about 30 police outposts on Aug. 25.

About 700,000 Rohingya Muslims flooded into neighboring Bangladesh to escape the violence.

After facing an international outcry and charges of ethnic cleansing, Myanmar announced that it was ready to accept their return, but repatriation has not yet begun.

Bangladesh's government has handed over a list of more than 8,000 Rohingya to Myanmar for verification of their identity so they could be repatriated. Myanmar's government information committee said in a statement last month that 193 Rohingya have been verified as of March 19.

Most Rohingya are treated as stateless persons with limited rights, and pressure on them increased after antagonism between Rakhine's Buddhist community and Rohingya Muslims led to communal violence in 2012, forcing at least 140,000 Rohingya from their homes into squalid camps for internally displaced people.

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