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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), responding to the plan, said they were concerned about forcibly repatriating over 650,000 Rohingya who fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after a conflict erupted in western Rakhine state in August.

Statements from the Myanmar and Bangladesh foreign ministries said Bangladesh would set up five transit camps on its side of the border.

Those camps would send Rohingyas to two reception centres in Myanmar. The repatriation process would start next Tuesday, the statements said.

Myanmar said it would build a transit camp that could house 30,000 returnees.

The Bangladesh statement said: “Myanmar has reiterated its commitment to stop [the] outflow of Myanmar residents to Bangladesh.”

 Myanmar officials said the length of the repatriation will depend on how quickly Bangladesh can provide documentation of refugees’ previous residency and how fast applications are submitted.”Even though we are talking about a two-year process, it totally depends on how the two countries cooperate,” Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said.

“Bangladesh authorities also need to proceed with the paperwork and documents for refugees and send it to us fast.”

Mr Guterres said the UNHCR had not been involved directly in the agreement and that “it will be very important to have UNHCR fully involved in the operation to guarantee that the operations abide by international standards”.

“The worst would be to move these people from camps in Bangladesh to camps in Myanmar, keeping an artificial situation for a long time and not allowing for them to regain their normal lives.”

Myanmar issues list of alleged militants

Myanmar stressed the need for both sides to take preventive measures against possible Rohingya attacks and said it gave Dhaka a list with the names of 1,000 alleged militants.

The crisis erupted after Rohingya insurgent attacks on security posts on August 25 in Rakhine triggered a fierce military response that the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing.

About 650,000 people fled the violence.

The military denies ethnic cleansing, saying its security forces mounted legitimate counter-insurgency clearance operations.

he Bangladesh statement called for repatriating orphans and “children born out of unwarranted incidence”, a reference to cases of rape resulting in pregnancy, said a Bangladesh Foreign Ministry official who declined to be identified.

The rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar’s security forces was widespread, according to interviews with women conducted at displacement camps by UN medics and activists.

The military denies it was involved in any sexual assaults.

UN safety concerns

A UNHCR spokesman said on Tuesday the Rohingya should return voluntarily only when they feel it is safe to do so.

“Major challenges have to be overcome,” UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a news briefing in Geneva.

“These include ensuring they are told about the situation in their areas of origin … and are consulted on their wishes, that their safety is ensured.”

Myint Kyaing, permanent secretary at Myanmar’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, said this month Myanmar would begin processing at least 150 people a day through each of the two camps by January 23.

Refugees at the Kutupalong Rohingya camp near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh expressed doubt about the camps Myanmar has agreed to establish on its side of the border.

Mohammad Farouk, 20, who arrived in Bangladesh following the August 25 attacks, said exchanging one camp for another made little difference — except “the camps in Myanmar will be far worse, because we will be confined there and there will be a risk to our lives”.

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