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Burma is willing to take back all 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled to Bangladesh if they volunteer to return, the country’s National Security Adviser Thaung Tun said on Saturday.
He was speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security conference in Singapore, where he was asked if the situation in Burma’s Rakhine State, where most Rohingya live, could trigger use of the Responsibility to Protect framework of the United Nations.
The so-called R2P framework was adopted at the 2005 UN World Summit in which nations agreed to protect their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and accepted a collective responsibility to encourage and help each other uphold this commitment.
“If you can send back 700,000 on a voluntary basis, we are willing to receive them,” Thaung Tun said. “Can this be called ethnic cleansing?
“There is no war going on, so it’s not war crimes. Crimes against humanity, that could be a consideration, but we need clear evidence. These serious charges should be proved and they should not be bandied about lightly.”
Since August 2017, about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled a military crackdown in mainly Buddhist Burma, many reporting killings, rape and arson on a large scale, UN and other aid organisations have said.
The United Nations and aid agencies have described the crackdown on the Rohingya as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” an accusation Burma rejects.
Burma and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete the voluntary repatriation of the refugees within two years.
Burma signed an agreement with the United Nations on Thursday aimed at eventually allowing the Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh to return safely and by choice.
It also said it would set up an independent commission to investigate “the violation of human rights and related issues” in Rakhine State following the army operation there in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security posts.
Thaung Tun said that the narrative of what happened in Rakhine was “incomplete and misleading.”
“Myanmar does not deny that what is unfolding in northern Rakhine is a humanitarian crisis,” he said. “There is no denying that the Muslim community in Rakhine has suffered. The Buddhist Rakhine, Hindu and other ethnic minorities have suffered no less.”
He said that while the military had the right to defend the country, if investigations showed they had acted illegally, action would be taken.