By Kyaw Ye Lynn
Myanmar and Bangladesh on Thursday signed an agreement for the return of Rohingya Muslims who have crossed the border to escape a brutal military crackdownin Myanmar's western Rakhine state since late August.
The memorandum of agreement titled "Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State" was signed after a two-day meeting in Myanmar's capital, Nay Pyi Taw.
"Myanmar signed the deal with visiting Bangladeshi delegations today [Thursday]," Kyaw Zeya, permanent secretary of Myanmar's Foreign Ministry told Anadolu Agency on the phone.
"We are ready to take them back. We can start the repatriation process very soon," he said.
Myint Kyaing, permanent secretary of Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population said the deal was based on a 1993 agreement reached by the respective governments on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.
The 1993 agreement includes a major point that says refugees must prove their nationality to Myanmar government by presenting valid documentations such as White Cards and the receipts given by authorities after returning White Cards.
"However, we made some amendments to the 1993 agreement this time," Kyaing told Anadolu Agency without giving any details.
"We will also accept anyone who is able to clearly state his/her name and the village they lived in even if they lost relevant documents in fire or violence," he said.
The secretary added that Myanmar had already sent registration forms to the Bangladeshi government to be filled in by refugees.
"The repatriation can be started shortly after the forms are sent back to us," he said.
The Bangladeshi delegation was led by Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali who also met Myanmar's de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday before the agreement was signed.
"The principled position of Myanmar is that issues that emerge between neighboring countries must be resolved amicably through bilateral negotiations," according to a press release by the Ministry of the Office of the State Counsellor.
"The present Arrangement, which had been agreed to by both countries based on their friendly and good neighborly relations demonstrate the steadfast position of Myanmar and is a win-win situation for both countries," it said.
US: Violence in Rakhine state 'ethnic cleansing'
U.S. on Wednesday warned it may issue targeted sanctions unless those responsible for "ethnic cleansing" against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are held to account.
"Those responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.
He added that the Myanmar government and security forces "must respect the human rights of all persons within its borders and hold accountable those who fail to do so".
This is the first time a U.S. official referred to atrocities committed against the Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine as a "clear" case of "ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya".
The military crackdown launched on Aug. 25 has seen more than 620,000 Rohingya cross from Myanmar's Rakhine State into Bangladesh, according to the UN.
The refugees are fleeing a military operation that has seen security forces and Buddhist mobs kill men, women and children, loot homes and torch Rohingya villages.
Speaking in September, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali said around 3,000 Rohingya had been killed in the operation.
The international community has been pressuring Myanmar government and military for an immediate end of atrocities and for the safe return of Rohingya who are now sheltering in Bangladesh.