May 26, 2008 / 1:41 PM / 12 years ago

Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh say won't return

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) - Myanmar Muslims stranded in Bangladesh camps for decades told the top U.N. refugee official on Monday that they would only agree to go back when their country was under democratic rule.

“Let there be an end to the military dictatorship and establishment of democracy, peace and human rights in Myanmar, before taking us back there,” Sona Banu, a 32-year-old woman, told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, at Kutupalong refugee camp.

Kutupalong, in the Cox’s Bazar district, is some 400 km (250 miles) southeast of the capital Dhaka and adjacent to the border with Myanmar. Guterres visited the camp after arriving in Bangladesh on Monday on a two-day visit.

Bangladesh officially shelters about 21,000 Myanmar Muslims, known as Rohingyas, in two increasingly dilapidated border camps — at Kutupalong and Nayapara.

They are remnants of around 250,000 Rohingyas who fled to the Cox’s Bazar region in early 1992, alleging persecution by the military in Myanmar’s western Rakhaine state, which borders Bangladesh.

Most were repatriated under the supervision of the UNHCR before the process came to a halt in July 2005, with the remaining refugees unwilling to go back and the U.N. body against using pressure.

As the issue remained unresolved, another 20,000 Rohingyas have crossed into Bangladesh over the past several years and are living in unofficial camps along the border.

Guterres, after hearing from refugee representatives, held separate closed door meetings with U.N. and Bangladesh officials. Details of the meetings were not immediately known.

A diplomatic source in Dhaka said Guterres arrived in Bangladesh to request the government to give the Rohingyas citizenship rights.

Guterres’ trip came after Bangladesh’s High Court last week ruled that the children of Urdu-speaking “Bihari” Muslims awaiting repatriation to Pakistan for over 37 years would be granted Bangladeshi citizenship.

Bangladesh and Myanmar share a 320 km (200 mile) border, partly demarcated by the Naf river.

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