DHAKA: Myanmar will consider taking back only those Rohingya refugees who have fled the country in the past year, a senior Bangladeshi official said Tuesday.
Nearly 600,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since violence erupted in Rakhine state in October 2016 -- including an estimated 507,000 who came in just the past five weeks.
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But Bangladesh is also hosting another 300,000 Rohingya who left Rakhine following previous bouts of violence, including tens of thousands who came in the 1990s.
In the first bilateral meeting with Bangladeshi officials since the latest upsurge of violence began on August 25, a Myanmar minister Monday said his government was ready to take back Rohingya.
No details were given at the time of the offer from Kyaw Tint Swe, made during a meeting in Dhaka with Bangladesh Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali.
But a senior Bangladesh official who attended the meeting said Myanmar would accept only those Rohingya who had fled the country in the past year.
"Their mandate is that they would consider taking back those who came after last October and last August," he told AFP on condition of anonymity
The official said Bangladesh would stick to its stance calling for the return of all 900,000 Rohingya refugees now living in the country's southeastern border region.
The Myanmar officials who took part in the meeting in Dhaka did not have "the mandate" to discuss the fate of the Rohingya refugees who came earlier, he said.
Northern Rakhine has been torn apart by violence since August 25, when deadly raids by Rohingya militants on police posts sparked a massive army crackdown that the UN says is tantamount to "ethnic cleansing".
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Refugees in Bangladesh are packed into overcrowded camps along the border at increasing risk of disease.
Despite Myanmar's assurances, there is widespread skepticism over how many will be able to return.
Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi said last month that Myanmar would take back "verified" refugees -- but many were forced to flee without any documents.
It also remains unclear where the Rohingya would go if they did return, since many of their villages have been burnt to the ground.
The UN has urged a "safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of refugees to their area of origin".
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