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Bangladesh, UNHCR dispute Myanmar's return claim on Rohingya

DHAKA / YANGON (Reuters) – The Bangladeshi government and UN refugee agency denied Sunday's allegation that Myanmar allegedly repatriated five members of a Rohingya family that neither the Bangladesh government nor the aid organization had participated in repatriation.

Abul Kalam, the Bangladeshi government's refugee aid and repatriation commissioner, said a family of five living in the Konarpara region in the no-man's land between the two countries has been returned to Myanmar's Myanmar reception center.

"This is by no means a repatriation, but a propaganda," he told Reuters.

Separately, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement on Sunday that he had no direct knowledge of the case and was not involved in the reported return.

Zaw Htay, a spokesman for the Myanmar government, said, "This is not propaganda," the family decided to return voluntarily.

"We take care of her," he said.

Reuters was unable to reach the family in question or verify the exact location from which they returned.

In a late Saturday statement, Myanmar said it had repatriated the first Rohingya family of refugees who had fled to Bangladesh. A family of five, including a person named Aftar Ar Lwan, returned to one of their reception centers in Rakhine State.

Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January on a voluntary repatriation of the refugees in two years. Myanmar set up two reception centers, and it is said that it is a temporary camp near the Rakhine border to receive the first arrivals.

According to UN figures, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine to Bangladesh since August to escape military intervention. Burmese troops and Buddhist vigilantes have reportedly committed murder, rape and arson, which have compared the United Nations with "ethnic cleansing". ,

Myanmar has rejected almost all allegations and stated that it has carried out a legitimate counterinsurgency operation. The army said that its crackdown was provoked by attacks by militant Rohingya on more than two dozen police posts and an army base last August.

Myanmar's allegation of the first repatriation comes just days after the UNHCR declared that the conditions in Myanmar are not conducive to the return of refugees.

In its Sunday statement, UNHCR called on Myanmar to ensure that every return is voluntary, secure and dignified. The agency said that all returning refugees should be sustainably reintegrated into the community.

Myanmar stated in its statement on Saturday that the family of five was being investigated by immigration and health officials and that the Department of Social Welfare, Relief and Rehabilitation provided them with "materials such as rice, mosquito nets, blankets … and kitchen utensils."

It was added that family members who "comply with the rules" receive National Verification Cards (NVCs) upon entry to Myanmar.

NVCs are part of the government's ongoing efforts to register Rohingya, which does not offer its citizenship. The card was widely rejected by the community leaders of the Rohingya, who say they treat lifelong residents as new immigrants.

Reporting by Shoon Naing and Serajul Quadir; Letter from Antoni Slodkowski and Euan Rocha; Arrangement of Alistair Bell and David Evans

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