GENEVA / YANGON (Reuters) – The United Nations announced Thursday that it has signed a treaty with Myanmar designed to provide safe and voluntary returns to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have sought refuge in Bangladesh.
Since August 2017, around 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled military intervention in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, with many reporting large-scale killings, rape and arson, said U. N. and other aid agencies.
"As the conditions for voluntary return are not yet conducive, the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) is the first and necessary step to support the government's efforts to change this situation," said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Nations (UNHCR) a statement.
The Myanmar government said in a brief statement on Thursday that the letter of intent would be signed "soon" and that the U.N. organizations would "support livelihoods by designing and implementing community-based interventions".
Zaw Htay, spokesman for Myanmar's civilian government, said he had nothing to add to the statement.
Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January to complete the voluntary repatriation of the refugees within two years, but the differences between the two sides remain and implementation of the plan has been slow.
In a separate statement issued on Thursday, Myanmar's government said it would set up an independent commission to investigate "human rights violations and related issues" in the Rakhine state following the military operation in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security posts.
The Commission is supported by international experts, the statement says without giving any details.
The UN and relief agencies have described the crackdown on Rohingya as "a model of ethnic cleansing," a charge that Myanmar rejects.
The Security Council asked Myanmar in November to ensure "no further excessive use of military force" and "freedom of movement, equal access to basic services and equal access to full citizenship for all".
Myanmar has been denying Rohingya citizenship, freedom of movement and access to basic services such as health care for years. Many in Myanmar consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from predominantly Muslim Bangladesh.