ASEAN leaders to issue strong rebuke of Myanmar over Rohingya refugee crisis

An aerial view of the Hla Phoe Khaung transit camp for returning Rohingya

An aerial view of the Hla Phoe Khaung transit camp for returning Rohingya

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence expressed the Trump administration's strongest condemnation yet of Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya on Wednesday, telling leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Singapore that "persecution" by the Myanmar army was "without excuse".

On October30, representatives of the Bangladesh and Myanmar governments announced they had agreed to start repatriation of some of the more than 720,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar since August 2017.

He added that he was keen to hear how Burma will enable the Rohingya to voluntarily return home, adding that Burma's arrest and conviction of two Reuters journalists was "deeply troubling" to millions of Americans.

It wasn't your typical bilateral meeting here at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, a three-day confab of world leaders with interests in the region.

Ms Suu Kyi, responding to Mr Pence, said: "Of course people have different points of view but the point is that you should exchange these views and try to understand each other better".

"So we are in a better position to explain to you what is happening, how we see things panning out", she said.

"In a way, we can say we understand our country better than any other country does", she said.

It said returning Rohingya would stay at repatriation camps for two days and receive food and clothing before moving on to transit camps.

This is while Bangladesh's foreign secretary and refugee commissioner have several times offered assurances that they would not send the Rohingya back against their will.

Myanmar says its operations in Rakhine were a legitimate response to attacks on security forces by Rohingya insurgents in August past year.

Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday urged Bangladesh to halt the plan, warning that the repatriation would violate global law and put the lives of the refugees at serious risk.

The announcement prompted human rights groups, aid agencies, and many governments to raise concern about safety issues for Rohingya back in Myanmar. In September, Aung San Suu Kyi defended their arrests, saying they had broken the law and their case has "nothing to do with freedom of expression at all".

A Rohingya refugee girl collects water from a tube-well at the Balikhali camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Nov. 14, 2018.

Bangladesh officials remain optimistic the large-scale refugee returns will start as planned Thursday.

Bachelet stressed that "the human rights violations committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar amount to the worst atrocities, including crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide".

Kalam also said that they had plans to repatriate the 30 families from Ghumdhum gorge in Bandarban's Naikhongchhari Thursday afternoon.

Last week, the U.N.'s independent investigator for human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, called the plans "rushed" and said she was concerned there were no guarantees that the refugees would be protected from new persecution if they return home.

ASEAN's Muslim-majority members - Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei - tend to take the toughest line on the Rohingya question, while Myanmar has close regional allies in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

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