Guterres Urges Myanmar to Ensure Safe Return of Rohingya Muslims

The UN chief on Sunday urged Myanmar to ensure the "safe" return of Rohingya Muslim refugees driven out by army operations, a plea made in front of Aung San Suu Kyi more than two years since her country cracked down on the Muslim minority.

Speaking at a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Bangkok -- with Myanmar's de facto head Suu Kyi in the room -- Antonio Guterres said he remains "deeply concerned" about the plight of the Rohingya.

Violence in Rakhine state in 2017 forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee, most seeking refuge in overcrowded camps in neighboring Bangladesh, in what UN investigators say amounted to genocide.

Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens.

The country says it welcomes back those who agree to a bureaucratic status below full citizenship, and if they agree to live under tight guard after their villages were incinerated.

Guterres said Myanmar is responsible to "ensure a conducive environment for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation of refugees".

Suu Kyi sat in the room expressionless as Guterres spoke, AFP reported.

Only a few hundred Rohingya have returned to Myanmar so far, with many fearing further persecution in the Buddhist-majority country.

The secretary-general also called on Myanmar "to ensure humanitarian actors have full and unfettered access to areas of return".

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