China expresses satisfaction over Rohingya repatriation deal

FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugee women hold placards as they take part in a protest at the Kutupalong refugee camp to mark the one-year anniversary of their exodus in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is “happy” that Bangladesh and Myanmar have reached a deal to start repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine, its government’s top diplomat said on Friday.

More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees crossed into Bangladesh from western Myanmar, U.N. agencies say, after Rohingya insurgent attacks on Myanmar security forces in August 2017 triggered a sweeping military crackdown.

The two countries agreed on Oct. 30 to begin the returns to Myanmar in mid-November. The U.N. refugee agency has already said that conditions in Rakhine state were “not yet conducive for returns”.

Meeting Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque in Beijing, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said China was “happy to see” the two countries reaching the agreement to start repatriating Rohingya, describing it as important progress to resolving what China calls the “Rakhine state issue”.

“This will create a good start for dealing with this complex historical issue and accumulate experience for the next repatriations,” the foreign ministry cited Wang as saying.

China believes Bangladesh and Myanmar have the ability and wisdom to properly handle this issue, and China will continue to provide support, Wang added.

“Specialist bodies of the United Nations should play a constructive role in this, and not the opposite,” he said, without elaborating.

The U.N.’s human rights investigator on Myanmar has urged Bangladesh to drop plans to start repatriating Rohingya refugees to Rakhine state this month, warning they would face a “high risk of persecution”.

China has close relations with Myanmar, and backs what Myanmar officials have called a legitimate counter-insurgency operation in Rakhine.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Richard Balmforth