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Burma and Bangladesh sign deal to repatriate Rohingya Muslim refugees

A Rohingya family settles in at Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh in early November

BURMA and Bangladesh have signed an agreement covering the return of Rohingya Muslims who fled across their mutual border to escape violence in Burma's Rakhine state.

Burma announced the agreement on Thursday but provided no details on how many Rohingya refugees would be allowed to return home or how soon that might happen.

More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled from Burma into Bangladesh since August 25, when the army began "clearance operations" following an attack on police posts by a group of Rohingya insurgents.

The office of Burma's leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the agreement "on the return of displaced persons from Rakhine state" was signed on Thursday by cabinet officials in Naypyitaw, Burma's capital.

Rohingya Muslims have faced state-supported discrimination in predominantly Buddhist Burma for decades.

Refugees arriving in Bangladesh said their homes had been set on fire by soldiers and Buddhist mobs, and some reported being shot at by security forces.

Ms Suu Kyi's office said the pact follows a formula set in a 1992 repatriation agreement between the two nations after an earlier spasm of violence. Under that agreement, Rohingya were required to present residency documents, which few have, before being allowed to return to Burma.

Though members of the ethnic minority first arrived generations ago, Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship in 1982, denying them almost all rights and rendering them stateless. They cannot travel freely, practise their religion, or work as teachers or doctors, and they have little access to medical care, food or education.

The human rights group Amnesty International said in a report that the discrimination has worsened considerably in the last five years, and that it amounts to "dehumanising apartheid".

The United States has declared the violence against Rohingya in Burma to be "ethnic cleansing", and threatened penalties for military officers involved in the crackdown.

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