BANGKOK — Japanese's foreign minister on Friday urged Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to guarantee the safe and voluntary return of Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in troubled Rakhine state.
While Foreign Minister Taro Kono is visiting Myanmar, the Japanese government announced a grant of $3 million to Myanmar's government to help facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingya.
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees on Nov. 23, and Myanmar said it would start the process by Jan 23. The exact numbers and extent of the repatriation is still unclear.
"We have decided to provide the aid in response to the agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh to represent an international message of support so that the repatriation can be carried out promptly," said Foreign Ministry official Shinobu Yamaguchi in a statement.
Kono's three-day visit to Myanmar includes traveling to Rakhine state. Humanitarian groups and independent media are prohibited from traveling to the area freely.
More than 650,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape a brutal crackdown in which security forces have been accused of systematic abuses tantamount to ethnic cleansing.
During a meeting on Friday, Kono asked Suu Kyi's government to allow humanitarian and media access to the affected area, the resettlement of returned refugees, and the implementation of recommendations made by former U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Kono also said Japan plans to give further aid of $20 million to improve humanitarian conditions and development in Rakhine state.
"We are thankful to Japan for its willingness to support the needs both for short term and long term," Suu Kyi said at the joint news conference.
Yamaguchi stressed that Japan will monitor how the repatriation will be carried out. "The money will be paid in a timely manner based on the progress of repatriation," Yamaguchi added.
Myanmar's state-run media on Wednesday said authorities have started the land work to construct buildings to accommodate returned refugees from Bangladesh in northern Rakhine, where refugees will be temporarily placed after their citizenship is scrutinized.