Agreement to repatriate Rohingya a 'stunt': HRW

Bangkok: Human Rights Watch has described an agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh to begin repatriating more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar's violence-wracked Rakhine State as "laughable" and a "public relations stunt."

In a brief statement Bangladesh said the neighbouring countries had agreed to start returning Rohingya to Rakhine within two months. The agreement was signed on Thursday in Naypyitaw.

It comes as the Turnbull Government has for the first time used the term "ethnic cleansing" while referring to atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's violence-wracked Rakhine state.

A day after the United States accused Myanmar security forces of committing "horrendous" crimes that amount to ethnic cleansing, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs told Fairfax Media

"Australia has consistently said perpetrators of serious international crimes must be held to account and we remain deeply concerned about reports of ethnic cleansing."

Australia has refused growing calls to cut the Australian Defence Force's military support for Myanmar's army that has carried out a brutal offensive against Rohingya, including United Nations-documented mass killings, rapes and arson.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has also avoided condemning Myanmar's military or the government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Myanmar's top military general in Beijing on Friday to discuss China's support.

China has offered diplomatic backing to its southern neighbour throughout the crisis, despite growing pressure from Western countries for the Myanmar military to be accountable for alleged atrocities.

Myanmar authorities have announced plans to bar Rohingya from lands they farmed before fleeing, instead forcing them to resettle in so-called "model villages" which the UN has warned will be little better than creating permanent camps.

Bill Frelick, Refugee Rights Director of Human Rights Watch, said "the idea that Burma [Myanmar] will now welcome them back to their smouldering villages with open arms is laughable."

"Instead of signing on to a public relations stunt, the international community should make it clear that there can be no returns without international monitors to ensure security, an end to the idea of putting returnees in camps, the return of land and the rebuilding of destroyed homes and villages, and many other conditions," he said.

"Even then, it will be hard to build the trust necessary for many Rohingya to voluntarily return unless the Burmese army begins the mammoth task of reversing decades of abuses and discrimination against its Rohingya population."

The agreement is based on a 1990s accord between the countries that allows for the return only of people able to prove their residency in Myanmar.

But more than one million Rohingya in Rakhine have been denied citizenship and other basic rights for years, and many of those who have fled have no identification papers.

Aid agencies have called for any repatriation agreement to allow international oversight but Myanmar insisted in talks with Bangladesh that there be none.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pushed hard for a repatriation agreement, telling journalists in Dhaka that Myanmar "must take back the refugees to their homeland."

Myanmar claims the Rohingya are interlopers from Bangladesh.

This story Agreement to repatriate Rohingya a 'stunt': HRW first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.