YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar said on Friday it will take back 2,415 citizens from Bangladesh, only a tiny fraction of the 300,000 people who Bangladesh says are Myanmar citizens taking refuge there and should go home.
Tension has been rising between the neighbours over Myanmar’s treatment of ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims, about 50,000 of whom Bangladesh says have fled there since the Myanmar army launched a crackdown on its side of their border in October.
Myanmar has for decades said Rohingyas are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and it has declined to grant them citizenship.
Bangladesh says the Rohingyas are Myanmar citizens and it has refused to grant refugee status to those who have fled there, many from communal violence and Myanmar army crackdowns over the past decades.
“There are only 2,415 Myanmar citizens, according to our data,” Kyaw Zaya, director general of Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Reuters, referring to the number of Myanmar citizens in Bangladesh.
“We always stand with our number,” he said, adding he had “no idea” about the Bangladesh figure of 300,000.
He said the Myanmar government had a plan to take back the 2,415 in 2017.
Bangladesh had earlier summoned the Myanmar ambassador in Dhaka to demand the “early repatriation of all Myanmar citizens from Bangladesh,” its foreign affairs ministry said in a statement, giving the figure of 300,000.
Security has deteriorated sharply in Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine State, home to many Rohingyas, since attacks on security posts near the border with Bangladesh on Oct. 9 in which nine police officers were killed.
The government of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has blamed militants with links to Islamists overseas for the attacks and poured troops into the region.
Rights groups and residents say widespread abuses have occurred during the Myanmar military operation over the weeks since then.
Myanmar has denied the accusations, saying many of the reports of abuses are fabricated, and it insists the strife in Rakhine State is an internal matter.
While Bangladesh says 50,000 people have fled there sice October, the United Nations says the number is 34,000.
The violence in Rakhine State has become the biggest challenge facing Aung San Suu Kyi’s government and has sparked international criticism that the Nobel Peace Prize winner has done too little to help the Muslim minority.
Bangladesh has asked Myanmar to “urgently address the ‘root cause’ of the problem” and said it was ready to “discuss process and modalities of repatriation with Myanmar”.
Adding to the tension, this week Bangladesh’s border force accused the Myanmar navy of opening fire on a fishing boat in the Bay of Bengal.
Reporting By Shwe Yee Saw Myint; Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir in DHAKA; Writing By Yimou Lee; Editing by Robert Birsel