NEW YORK - United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has expressed "deep" concern over the plight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, urging Myanmar to assume responsibility by dealing with the "root causes" of their flight and work towards their safe repatriation.
A brutal army campaign in August 2017 forced more than 740,000 members of the mostly-Muslim minority to flee Myanmar's Rakhine state, most seeking refuge in overcrowded camps across the border in Bangladesh. During its crackdown, which was launched in response to attacks by an armed group, the military carried out mass killings and gang rapes with "genocidal intent", according to United Nations-mandated investigators.
Speaking at the start of a meeting in Thailand with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Guterres said on Sunday Myanmar was responsible to "ensure a conducive environment for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation of refugees".
Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was present at the summit, sitting expressionless as Guterres spoke.
Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens.
The country says it welcomes back those who agree to a bureaucratic status below full citizenship, and if they agree to live under tight guard after their villages were incinerated.
Only a few hundred Rohingya have returned to Myanmar so far, with many fearing further persecution in the Buddhist-majority country.
Guterres also called on Myanmar "to ensure humanitarian actors have full and unfettered access to areas of return".
A leaked ASEAN report earlier this year said the repatriation effort could take a further two years.(FA)