Members of a UN Security Council team probing Burma’s crisis over its ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority have met Aung San Suu Kyi and her military chief.
The 15-member UN delegation had flown in from Bangladesh, where some 700,000 Rohingya who fled military-led violence live in refugee camps.
The group, including Security Council president Gustavo Meza-Cuadra and Britain’s UN ambassador Karen Pierce, held talks with Ms Suu Kyi and senior general Min Aung Hlaing.
On Tuesday they will travel to Rakhine state, the area from which the Rohingya fled.
They are expected to see the aftermath of the army’s crackdown there as well as the government’s preparations for taking back the refugees from Bangladesh.
“The ministers will discuss in detail the repatriation of the refugees agreed by the two countries and resettlement plans for the returnees,” foreign affairs permanent secretary Myint Thu said.
He added that the UN delegates would be taken to refugee reception centres as well as villages in northern Rakhine.
The army launched counter-insurgency sweeps in Rakhine after attacks last August on security personnel.
The military has been accused of massive human rights violations — including rape, killing, torture and the burning of Rohingya homes — that UN and US officials have called ethnic cleansing.
Burma’s government agreed to allow the delegates to visit after previously rejecting UN requests for a trip by a specially appointed independent fact-finding committee.
Ms Pierce — a member of the visiting delegation — said after the group’s visit to the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh over the weekend that the Security Council would continue to work on enabling the refugees to return to Burma, but that the Rohingya must be allowed to return under safe conditions.
Thousands of refugees gathered amid scorching heat at the camp to welcome the delegation. They carried placards, some of which read “We want justice”.
Bangladesh and Burma agreed in December to begin repatriating the refugees in January, but there were concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that they would be forced to return and face unsafe conditions in Myanmar.
Rohingya Muslims have long been treated as outsiders in Burma, even though many of their families have lived in the country for generations.
Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.