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Bangladesh rebuffs pleas to admit people fleeing Myanmar violence

June 13, 2012 |  1:13 pm

Boat

Bangladesh has rebuffed pleas from the United Nations and other groups to allow in Rohingya Muslims displaced by sectarian clashes in Myanmar, continuing to turn away their boats at its borders.

“It is not in our interest that new refugees come from Myanmar,” Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told reporters in Dhaka, the capital, on Tuesday.

Border guards “foiled two separate attempts of Rohingyas to enter” Bangladesh on Wednesday, the national news agency reported, sending 70 people back to Myanmar. About 1,500 Rohingya fleeing Myanmar in boats have been turned back since the weekend, when clashes broke out with the majority Rakhine Buddhist population, the Associated Press reported.

“It is not in our interest that new refugees come from Myanmar,” Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told reporters in Dhaka on Tuesday. She reiterated that position Wednesday, the national news agency said.

The United Nations' refugee agency has called on Bangladesh to provide a haven for people fleeing the fighting in coastal Rakhine state, where rival mobs of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have burned homes and at least a dozen people have died. The violence in western Myanmar erupted after the lynching of 10 Muslims in retaliation for the rape and murder of a Buddhist girl, allegedly at the hands of three Muslims.

The Rohingya minority, estimated by the U.N. to number about 800,000, lack official acceptance from both Bangladesh and Myanmar, leaving them in effect stateless as the violence explodes. Bangladesh's Foreign Ministry has stressed that it is working with Myanmar “to ensure that developments in the Rakhine state do not have any trans-boundary spillover.”

The U.S. joined the public calls on Bangladesh on Wednesday, with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urging the country to ensure refugees aren't turned back to their persecutors, Agence France-Presse reported.

“By closing its border when violence in Arakan state is out of control, Bangladesh is putting lives at grave risk,” Human Rights Watch refugee program director Bill Frelick said Tuesday. “Bangladesh has an obligation under international law to keep its border open to people fleeing threats to their lives.”

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Rohingya Muslims sit in a boat after being intercepted by Bangladesh's Border Guard members in Teknaf on Wednesday. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

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