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Myanmar arrests about 150 Rohingya fleeing to Malaysia

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar authorities arrested some 150 Rohingya suspected of trying to flee to Malaysia, an official told AFP yesterday.

The group of men, women and children was arrested in Thanbyuzayat township in southern Myanmar, the official said, requesting anonymity as they were not authorised to talk to the media.

The official did not specify why the group had been arrested, but it faces restrictions on travelling within Myanmar, where rights groups said they live in apartheid-like conditions.

“They were hiding nearby in hilly forest between two villages… We started arresting them since late last night after we got a tip-off,” the security source said. According to initial reports, the group had travelled by boat from western Rakhine state and planned to travel on to Thailand and then Malaysia by road, the official said.

A number of non-Rohingya suspected of trafficking the group were also arrested, and police were looking for around 30 more people, according to the source.

A military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017 sent hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh with harrowing stories of murder and arson.

Myanmar is facing genocide accusations at the United Nations’ top court following the mass exodus.

The arrests come days after the junta said it would begin welcoming back members of the minority living in Bangladesh as soon as next month in a pilot repatriation programme. The plan would see Myanmar “repatriate about 1,500 displaced persons”, state media yesterday quoted a senior border affairs official as saying.

The border official did not give a specific timetable and added Myanmar had “not received any response yet” to the plan.

The returning Rohingya would be placed in a “transit camp for a short period” before being resettled in 15 villages, the official said.

Thousands of Rohingya risk their lives each year making perilous journeys from camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar to reach Malaysia and Indonesia.

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