Myanmar yesterday said it will soon take back 9,000 registered Rohingya refugees out of 28,000 now staying in two camps in Cox's Bazar for nearly two decades.
The assurance came at the fourth foreign secretary-level talks between Bangladesh and Myanmar at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh.
A similar step to repatriate the 9,000 refugees was initiated in 2005 after the Myanmar military ruler identified them as their nationals. But only 90 refugees could be sent back between January and May that year as the process stopped following tension on the border.
"We raised the matter during the talks and put pressure on the Myanmar side to take their citizens back as quickly as possible," Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes told reporters after the first day's talks.
He said the Myanmar side has assured them of initiating the process of the repatriation shortly.
Earlier, Bangladesh handed Myanmar a list of 28,000 Rohingya refugees staying in the camps -- one in Kutupalang in Ukhiya and the other in Nayapara in Teknaf -- with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
On verification, Myanmar claimed 9,000 as their nationals and agreed to take them back.
Quayes, who is leading the Bangladesh side in the talks, is hopeful that all the registered and unregistered Rohingyas would be repatriated through mutual understanding.
Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint is leading his country's delegation at the two-day bilateral talks.
Many Myanmar nationals intruded into Bangladesh due to "economic reasons" and are now staying in makeshift houses as undocumented refugees, said Quayes who made a surprise visit to Cox's Bazar on Saturday to see the refugee situation.
"It is urgent to repatriate these undocumented refugees without delay. We will find the modalities in this regard in consultation with the Myanmar authorities," he said.
Repatriation of Rohingya refugees has remained a major irritant between the two neighbouring countries since 1991-1992 when over a million people fled from Myanmar's Northern Rakhain state and took shelter in the bordering Bangladesh to escape persecution.
Bangladesh with the help of the UNHCR sent most of the registered refugees back to their homeland in years. But 28,000 denied going back fearing further repression.
According to local administration and other sources, most of the repatriated refugees returned to Bangladesh. They are now creating various problems and getting involved in anti-social and criminal activities. They have become a huge burden for Bangladesh as they are putting pressure on the local resources and employment opportunities.
Bangladesh has long been pushing the matter, but Myanmar is showing reluctance to take back her citizens. In the past, the military rulers also created deliberate problems leading to tension on the border to foil the repatriation move.
During yesterday's talks, both the sides also discussed import of gas and electricity from Myanmar, but no specific commitment came on the issues.
"They have informed us that they cannot give us gas at this moment. They would sell gas if they discover new reserves," the Bangladesh foreign secretary said, adding, Myanmar responded positively to go for a joint venture of hydroelectricity project over a Myanmar river with Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has proposed to import two lakh tonnes of rice -- one lakh tonnes parboiled and one lakh tonnes "atap" (sunned). "The two sides have agreed in principle on this matter," said Quayes.
On maritime boundary, he said a Myanmar technical delegation will come to Dhaka to discuss the matter on January 8-9. "Alongside the arbitration at the UN, both sides will make efforts to resolve the matter bilaterally," he said.
Quayes said the issues of direct air and road links were discussed but there has not been any progress on the matters. The ministries concerned will follow these up, he added.
On visa regime, the Myanmar side agreed to issue long-term multi-entry visa for Bangladeshi businesspersons and extend the duration of border pass from 14 days to 30 days.