Number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh surpasses 1 million

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Refugees in Bangladesh have alleged mass rape and widespread arson at the hands of soldiers and the Buddhist majority in Rakhine.

Bangladesh has counted more than a million Rohingya refugees living in camps near the border with Myanmar, higher than previous estimates, the head of its registration project said Wednesday as preparations for their return got under way.

Earlier on November 23, the two countries signed a repatriation deal amid global outcry against military crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine that forced over 655,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh since August 25 past year.

"Our involvement in the process and our full access to areas of return in Myanmar can help to build confidence for all concerned, including the refugees", said Vivian Tan, UNHCR's senior regional communication officer. They are generally called "Bengalis", a reference to the belief that they migrated illegally from Bangladesh. Organizers did not seek approval from local authorities for the gathering, he said. "The timeline is less important to us than the ability for people to safely and voluntarily go home when it is safe to do so", State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters at a news conference.

Bangladeshi authorities recognized some over 30,000 Rohingyas as refugees shortly before the onset of the latest round of crisis.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations headquarters in New York, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also insisted on safe and voluntary return of Rohingya refugees.

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"Without investigation, transparency, and accountability for crimes against the Rohingya, any discussion of repatriation is a nonstarter".

The violent demonstration underscores the challenges facing Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a country where dozens of ethnic groups have been clamouring for autonomy since independence from Britain in 1947.

The violence erupted as anger boiled over after the cancellation of a local ceremony in Mrauk U, a town kilometres from the epicentre of a military crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim community.

The UN and various human rights organisations have said there is clear evidence of rights abuses in Myanmar, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calling the Army's operations "ethnic cleansing" and saying there were indications of "genocide".

"These shocking killings are yet another example of Myanmar security forces' contempt for human life", Gomez said. "Why are basic issues like citizenship, freedom of movement and livelihoods not discussed now so refugees can make informed choices?"

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