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Bangladesh, Myanmar agree to halt the outflow of Rohingya

Myanmar's Home Affairs Minister Gen. Kyaw Swe, center left, Bangladesh's Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, center, and Myanmar Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Maj-Gen Aung Soe, center right, attend photo session after their Memorandum of Understanding between both governments at the Home Ministry in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. Myanmarese and Bangladeshi officials met in Naypyidaw on Tuesday to discuss plans to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled to Bangladesh after violence erupted in Rakhine state last August. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

Myanmar's Home Affairs Minister Gen. Kyaw Swe, center left, Bangladesh's Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, center, and Myanmar Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Maj-Gen Aung Soe, center right, attend photo session after their Memorandum of Understanding between both governments at the Home Ministry in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. Myanmarese and Bangladeshi officials met in Naypyidaw on Tuesday to discuss plans to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled to Bangladesh after violence erupted in Rakhine state last August. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar — Government officials from Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed Tuesday to halt the outflow of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh and enable the refugees to return home.

The two sides met in Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw, to discuss a crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of Rohingya flee to Bangladesh over the past two months to escape violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

"Myanmar affirms its commitment to immediately halt the outflow of Myanmar residents to Bangladesh, to restore normalcy in Rakhine to enable displaced Myanmar residents to return from Bangladesh at the earliest" possible time, the sides said in a joint statement.

More than 600,000 Rohingya from northern Rakhine have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Myanmar security forces began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages. Myanmar's government has said it was responding to attacks on police outposts by insurgents from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, but the United Nations and others have said the response was disproportionate.

Tuesday's joint statement said that Myanmar declared ARSA "a terrorist organization" after Aug. 25 and asked Bangladesh to hand over any suspects who may have fled there. Bangladesh said it would "continue to co-operate with Myanmar against insurgents, militants and terrorists."

Earlier this month, the two sides agreed to set up a working group on the repatriation process.

Myanmar's Buddhist majority denies that Rohingya Muslims are a separate ethnic group and regards them as having migrated illegally from Bangladesh, although many families have lived in Myanmar for generations.

The exodus of the Rohingya has become a major humanitarian crisis and sparked international condemnation of Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

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