NAYPYITAW, Myanmar — Ambassadors from the U.N. Security Council probing Myanmar's crisis over its ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority met Monday with the country's leader and military chief after visiting Bangladesh, where about 700,000 Rohingya who fled military-led violence live in refugee camps.
The 15-member delegation co-led by Security Council President Gustavo Meza-Cuadra met in Myanmar's capital with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and military commander Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. They are to travel Tuesday to Rakhine state, the area from which the Rohingya fled and where hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas remain.
They are expected to see the aftermath of the army's crackdown there as well as the government's preparations for taking back the refugees from Bangladesh.
"The ministers will discuss in detail the repatriation of the refugees agreed by the two countries and resettlement plans for the returnees," Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Myint Thu told The Associated Press. He said ambassadors and deputy ambassadors from the 15 Security Council nations would be taken to refugee reception centers as well as villages in northern Rakhine.
The army launched counterinsurgency sweeps in Rakhine after attacks last August on security personnel. The military has been accused of massive human rights violations — including rape, killing, torture and the burning of Rohingya homes — that U.N. and U.S. officials have called ethnic cleansing.
The U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has insisted that the possibility of genocide against the Rohingya was real.
Myanmar's government agreed to allow the delegates' visit after previously rejecting U.N. requests for a visit by a specially appointed independent fact-finding committee. That team said in March that it found evidence of human rights violations against the Kachin, Shan and Rohingya minorities "in all likelihood amounting to crimes under international law."
The Kachin and the Shan are other ethnic minorities who seek greater autonomy and are engaged in armed conflict against government forces.
Britain's U.N. ambassador, Karen Pierce — a member of the visiting delegation — said after the group's visit to the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh over the weekend that the Security Council would continue to work on enabling the refugees to return to Myanmar, but that the Rohingya must be allowed to return under safe conditions.
Thousands of refugees gathered amid scorching heat at the camp to welcome the delegation. They carried placards, some of which read "We want justice."
Rohingya Muslims have long been treated as outsiders in Myanmar, even though many of their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.
Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in December to begin repatriating the refugees in January, but there were concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that they would be forced to return and face unsafe conditions in Myanmar.
The U.N. refugee agency and Bangladesh recently finalized a memorandum of understanding that said the repatriation process must be "safe, voluntary and dignified ... in line with international standards."
The U.N. refugee chief, Filippo Grandi, warned in February that conditions aren't right for Rohingya Muslims to voluntarily return to Myanmar because its government hasn't addressed their exclusion, denial of rights and lack of citizenship.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has repeatedly stressed that the Rohingyas return must be voluntary and they must be allowed to return to their homes which will require a huge investment for reconstruction because of the destruction.
Some human rights activists would like to see more aggressive action by the U.N.
"The other thing the Security Council should do is refer the situation in Rakhine state to the International Criminal Court," Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said Friday in a speech to journalists in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city.
"The crimes against humanity that were committed against the Rohingya population were clearly of the gravity and severity that they warrant prosecution by the ICC. If impunity were to prevail it would be an enormous injustice to the victims and their families, and it would only encourage a repetition of these kinds of mass atrocities," Roth said.