Myanmar says it has repatriated the first family of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, despite a UN warning that it is not safe to return.
Some 700,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to escape a brutal military campaign that began last August.
The UN has accused Myanmar of “ethnic cleansing” – a charge it denies.
Myanmar says five members of a family arrived at a “repatriation camp” on Saturday, and were provided with supplies and ID cards.
If confirmed, this would be the first group of Rohingya repatriated to Myanmar since the crisis began.
The Myanmar government says it has been engaged in a justified campaign against Rohingya militants in Rakhine state.
Earlier this month, it sentenced seven soldiers to prison terms for involvement in the killing of 10 Rohingya men.
Refugees fleeing the country into neighbouring Bangladesh, however, said that such acts were widespread – describing indiscriminate killings, rape, and the burning of villages.
The Rohingya are a mostly Muslim minority ethnic group in Myanmar. They are not recognised by the state, which denies them citizenship and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Photos released by Myanmar authorities on Saturday showed what it called a “Muslim” family receiving National Verification Cards. The state does not use the word Rohingya.
The card is a form of ID that does not grant citizenship, and has been rejected by Rohingya leaders in the Bangladesh camps.
On Saturday, just a day before Myanmar’s announcement of the Rohingya family’s arrival, the UN refugee agency warned that conditions in Myanmar were “not yet conducive for returns to be safe, dignified, and sustainable”.
“Refugees in Bangladesh have said that before considering return to Myanmar, they would need to see concrete progress in relation to their legal status and citizenship, security, and their ability to enjoy basic rights at home in Rakhine State,” the agency said.
While refugee camps in Bangladesh continue to receive new arrivals in small numbers, Myanmar claims it is ready to receive returnees.
But the UN insists it Myanmar’s responsibility to the Rohingya goes beyond “the preparation of physical infrastructure to facilitate logistical arrangements”.