A year on, Rohingya still fleeing Myanmar for crowded camps

BALUKHALI REFUGEE CAMP, Bangladesh, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Hamida Begum fled her home in Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh about two months ago with her husband, two-year-old son, and three-month-old baby. In the weeks before she left, her husband almost never slept at home out of fear of being arrested.

"He would climb on top of a tree and sit there the whole night, even if it was raining really hard," said the 18-year-old, wearing a yellow headscarf over a purple dress and sitting on the floor of her barren bamboo hut.

Hamida now lives on the edge of the world's largest refugee camp, one of the latest arrivals among some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who have escaped an army crackdown that the United Nations has called "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

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A year on, Rohingya still fleeing Myanmar for crowded camps
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A year on, Rohingya still fleeing Myanmar for crowded camps
Rohingya refugee children pose for a picture in their makeshift tent in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugees gather to collect meat from a relief distribution center in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugee girl smiles as she poses for a picture in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugees sit on a pile of brick fragments before the sacrificing of cows on the day of Eid al-Adha in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
A Rohingya refugee girl applies lip stick in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugee children ride on a swing ride on the day of Eid al-Adha in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugees are seen inside their makeshiftt tent in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugee children ride on human powered ferris wheels on the second day of Eid al-Adha in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
A Rohingya refugee boy walks out after collecting meat from a relief distribution center in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugee children plays in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugee women arrange a cradle for child in their makeshift tent in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugee children ride on a swing ride on the day of Eid al-Adha in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugee children ride on human powered ferris wheels on the day of Eid al-Adha in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Rohingya refugee children ride on human powered ferris wheels on the day of Eid al-Adha in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Yeasmin, a Rohingya refugee mother smiles with her son while sit inside her makeshiftt tent in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
A Rohingya woman brushes her child's hair as they celebrate Eid al-Adha in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
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Though Myanmar says it is ready to take back the Rohingya, the continued outflow of refugees such as Hamida and her family underlines the lack of progress in addressing the crisis, a year on from the start of the offensive on Aug. 25, 2017.

The Rohingya exodus has threatened Myanmar's tense transition to democracy and shattered the image of its leader, Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, outside the country.

"The crisis has done enormous damage to Myanmar's standing in the world," said Richard Horsey, a former U.N. diplomat in the country and a political analyst.

Suu Kyi's government has rejected most allegations of atrocities made against the security forces by refugees. It has built transit centers to receive Rohingya returnees to western Rakhine state.

But stories brought by Hamida and other recent arrivals in Bangladesh - at least 150 people in August and nearly 13,000 since the beginning of the year - suggest the resolution of a crisis that enters its second year on Saturday remains distant.

Around half a dozen new refugees who spoke to Reuters said that, after months of struggle amid charred huts and empty villages, they were forced to abandon their homes out of fear of harassment or arrest by the security forces. They said they had been confined to their homes and pushed to the brink of starvation, unable to visit farms for work, markets and fishing ponds for food, or mosques to pray.

Myanmar says it did not provoke the crisis and its military launched a legitimate counterinsurgency operation in response to a violent campaign from within the Rohingya minority, who are mostly denied citizenship in the southeast Asian nation.

16 PHOTOS
Wedding in a Rohingya refugee camp
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Wedding in a Rohingya refugee camp
Rohingya refugees Saddam Hussein, 23, and his wife Shofika Begum, 18, pose for a photo in front of their temporary shelter at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 16, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Marko Djurica 
Refugee children scuffle over free meals given away during a wedding party for Rohingya refugees Saddam Hussein, 23, and Shofika Begum, 18, at the Kutupalong camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 11, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
Saddam Hussein, 23, works at his family's shop at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 16, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
Shofika Begum, 18, who married Saddam Hussein, 23, both Rohingya refugees, cooks inside their temporary shelter at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 16, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Marko Djurica 
People attend a wedding party for Rohingya refugees Saddam Hussein, 23, and Shofika Begum, 18, at the Kutupalong camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 11, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in overcrowded the Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
Guests enjoy a wedding party for Rohingya refugees Saddam Hussein, 23, and Shofika Begum, 18, at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 11, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
An muslim cleric (R) performs a wedding ritual for Rohingya refugees Saddam Hussein (L), 23, and Shofika Begum, 18, who stays in a separate room, at the Kutupalong camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 11, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
Women and children attend a wedding party for Rohingya refugees Saddam Hussein, 23, and Shofika Begum, 18, at the Kutupalong camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 11, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Rohingya refugees Saddam Hussein, 23, and Shofika Begum, 18, pose for a picture in a tent decorated with blankets just after getting married at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 11, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
Guests dance during a wedding party for Rohingya refugees Saddam Hussein, 23, and Shofika Begum, 18, at the Kutupalong camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 11, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in overcrowded the Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Rohingya refugees Saddam Hussein, 23, and his wife Shofika Begum, 18, pose in their temporary shelter at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 16, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Marko Djurica 
Saddam Hussein, 23, gets dressed before marrying Shofika Begum, 18, both Rohingya refugees, at the Kutupalong camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 11, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A refugee tent is decorated by colourful blankets for the wedding ceremony of Rohingya refugees Saddam Hussein, 23, and Shofika Begum, 18, at the Kutupalong camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 11, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
Shofika Begum, 18, is helped with make-up by her brother's wife on the day she marries Saddam Hussein, 23, both Rohingya refugees, at Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 11, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
Shofika Begum, 18, cries leaving a tent with her relatives as she is about to meet Saddam Hussein, 23, both Rohingya refugees, on their wedding day at the Kutupalong camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 11, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
Shofika Begum, 18, shows decoration on her hands on the day she marries Saddam Hussein, 23, both Rohingya refugees, at the Kutupalong camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, December 11, 2017. The newly wed couple, both from the village of Foyra Bazar in Maungdaw township that was burnt by the Myanmar military, fled with their families and other Rohingya some three months ago, Saddam Hussein said. They knew each other from before escaping from Myanmar and were planning to get married but managed to do so only now, as refugees living in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
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"It was a systematic activity by a group in order to get a citizenship for Bengali people," said Myo Nyunt, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar refer to the Rohingya as "Bengali," which most in the Muslim minority regard as a derogatory term used to suggest they are interlopers from Bangladesh.

AFRAID TO LIGHT CANDLES

The massive influx of refugees has transformed the hills in southeastern Bangladesh into an endless sea of white, orange and blue tents. Residents are settling in for the long haul.

Near Hamida's hut, Rohingya men carry bricks, dig 4 meter-deep latrines, reinforce muddy slopes with sturdy soil, and mend fences for a new NGO-run school. Bits of wood, bamboo poles and tarpaulin sheets are spread across the area where many of the new arrivals are sent to build their shelters.

Hamida said around 5,000 Rohingya lived in her village in northern Rakhine until last August. When she fled about two months ago, she was among only 100 or so who had remained in the partly-burned hamlet.

Reuters was unable to independently verify Hamida's account, though relatives and neighbors present at the interview supported her version of events and offered additional details.

Hamida stayed because she could not afford to pay her way into Bangladesh. Months after the initial offensive, she said, the security forces frequently patrolled her village and sometimes arrested Rohingya men or grabbed them to do unpaid work at an expanding military camp nearby.

"In Myanmar, if my children start crying at night, I can't even light a candle because there is a complete blackout, and if the military see any light they come and arrest you," she said.

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Portraits of injured Rohingya refugees
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Portraits of injured Rohingya refugees
Rohingya refugee Nur Kamal, 17, poses for a photograph to show his head injuries, at Kutupalang refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, October 13, 2017. Kamal described how soldiers assaulted him after they found the young shopkeeper hiding in his home in Kan Hpu village in Maungdaw. "They hit me with a rifle butt on my head first and then with a knife," Kamal said. His uncle found him unconscious in a pool of blood. It took them two weeks to get to Bangladesh. "We want justice," Kamal said. "We want the international community to help us obtain justice." REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees Mohamed Heron, 6, and his brother Mohamed Akter, 4, pose for a portrait to show burns on their bodies at Kutupalong refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, October 14, 2017. Boys' uncle Mohamed Inus said burns resulted from Myanmar's armed forces firing rockets at their village. Two of their siblings, one seven years old and the other a 10-month-old infant, died in the attack, according to the uncle. Their father was held by the military and has not been heard of since. "These two children survived when our village was fired on with rockets," Inus said. Fleeing along with other villagers who abandoned their scorched homes, the boys reached Bangladesh after a three-day trek. At Kutupalong, they were treated for three weeks for their burns at a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) clinic. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rohingya refugee Imam Hossain, 42, sleeps on the ground at Kutupalang refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, October 14, 2017. Hossain said he was returning home after teaching at a madrassa in his village when three men attacked him with knives. The next day, he made his wife and two children leave with other villagers fleeing to Bangladesh. He reached Cox's Bazar later. He was still searching for his family. "I want to ask the Myanmar government why they are harming the Rohingya? Why do Buddhists hate us? Why do you torture us? What is wrong with us?" he said. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Abdu Rahaman, 73, poses for a photograph at Leda refugee camp in Bangladesh, October 15, 2017. Rahaman, a merchant from Maungdaw, was ambushed while walking on a mountain path with other refugees. A machete thrown at his feet severed three toes as he ran from his attackers. With his foot bleeding through a tourniquet made from his longyi, or sarong, Rahaman walked for two more hours, before his nephew and friends carried him across the border. "Our future is not good," he said. "Allah must help us. The international community has to do something." REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGES OF SCENES OF INJURY Rohingya refugee Momtaz Begum, 30, poses for a photograph at Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh October 19, 2017. Begum told how soldiers came to her village demanding valuables. "I told them I was poor and had nothing. One of them started beating me saying, 'If you have no money, then we will kill you.'" After beating her, they locked her inside her house and set the roof on fire. She escaped to find her three sons dead and her daughter beaten and bleeding. Momtaz fled to Bangladesh where she spent 20 days at the MSF clinic receiving treatment for burns to her face and body. "What can I say about the future, if now we have no food, no house, no family. We cannot think about the future. They have killed that as well." REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Anwara Begum, 36, poses for a photograph at Kutupalang refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, October 13, 2017. Begum said she woke to find her home in Maungdaw township, in the northernmost part of Rakhine state, in flames. Before she could get out, the burning roof caved in on her and her nylon clothes melted onto her arms. Begum's husband carried his wife for eight days to reach the Kutupalong camp. "I thought I was going to die. I tried to stay alive for my children," Begum said, adding she was still waiting for treatment for her burns. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Setara Begum, 12, poses for a photograph at Nayapara refugee camp in Bangladesh, October 14, 2017. Begum was among nine siblings in their home in Maungdaw when it was hit by a rocket. "I saved eight of my nine children from the burning house, but Setara was trapped inside," said her mother, Arafa. "I could see her crying in the middle of the fire, but it was difficult to save her. By the time we could reach her, she was badly burned." Setara's father carried her for two days to Bangladesh.�The young girl received no treatment for the severe burns to her feet. Her feet healed. But she has no toes. The trauma has scarred her psychologically. "She has been mute from that day, and doesn't speak to anyone," her mother said. "She only cries silently." REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Mohamed Jabair, 21, poses for a photograph to show burns on his bodies, which he said he sustained when his house was set on fire in Myanmar, at Kutupalang refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, October 17, 2017. Knocked unconscious and badly burned, Jabair was carried by his brother and others for four days to Cox's Bazar. "I was blind for many weeks and admitted to a government hospital in Cox's Bazar for 23 days. I was frightened that I would be blind forever," he said. Jabair said money sent by relatives in Malaysia had run out and he could no longer afford treatment. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Ansar Allah, 11, poses for a photograph at Leda refugee camp in Bangladesh, October 15, 2017. Allah showed a large, livid scar - the result of a gunshot wound. "They sprayed us with bullets, as our house was burning," his mother Samara said. "It was a bullet half the size of my index finger," she said, before adding, "I can't stop thinking, why did God put us in that dangerous situation?" REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Kalabarow, 50, poses for a photograph at Leda refugee camp, in Bangladesh, October 15, 2017. Kalabarow said her husband, daughter and one son were killed when soldiers fired on her village in Maungdaw. She was hit in her right foot. She lay where she fell, pretending to be dead, for several hours before a grandson found her. During their 11-day journey to Bangladesh, a village doctor amputated her infected foot and four men carried her on a stretcher made of bamboo and a bedsheet. "As we walked through the forest, we saw burnt villages and dead bodies. I thought we would never be safe," she said. REUTERS/Jorge Silva SEARCH "ROHINGYA INJURIES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Mohammed Shoaib, 7, who was shot on his chest before crossing the border from Myanmar in August, shows his injury outside a medical centre after seeing a doctor, at Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Mohammed Shoaib, 7, who was shot on his chest before crossing the border from Myanmar in August, shows his injury outside a medical centre after seeing a doctor, at Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox?s Bazar, Bangladesh November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
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The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a report last week more than half of the new arrivals, "reported that relatives remaining in Myanmar also plan to leave due to continued fears."

"People tell us...they told me, that they feel like they're prisoners. They can't leave the house, the men can't go fishing, the curfew is so extreme, that there are only certain hours when you can light a fire," said Caroline Gluck, a UNHCR representative in the camps.

Suu Kyi's spokesman did not respond to repeated calls seeking comment. In a speech in Singapore on Tuesday, Myanmar's civilian leader said the country had made preparations for the repatriation of refugees, but that it was difficult to set a timeframe for when that might happen.

"The returnees have to be sent back by Bangladesh," she said. "We can only welcome them at the border."

NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt acknowledged that the ethnic and religious tensions that triggered the violence in Rakhine a year ago remained stark.

"The situation in the area hasn't changed within one year," he said. "It will take time to be improved, live in harmony."

(Additional reporting by Thu Thu Aung and Poppy McPherson in Yangon; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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