BANGLADESH-BURMA TALKS ON REFUGEES ARE CALLED OFF

Burma called off a July 16 meeting with Bangladesh that was to discuss the repatriation of quarter of a million Muslim refugees, a senior Bangladeshi official said.

The official, speaking from the coastal town of Cox's Bazar, said Bangladesh was ready for the talks but the Burmese government said it was busy and senior officials were not available. No new date was set for the meeting.

About 264,000 refugees have come to predominantly Muslim Bangladesh from Arakan Province, a rugged area in western Burma that is the traditional homeland of Burma's 3 million Muslims. About 75 percent of Burma's 40 million people are Buddhists.

The refugees say they are fleeing an anti-Muslim campaign by the military government of Burma, which denies the charge. Monsoon rains have worsened their living conditions in 16 camps in southern Bangladesh. About 60,000 refugees live in huts made of twigs and leaves.

The repatriation of the refugees was to start May 15, but was put off after they refused to go back until human-rights conditions in Burma improved. Burma says the refugees are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and that it must verify their papers before letting them in.

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