Myanmar president postpones Bangladesh tour

DHAKA - Myanmar President Thein Sein has postponed his mid-July visit to Dhaka due to sectarian violence in the country's western Rakhine state, a Bangladesh foreign ministry official said Sunday.

The president has asked for rescheduling the Bangladesh tour after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in the third week of July, Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes told a press briefing.

"Myanmar's president is not coming in mid-July. We are now working to fix a new date after Ramadan," he said, adding the two nations would sign several agreements during the high profile visit.

Myanmar has said its president can't travel abroad as a state of emergency has been in place in the Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh, Quayes said, adding that Thein Sein was "personally" reviewing the situation in the region.

The Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh, has been rocked by rioting, arson and a cycle of revenge attacks involving Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya last month, prompting growing international concern.

More than 80 people have been killed in the violence, with sporadic outbreaks of violence still occurring, according to the government of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Myanmar and Bangladesh leaders were to discuss the issue of Rohingya refugees and related unrest near their border during the July 15-17 trip, Dhaka's ambassador in Yangon, Major General Anup Kumar Chakma told AFP last week.

"It is expected the Myanmar refugee issue will be discussed with more seriousness this time," he said.

About 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar, according to the UN, which views them as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

In recent weeks Bangladesh has turned away hundreds of Rohingya Muslims fleeing the violence in Myanmar despite pressure from the United States and rights groups to grant them refuge.

The impoverished South Asian country is already home to a Rohingya refugee population estimated at 300,000.

Speaking a Bengali dialect similar to one in southeast Bangladesh, the Rohingya are seen as illegal immigrants by the Myanmar government and many Burmese, prompting many to attempt to flee to third countries in rickety boats.

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