Not one Rohingya refugee crossed back into Myanmar from Bangladesh on Thursday under a disputed repatriation programme, officials said, with Yangon blaming Dhaka for bungling efforts to start returning the stateless minority.
Bangladeshi officials waited hours at a border transit point where the first returnees were expected to cross into Myanmar, despite the United Nations warning the displaced Muslims risked fresh persecution if they went back.
But not a single Rohingya from the 720,000 estimated to have fled a Myanmar military crackdown in August last year came forward, with hundreds instead staging a demonstration shouting "We will not go".
"No one turned up voluntarily," Bangladesh refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam told AFP, adding they were awaiting instructions from the foreign ministry as how to proceed.
With the UN and international aid groups also fighting the controversial plan, Rohingya leaders said many on a Bangladesh repatriation list of 2,260 people had gone into hiding.
Bangladesh expected 150 refugees to volunteer to return Thursday, with five buses waiting to carry them to the border.
But they remained empty, and instead about 1,000 Rohingya men, women and children protested against repatriations, shouting "We want justice".
Tajul Mulluk, 85, who is on the repatriation list, said: "They killed two of my sons. I escaped to Bangladesh with two others. Please don't send us back. They will kill the rest of my family."
"We can't go back," added Mohammad Amin, 45, who was among the protesters.
- Violations risk -
The United Nations had urged Bangladesh to suspend the programme, with rights chief Michelle Bachelet saying it would send the Rohingya "back to the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades."
Kalam, the refugee commissioner, said his team was "completely ready" to start sending back Rohingya but stressed that only volunteers would go.
"If we get anyone willing to go, we will carry them to the border point with respect and dignity."
Kalam acknowledged that the UNHCR refugee agency had found no family ready to go. "None feels safe to go back now," Kalam told AFP.
On the other side of the border Myanmar officials also waited all day, said Myint Thu, permanent secretary at the foreign ministry.
"We will continue waiting on our side and will be on standby," he told reporters.
But he lashed out at Bangladesh for being "weak regarding the logistical arrangements" and accused the UN refugee agency of interfering with the process.
"We think the UNHCR should not be a barrier for those who really want to return," he added.