Asean foreign ministers send condolences, offer assistance to affected nations

FOREIGN ministers from Asean countries meeting in Kuala Lumpur yesterday issued a joint condolence message on the 7.8- magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal as well as its neighbours India and Bangladesh.

"We are saddened by the loss of lives and damage to properties and infrastructure as well as historical heritage sites in the capital of Kathmandu and its surrounding areas," they said in a statement read out by Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman.

"The Asean foreign ministers express our solidarity at this trying time and we stand ready to extend our assistance and join international efforts in assisting the governments and the peoples of Nepal, India and Bangladesh," the statement added.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia was sending 30 members of an elite rescue team along with 20 doctors to assist in rescue and relief efforts.

Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters many countries spoke about Nepal, adding: "(The quake in) Nepal is something we regret deeply and what has happened is a tragedy."

Asean leaders will adopt a declaration on institutionalising the resilience of Asean in responding to disasters, which officials had earlier agreed upon, when they meet at today's Asean Summit.

Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh said Asean countries are among the most prone to natural disasters, from the 2004 tsunami to Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 and last year's severe floods.

He said disaster relief had become an important part of Asean cooperation, citing the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management based in Jakarta, which was launched in 2011, and how various countries pitched in to help one another during disasters.

Mr Shanmugam said the need to coordinate and tap one another's capabilities in disaster relief was accepted, and a number of countries outside the region had also come in to help Asean.

"We have a number of meetings which have tried to focus minds to work together, and we are working together," he added.