Vivian Balakrishnan in Bangladesh on 2-day visit

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan speaking at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit in New York on Sept 24, 2018.
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan speaking at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit in New York on Sept 24, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan is in Bangladesh on a two-day introductory trip to the South Asian country, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said on Saturday (Nov 3).

Dr Balakrishnan will call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and meet Foreign Minister Mahmood Ali, MFA said in a statement. He will also visit the southern port city of Cox's Bazar on Sunday, the ministry added.

Bangladesh's New Age newspaper said Dr Balakrishnan will visit the camps of Myanmar's Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar.

More than 720,000 from the Muslim minority - who are stateless despite having lived in Myanmar for centuries - have fled to Bangladesh since a military crackdown in August last year.

They now huddle in crowded tents in Cox's Bazar, turning the area into the largest refugee camp in the world.

Myanmar has denied that its military targeted civilians and maintained that soldiers were defending themselves against Rohingya militants.

Bangladesh and Myanmar first reached a deal a year ago to begin repatriation, but the process has been delayed. Officials from both countries met this week and announced that it would begin in mid-November.

Dr Balakrishnan said in September that Myanmar must ensure the refugees return to a society where there is security, peace, justice and better prospects for everyone.

He added that the key point made to Myanmar at an Asean meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York was that "we stand ready to help".

However, on Friday, a group of Asean parliamentarians said Myanmar is not safe enough for the return of the Rohingya refugees, and urged the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to halt repatriation plans.

Before going to Bangladesh, Dr Balakrishnan was in South Africa to attend the 18th Council of Ministers Meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), MFA said.

At the meeting, Dr Balakrishnan emphasised the importance of pressing on with regional cooperation, preserving a rules-based international order, and strengthening IORA as an organisation, the ministry said.

The minister also met South Africa's Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Nonceba Sisulu, during which they reaffirmed the warm relations between Singapore and South Africa.