Ministers underline need to address root causes of Rohingya crisis

Asean foreign ministers have said that they look forward to the safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, following a briefing on the situation by its Minister for International Cooperation Kyaw Tin.

Yesterday, the ministers also underlined the need for "a comprehensive and durable solution to address the root causes of the conflict and to create a conducive environment so that the affected communities can rebuild their lives".

They were at the Asean Foreign Ministers' Retreat, where Mr Kyaw Tin gave an update on the crisis, which has seen nearly 700,000 Rohingya flee their homes in Rakhine state for neighbouring Bangladesh after an Aug 25 militant attack triggered a military crackdown.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told reporters that Asean is fully committed to assisting the Myanmar government in its humanitarian response, but that ultimately, what is needed is a long-term political solution.

"That is the only way you can rebuild lives, communities, trust - and then you can look forward to the future," he said. These are not issues which have a quick fix, but it is crucial to "make the right diagnosis" and work together to address them.

Dr Balakrishnan, who chaired the retreat, said in a statement that the Asean ministers expressed their continued support for Myanmar's humanitarian relief efforts and welcomed the work by the Asean coordinating centre for humanitarian assistance on disaster management to deliver aid to all displaced persons without discrimination.

They also urged the country to continue implementing the recommendations of an advisory commission led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, and welcomed the setting up of an international advisory board to implement the recommendations, led by former Thai deputy premier Surakiart Sathirathai. The recommendations touch on issues such as citizenship, communal dialogue, freedom of movement and bilateral cooperation with Bangladesh.

Dr Balakrishnan also noted that there was common political commitment among Asean members to tackle this and other challenges.

Responding to a question on plans to tackle militancy, he said it was important to note that it was not religion but the political abuse of religion that was the problem.

Militancy is a transboundary threat "which is a clear and present danger to all of us", he added, saying this was why there was greater intelligence cooperation, joint patrols in the Sulu Sea, and concern over developments in Rakhine state as there was with Marawi, a Philippine city which was under siege by pro-ISIS militants last year.

Ministers also welcomed the resumption of talks between both Koreas, and strongly urged North Korea to comply with its obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Singapore has also said it will, in its term as Asean chair, work on a Model Asean Extradition Treaty, as a precursor to a legally binding one.

Dr Balakrishnan said he was not ready to give a specific deadline, but "we are making good progress".

"And once that is settled, we can then begin the process of actually negotiating the Asean extradition treaty," he said. "These are complicated legal agreements and documents that will have to be formulated, so I don't want to rush the process. The point is that there is alignment, and what we are doing is collectively signalling our commitment to enhancing legal cooperation with Asean as a region."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2018, with the headline Ministers underline need to address root causes of Rohingya crisis. Subscribe