Asean will help, but Myanmar has to exercise responsibility on Rohingya issue

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, on Sept 29, 2018. PHOTO: UNITED NATIONS

NEW YORK - Myanmar should start repatriating the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, and it must ensure that they return to a society where there is security, peace, justice and better prospects for everyone, said Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

"The next step has to be repatriation, since there was an agreement signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh, in fact, in November last year," he said.

"It is now September. At some point, in order to remain credible, you have to see some movement... on a voluntary basis; you need to see that they are able to move back in a dignified, safe manner. That's the next step and it's an important confidence-building step," Dr Balakrishnan told Singapore media in New York on Saturday (Sept 29).

"But we also have to be cognisant that the long-term solution is a political solution," he added. Without that underlying foundation it would not be possible to solve the Rakhine state problem which has been around for about two and a half centuries, he said.

At an Asean meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the key point made to Myanmar was that "we stand ready to help", said Dr Balakrishnan. And the important step next is that the refugees are repatriated in a safe and dignified manner, which needs to occur soon.

"Asean will work with Myanmar to facilitate this process," he said. "This is something we will have to watch in the next few weeks, next few months."

Asean supported the Independent Commission of Enquiry appointed by the Myanmar government in July to collect evidence of serious international crimes committed in Myanmar.

"We expect this inquiry to be conducted impartially, expeditiously, independently - and hold people who are responsible fully accountable," Dr Balakrishnan said.

But he also urged focus on the humanitarian crisis.

"Right now, there are a million people suffering. There's a humanitarian disaster… unacceptable in this day and age," said the minister.

"These people need help and we have to make sure humanitarian assistance reaches them. And we're also grateful to Bangladesh for hosting them in the interim."

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