Bangladesh will seek “specific timeline” from Myanmar to repatriate its nationals during Sunday’s foreign secretary level talks, a senior foreign ministry official says. Dhaka will put forth its position even as it wants to give the bilateral relations “a boost” resolving irritants.
Myanmar’s Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw will lead his side at the foreign secretary level meeting, known as ‘Foreign Office Consultation’. Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque will lead Bangladesh side at the eighth of its kind talks.
A senior official of the foreign ministry told that border management, Rohingya repatriation, trade, connectivity and gas import issues would be some of the topics that would dominate the talks. The official, who will be present at the meeting, seeking anonymity, said they would propose an “umbrella agreement” with Myanmar to settle unresolved issues, Rohingya refugee is one of them.
Bangladesh gave shelter to thousands of refugees who fled the Rakhine province after sectarian clashes over the years. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, put the number in Bangladesh at over 200,000 with 30,000 documented refugees living in two government-run camps –the Kutupalong and Nayapara – within 2 km of the Myanmar border.
According to some estimates more than 500,000 living outside the camp in Bangladesh. The foreign ministry official said they would ask Myanmar to take back the documented nationals from the camps.
“We are aware of their human rights situation in Rakhine state, but we are a small country,” the official said. “We want to settle our bilateral issues bilaterally,” he, however, ruled out any plan of seeking help from regional countries in this regard.
The foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali recently at a discussion termed Myanmar an “important partner” of Bangladesh in international collaboration, and said they would continue their efforts to increase ties.
He cited the regional grouping BIMSTEC – the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation – which has both Bangladesh and Myanmar as members. The talks on the proposed economic corridor under the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) were underway. Bangladesh is planning railway links from Chittagong to Kunming through Myanmar.
A new idea of forming a Bay community with Bangladesh, India and Myanmar particularly after resolving the maritime boundary dispute is also growing. Bangladesh is also contemplating partnership with India and Myanmar to exploit its marine recourses in the Bay of Bengal as it lacks both technology and knowledge in this regard.
The issue of importing gas from the Shwe gas field in Rakhine state will also be discussed in the meeting. A consortium of China, India, Myanmar and South Korea’s Daewoo has developed the field and about 800-km line has been set up to pipe the gas to Kunming.
Bangladesh already received positive nod from China to get the supply while officials said they would try to convince others in this regard. Md Shahidul Haque recently at a discussion on Bangladesh-Myanmar said they want to solve the problem without blaming each other.
“We need to decisively and aggressively go and solve it,” he said in May before the earlier date of holding this foreign office consultation on June 18. Later it was re-scheduled on Aug 31 on Myanmar’s request.
The foreign secretary earlier said Naypyidaw responded positively to Dhaka’s proposal to have “security dialogue” to discuss “the problems in the bordering area”. An official who has knowledge of the consultation said the proposal would be discussed in the meeting. Once agreed, both sides would be able to sit for talks on any issues, the official said.
The meeting would discuss holding regular meetings between the chiefs of the two border guards like those between Bangladesh’s Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and India’s Border Security Force (BSF). They will also discuss building regular communication mechanism with the civil administrations of the border districts on both sides.
Talks on renewing a cultural exchange agreement which expired two years ago will take place apart from a draft agreement on protection and promotion of investments. “Basically we are ready to do everything to address trust deficit and enhance co-operation engagements,” the official earlier told. He said Bangladesh had already addressed Myanmar’s security concerns.
The border guards conducted raids on locations that Myanmar suspected to be hideouts of its rebels. Myanmar provided the government a list of the locations upon Bangladesh’s request.
Bangladesh also conveyed its “zero tolerance” against terrorism and extremism for regional as well as international security. He said Bangladesh wants to discuss everything with Myanmar in “an open manner” to settle all irritants, a gesture that Bangladesh repeatedly signalled.
Bangladesh had allowed Myanmar’s frigate for the first time last year to use Naaf River to go into their part of the lake. The frigate stayed in Myanmar water bordering Cox’s Bazar region for a month and went back. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has visited Myanmar while there have also been exchanges of visits between Bangladesh and Myanmar armed forces.