Dhaka to focus on Rohingya, border and yaba issues in FOC

Chittagong, Bangladesh: Dhaka will highlight on addressing issues related to repatriation of Rohingya refugees, along with undocumented Burmese nationals, peaceful border management and yaba tablets during the secretary-level foreign office consultation (FOC) between Bangladesh and Burma, to be held at the foreign ministry on August 31st, according to foreign ministry officials.In the FOC, talk over issues concerning Bangladesh, including repatriation of Rohingyas, stopping Yaba smuggling, establishing a border liaison office to fast track dispute resolution, holding regular security dialogues, alongside cooperation in trade, coastal shipping, civil aviation, energy and communication, said the officials at the foreign ministry. “Burmese President’s visit to Bangladesh will also be discussed.”

A five-member Burmese delegation, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Thant Kyaw  arrived in Dhaka on August 28th and accompanied by two officials from the embassy in Dhaka will join at FOC  for talk and is likely to raise allegations of armed insurgents in yellow fatigues operating in the neighboring country from Bangladesh, informed diplomatic sources.

Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque will lead the 10-member Bangladesh side at the foreign secretary-level 8th Foreign Office Consultation (FOC) on August 31, foreign ministry officials said.

“All bilateral issues, including border management, will be discussed,” foreign secretary Haque told to the reporters on August 27 at his office.

Regarding the Rohingya issue, officials from foreign ministry said that currently about 30,000 registered refugees living in two camps – Kutupalong and Nayapara- in Cox’s Bazar, and three to five hundred thousand undocumented Burmese are scattered in different parts of Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban districts.

A senior official described the Rohingya issue as one of the main challenges to Dhaka-Nay Pyi Taw bilateral relations. “As long as this problem exists, it is not possible to exploit the full potential of the relationship.”

Burma was ready to take back some of the refugees –mostly the registered refugees- in 2012, but the process was stalled after violence erupted in the Arakan state in June, 2012,the senior official said, adding that the proposed visit of the President of Burma to Bangladesh was also postponed because of the problem.

“At the FOC, we will ask the Burma side to resume repatriation as soon as possible and work on the President’s visit since the situation in Arakan has calmed down,” the official said.

Nay Pyi Taw would be reminded about Dhaka’s earlier proposal of forming a joint committee to deal with the Rohingya issue, he said. It may be mentioned that repatriation of Rohingya refugees has stopped since 2005.

On the border issue, the official said the killing of Border Guard Bangladesh Nayek Subedar Mizanur Rahman by Burma Border Guard Police (BGP) in May underscores the importance of cooperation between the two countries.

Burma has put forward a proposal to the Bangladesh side to establish a border liaison office (BLO), which will not only deal with border incidents, but also other issues like money laundering and climate change, said the officials.

“With the involvement of different organizations, the BLO will provide one-stop service. We have agreed on establishment of the BLO with regard to border incidents. About other aspects, we have requested Burma to provide a concept paper and we will take a decision after going through it,” said an official.

“There is no reason as to why we will not agree to the proposal. This issue will also be discussed at the FOC,” he said, adding that in Bangladesh the BLO office will be set up in Cox’s Bazar and on the Burma side it will be located somewhere in the Arakan state.

The official said the Bangladesh side will raise the issue of smuggling of yaba tablets and other illegal drugs into Bangladesh from Burma with due importance. The BGB has earlier provided the Burma side with a list of outlets producing yaba tablets along the border.
Despite denying existence of such outlets, Burma has agreed in principle to look into the issue, officials said.

“We will raise this issue again, as our information says that yaba tablets are coming from Myanmar,” said an official. The meeting will also talk about a security dialogue between the two countries that will work as a regular platform to discuss all security-related issues, including border management, said officials. The Bangladesh side proposed it and the Burma side apparently agreed in principle about the dialogue.”

About the possibility of signing a memorandum of understanding on initiating the security dialogue during the FOC, a senior official of the foreign ministry said: “I don’t think it is going to happen this time. But we will definitely keep on pressing the Burma side on this.”

Officials said Bangladesh would also talk about forming a joint commission to be headed by Foreign Ministers of the two countries.

Laying emphasis on enhancing bilateral trade, which is currently less than USD 100 million, and it is a pity that both sides are unable to exploit the huge potential of trade opportunities between the two neighbors.

“There is mistrust among Burmese officials. They feel that anti-Burmese outfits are operating from Bangladesh. This mistrust and Burmese’s failure to take back the Rohingyas are holding back the relationship,” said a senior official, adding that if potentials of this relationship could be exploited by addressing the problems, people of both countries would benefit.

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