New Delhi: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will visit Myanmar next week and could announce an increase in Indian assistance aimed at facilitating the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh during the trip.
Swaraj’s visit follows one by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September and the foreign minister is expected to review the progress made in implementing the decisions taken during Modi’s trip, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.
“Several key agreements covering diverse aspects of our bilateral relations are to be signed," Kumar said.
Rohingya insurgent attacks on security posts in Rakhine on 25 August 2017 sparked a Myanmarese military operation that led to the exodus of nearly 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh. Myanmar has for years denied Rohingyas citizenship, accusing them of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. However, Bangladesh says the Rohingyas are not its nationals.
During his visit to Myanmar, Modi had said India understands the problems being faced by Myanmar and shares its concerns over “extremist violence" in the Rakhine state, especially the loss of lives of civilians and military personnel. This was seen as a signal of support for Myanmar’s beleagured State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under international pressure over the treatment of Rohingya refugees.
Modi’s comments stirred controversy in Bangladesh, which has some 700,000 refugees, prompting New Delhi to move quickly to assuage sentiments in Dhaka with food and other relief material to help the Rohingyas.
New Delhi views Bangladesh and Myanmar as key partners in its plans to link up with countries of South-East Asia. Both countries are also partners in India attempts to ensure militants targeting India’s north-eastern states do not find sanctuary in either country.
In December, India and Myanmar had signed an agreement for socio-economic development of the Rakhine state from where hundreds of thousands of mainly Muslim Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh. The pact was signed during then Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar’s Myanmar visit and is the first government-to-government agreement signed by the ministry of social welfare, relief and resettlement of Myanmar and is focused on the socio-economic development and livelihood initiatives in Rakhine state.
In January, Myanmar and Bangladesh reached an agreement to repatriate the refugees within two years.
India believes that “normalcy in the Rakhine state will be restored with the return of the displaced persons," Kumar said. The socio-economic development of Rakhine state was also key he said, adding that India welcomed the Bangladesh-Myanmar agreement for repatriating the Rohingyas.