By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ANKARA (AA) – Foreign ministers of southeast Asian countries meeting in Thailand on Friday are set to discuss the Rohingya issue, local media reported.
The Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting will reportedly endorse a plan to send another needs-assessment mission to Myanmar in the near future to facilitate the repatriation of the oppressed Rohingya.
The meeting, held in the mountainous city of Chiang Mai, follows up on ASEAN’s visit last November to Myanmar, local daily The Bangkok Post reported.
The Indonesia-based ASEAN Secretariat and ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management sent a joint team to Myanmar late last year.
ASEAN believes that the refugees should be able to return voluntarily and “in a safe, secure, and dignified manner.”
The ASEAN representatives are also supposed to discuss the South China Sea situation, including negotiations between ASEAN and China on “crafting a code of conduct to manage tensions” in the disputed waters.
Also on agenda of the meeting is East Timor's bid to join ASEAN, for which the multi-nation group will send a “fact-finding mission” to Dili, its capital, to “gauge its preparedness.”
- A persecuted people
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled "Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience."
Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.
The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.