Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations want to see a clear time frame for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, Thailand's foreign minister said Saturday.
Speaking after a meeting of the ministers in Bangkok, Don Pramudwinai, representing the host country, said that ASEAN wants Myanmar and Bangladesh to discuss the issue and set a timeline for the return of the refugees.
Don added that Myanmar informed ASEAN about the issuance of identification cards to the refugees to identify them when they return to Rakhine State.
"ASEAN recognizes the intention of Myanmar to solve this issue and will help promote the relevant process and see the repatriation begins," he said.
He noted that the related parties have to build trust among the refugees, assuring them that they will live in Rakhine State with safety.
Although the grouping has a policy of non-interference in members' internal affairs, the Rohingya issue has been fixed on the agenda of relevant meetings since 2017, when the Myanmar military clashed with armed Rohingya groups, drawing criticism from the international community.
More than 720,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine since August last year amid allegations of atrocities committed by the security forces.
Their repatriation from sprawling camps in neighboring Bangladesh has been delayed as they are not confident in their safety after returning home.
At their meeting, the ministers also renamed the grouping's Indo-Pacific outlook as the "ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific."
The outlook, which aims to ensure that ASEAN plays a "central and strategic role" in the evolving regional architecture, will be adopted by the leaders on Sunday.
Regarding a plan to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the 30th Commemorative Summit between ASEAN and South Korea later this year in Busan, Don said that ASEAN has no problem if South Korea extends an invitation to Kim.
In the weekend summit of the ASEAN leaders, the Rohingya crisis as well as the South China Sea situation are set to figure highly in their talks. Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be attending.
China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, has reclaimed a number of the disputed reefs and fortified them with military features over the past few years.
Laos and Cambodia, which have strong economic ties with China, have a more pro-Beijing stance on the issue. In contrast, Vietnam, which has competing claims with China, takes a harder line on Beijing's assertiveness in regional waters.
To what extent the leaders can unite against China's land reclamation and militarization activities in the South China Sea will be closely watched.
On Saturday, the leaders of the 10-member grouping are scheduled to meet with representatives of various groups such as the ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Assembly and ASEAN Business Advisory Council, to be followed by a plenary session focusing on internal cooperation.
A gala dinner will later be held at the Athenee Hotel, the summit venue.
The opening ceremony will take place on Sunday, followed by a leaders' retreat.
Also Saturday, ASEAN economic ministers agreed at a meeting on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to continue efforts toward concluding negotiations on the Asia-wide free trade deal involving 16 countries by November.
"The ASEAN economic ministers urge and assign officials to exert efforts to drive the negotiations in various topics under the RCEP such as rule of origins, investment in order to find an ASEAN stance before meeting with the six partners of ASEAN," Auramon Supthaweethum, director general of the Thai Trade Negotiations Department, told Kyodo News. She was referring to upcoming RCEP Trade Negotiations Committee meetings in Australia and China.
The RCEP is being negotiated among the 10-member ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.