Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stephen Smith welcomes Bali talks on Rohingya migrants in Thailand

( FOREIGN Minister Stephen Smith says the issue of Rohingya migrants, cast adrift by Thai authorities, will be discussed at a regional people smuggling forum later this year.

Mr Smith and his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirajuda held a formal bilateral meeting in Sydney today, where they discussed the fate of Burma's minority Muslim Rohingya, many of whom have had to be rescued in Indonesian waters.

Human rights groups claim nearly 1000 Rohingya landed on Thai shores late last year before being beaten and towed out to sea with few supplies.

Dr Wirajuda said 400 subsequently landed on the Indonesian province of Aceh.

Earlier this month, Thailand agreed to Dr Wirajuda's suggestion their fate be decided through the "Bali process", a regional network set up in 2002 to tackle people smuggling and people trafficking.

Mr Smith said the issue would be discussed at the ministerial conference, likely to be held in Bali at the end of March or April.

"We discussed and welcomed the fact that the question of the Rohingyas will form part of the discussion of forthcoming ministerial meeting of the Bali process," he said.

Mr Smith said he and Dr Wirajuda also discussed the recent visit to Indonesia by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, April's G20 meeting in London, the global financial crisis, and Burma.

Dr Wirajuda is in Sydney for an Australia-Indonesia conference, which will be officially opened by Kevin Rudd tonight.

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