Bangladesh PM proposes new regional forum

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Bangladesh on Monday proposed formation of a regional economic forum involving five Organisation of Islamic Cooperation member states of South and Southeast Asian region.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina made the proposal during her talks with Brunei sultan Hassanal Bolkiah at the Istana Nurul Iman, the official residence of the sultan of Brunei, in the morning.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh and Brunei also signed seven memorandums of understanding to boost cooperation mainly in the fields of agriculture, fisheries, livestock, culture and sports, and the supply of LNG.
Briefing reporters after the talks, foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque said that the members of the Southeast Asian Cooperation Organisation, the proposed regional economic forum, will be Bangladesh and the Maldives from South Asia and Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei from Southeast Asia.
In response to the proposal, the Brunei sultan assured that he will ‘favourably consider’ the matter, the foreign secretary said.
PM’s press secretary Ihsanul Karim and speech writer Nazrul Islam were present at the briefing.
The foreign secretary said issues related to bilateral interests and international concerns including the Rohingya crisis came up for discussions at the talks.
Haque said that the prime minister made some more proposals for further strengthening the bilateral ties and cooperation between Bangladesh and Brunei.
He said that the prime minister made a proposal for increasing interaction between the business community and conducting a feasibility study for a preferential trade arrangement to this end.
Sheikh Hasina also proposed for holding discussion on constitution of a joint commission between the two countries.
She put emphasis on increasing cooperation in the fields of jute and jute goods, software, agro products, ceramic and tableware, shipbuilding industry and tourism.
The prime minister said the government was setting up industrial parks where the Brunei entrepreneurs could make investment there.
She laid importance to avoid double taxation, as well as mutual promotion and protection of investment.
The prime minister gave priority to health and agriculture sectors in the context of Brunei and said big collaboration between the two countries could be made in health professionals and pharmaceuticals.
The foreign secretary said both the prime minister and the sultan said direct airlink between Bangladesh and Brunei should be established.
The prime minister proposed for military cooperation in non-weapon-related area like humanitarian operation and knowledge sharing.
In this connection, the sultan highly praised Bangladeshi peacekeepers for maintaining peace in the trouble-torn areas in the world.
Brunei sultan Hassanal Bolkiah extended her heartfelt greetings to the prime minister on her party’s landslide victory in the last general elections and assuming of office for the fourth time.
On the Rohingya issue, Brunei sultan Hassanal Bolkiah put emphasis on ‘just and permanent solution’ to the Rohingya crisis.
‘We should make all sorts of efforts so that the Rohingyas can return,’ foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque quoted the sultan as saying while briefing reporters.
Haque said that the prime minister sought ASEAN’s big involvement on the Rohingya issue.
The prime minister also sought the sultan’s cooperation in this regard, the foreign secretary said.
He said that Sheikh Hasina briefed the Brunei Sultan about her government’s steps for developing Bhashanchar Island for temporary shelter of the forcibly displaced Rohingyas.
About the ASEAN, the sultan assured that Brunei would continue to help to strengthen the cooperation between Bangladesh and the regional forum.
Earlier, the prime minister had a general audience with sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Royal family at Cheradi Laila Kenchana at the Istana Nurul Iman.
The Sultan greeted the prime minister by proceeding to the stair of the palace breaking traditional Royal protocol of Brunei, the foreign secretary said.
Later, in the evening, prime minister Sheikh Hasina attended a banquet hosted in her honour by sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah at Royal Banquet Hall at Istana Nurul Iman.
While speaking at the programme, the PM said that Bangladesh and Brunei were continuing to enjoy excellent relationship, which was solidly founded on many commonalities.
‘Our two countries continue to enjoy excellent relationship, which is solidly founded on shared values, religion, cultural linkage, and many commonalities,’ she said.
Sheikh Hasina said that it was, indeed, gratifying for her to visit the great country, a true ‘Abode of Peace’— where pristine nature and centuries-old tradition embrace modernity.
She recalled memories of her brief visit to Brunei in early 1990s. At that time, her younger sister Sheikh Rehana was residing in Brunei with her family.
The prime minister said that immediately after coming to office in 1996, she had taken an initiative to reopen Bangladesh’s resident mission in Brunei with a view to forging closer ties between the two countries.
‘I am thankful to your majesty for opening the resident mission in Dhaka in 1999,’ she added.
Sheikh Hasina said she had the privilege to attend a Business Forum where business communities from both countries had interactions to identify the potential areas of cooperation.
She invited sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah to visit Bangladesh along with her majesty Duli Raja Isteri.
Bangladesh and Brunei on Monday signed seven instruments for strengthening cooperation mainly in the fields of agriculture, fisheries, livestock, culture and sports, and the supply of LNG.
The instruments were signed after the official bilateral meeting between prime minister Sheikh Hasina and Brunei’s sultan Hassanal Bolkiah at the Istana Nurul Iman, the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei.
The seven instruments — six MoUs and one exchange of notes– are the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Scientific and Technical Cooperation in the Field of Agriculture, the MoU on Cooperation in the Field of Fisheries, the MoU on Cooperation in the Field of Livestock, the MoU on Cultural and Arts Cooperation, the MoU on Cooperation in the Field of Youth and Sports, the MoU on the Field of Cooperation in the Supply of LNG, and the Exchange of Notes on Exemption of Visa for Holders of Diplomatic and Official Passports.
The ministers concerned of the two countries inked the MoUs and exchange of notes, said foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque while briefing reporters.
Agriculture minister Abdur Razzaque and Brunei’s primary resources and tourism minister Ali bin Apong inked the MoU on scientific and technical cooperation in the field of agriculture on behalf of their respective sides.
State minister for fisheries and livestock Ashraf Ali Khan Khasru and Brunei’s primary resources and tourism minister Ali bin Apong signed the MoU cooperation in the field of fisheries and the mou on cooperation in the field of livestock on behalf of their respective sides.
State minister for cultural affairs KM Khalid and Brunei’s culture, youth and sports minister Aminuddin Ihsan inked the MoU on cultural and arts cooperation.
State minister for youth and sports Zahid Ahsan Russel and Brunei’s culture, youth and sports minister Aminuddin Ihsan signed the MoU on cooperation in the field of youth and sports.
State minister for power, energy and mineral resources Nasrul Hamid and Brunei’s energy, manpower and industry minister Awang Mat Suny inked the MoU on the field of the cooperation in the supply of LNG.
Brunei sultan Hassanal Bolkiah also addressed the banquet and highly appreciated Bangladesh’s tremendous socioeconomic progress under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The sultan also expressed satisfaction over the existing bilateral relations between Brunei and Bangladesh. He hoped that with the visit of Sheikh Hasina, the relations between the two brotherly countries would reach a new height.
The banquet was followed by a colorful cultural function.
Earlier on the day, the prime minister visited Jame Asr Mosque, the largest and one of the two national mosques of Brunei.
The prime minister went to the mosque in the afternoon and offered Asr prayers there.
Sheikh Hasina also offered doa seeking blessings of the Almighty Allah for the continued progress and prosperity of the nation as well as for peace and unity of the Muslim Ummah.
The prime minister went round different parts of the mosque that has 29 golden domes and four minarets with 190 feet height.
Sheikh Hasina exchanged pleasantries with the devotees who were present there at that time. She also signed the visitors’ book.
The construction work of the mosque began in 1988 on a 20-acre site in Kiarong in the Brunei capital.
The mosque was inaugurated on July 14, 1994. It can accommodate 5,000 devotees at a time, making it the largest mosque in the country.
The prime minister is now in Brunei on a three-day official visit at the invitation of sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
She will leave Brunei for Dhaka around 5:00pm local time today.
A special flight of Biman Bangladesh Airlines carrying the prime minister and her entourage members is scheduled to land at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka at 7:45pm today.

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