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Myanmar to attend regional crisis meeting over Rohingya and Bangladeshi boatpeople

Myanmar leaders are to attend a regional conference on the migrant crisis next week. The decision comes as Malaysia begins search and rescue operations for Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants stranded at sea.

Malaysian foreign minister Anifah Aman said there are an estimated 7,000 people still adrift in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. "We have to prevent loss of life," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on his Facebook account as he announced new search and rescue measures for the migrants.

Aman and Indonesian foreign minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi held talks with senior officials in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, on Thursday. Myanmar has announced it will attend an emergency conference on the crisis in Bangkok next week.

US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken also held meetings in Myanmar on Thursday, seeing the country's president, foreign minister, parliamentary speaker and military commander.

Blinken had said that Myanmar needed to address the root causes of the migration: "including the racially and religiously motivated discrimination and violence," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a news briefing.

Zaw Htay, director of the Myanmar president's office, said on Thursday: "We are ready to cooperate with other governments to resolve the ongoing problems through constructive engagement and on humanitarian grounds."

Htay said a letter of invitation to the regional meeting had been received avoiding use of the word 'Rohingya,' a term not recognized by his government.

Instead, Myanmar authorities refer to members of the religious minority as 'Bengalis' which implies they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Many have lived in Myanmar for generations.

Search and rescue

Other Western powers and aid groups have also urged Myanmar to become more involved and called on regional powers to do more to save the thousands of people who have fled persecution in Myanmar.

Malaysia and Indonesia had said on Wednesday that they would let up to 7,000 migrants come ashore temporarily but it was only on Thursday, that Malaysia said

search and rescue operations to find the boatpeople

would begin.

The US said it was preparing to help countries

in the region. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Jeffrey Pool commented that the US was: "responding to this crisis and taking this seriously. We are preparing to stand up maritime aviation patrols throughout the region and working with local partners to help with this issue."

Gambia has also said it is willing to take in Rohingya refugees: "As human beings, more so fellow Muslims, it is (our) sacred duty to help," the small African nation's presidency said in a statement.

EU lawmakers passed a resolution Thursday saying Myanmar "must change policy and end the persecution and discrimination" of its Rohingya community.

jm/bw (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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