Myanmar's navy has rescued a migrant boat after increased pressure from its neighbors to tackle the issue. But questions remain whether the state can aid the Rohingya, which have been the target of attacks in the past.
Myanmar's navy carried out the country's first rescue of a migrant boat, saving 208 people in the process, an official said Friday.
"A navy ship found two boats…on May 21 while on patrol," Tin Maung Swe, a senior official in the state of Rakhine, told AFP news agency. In 2012, Rakhine gained notoriety after Buddhist monks in the state violently attacked Rohingya Muslims, leaving approximately 140,000 displaced.
Myanmar was accused this week of not doing enough to combat the migrant crisis originating from its shores, prompting Malaysia and Indonesia to avoid a humanitarian crisis by taking in Rohingya and economic migrants stranded at sea.
The official said that "about 200 Bengalis were on one of the boats," using the term pejoratively to refer to the Muslim Rohingya minority. "All of the 208 on board are from Bangladesh," Swe added, recapitulating Myanmar's official line that the minority group comes from its western neighbor.
'Discrimination and violence'
The rescue operation comes a day after a senior general met with US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss the migrant crisis.
However, the general cast doubts over the authenticity of some of the Rohingya migrants' claims during the meeting, Myanmar's state-backed newspaper The Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
"Senior General Min Aung Hlaing hinted that most victims are expected to assume themselves to be Rohingyas from Myanmar in the hope of receiving assistance from UNHCR," the newspaper said Friday.
During the meeting, Blinken urged Myanmar to tackle the cause of migration, "including the racially and religiously motivated discrimination and violence."
Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims are considered stateless and forced to live in camps for internally displaced people following deadly clashes in 2012, which Human Rights Watch called "a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya."
ls/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)