Myanmar leadership signals reluctance to attend Thai refugee summit | News | DW | 15.05.2015
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Myanmar leadership signals reluctance to attend Thai refugee summit

Thai authorities have called an international meeting to address the growing plight of sea migrants from the Bay of Bengal. But Myanmar blames Thailand for causing the emergency situation in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar's presidential office said on Friday that the country may not attend a meeting hosted by Thailand on May 29 aimed at discussing the sea migrants in the Bay of Bengal. It accused Thai authorities of being complicit in creating the current overflow of Rohingya refugees in the first place by turning a blind eye on the issue of human trafficking.

Hundreds of refugees have landed in the region - chiefly in Indonesia and Malaysia - in recent days, while activists estimate that up to 8,000 could presently be at sea. Several boats have been turned away; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday urged Southeast Asian countries to accept the refugees.

Thailand announced a crackdown on human trafficking after mass graves were discovered on May 1, with the bodies thought to be Rohingya from Myanmar or Bangladesh. The discovery also brought increased international attention to the issue.

Myanmar says 'root cause' is trafficking

But Myanmar's presidential office director Zaw Htay said that Thailand had called the summit to divert attention away from its own problems: "The root cause is increasing human trafficking. The problem of the migrant graves is not a Myanmar problem, it's because of the weakness of human trafficking prevention and the rule of law in Thailand."

By contrast, Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar had said on Thursday that the core of the problem was "the way they [Myanmar] treat the Rohingya people."

The one-day meeting in Bangkok is expected to include officials from 15 countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Myanmar. Australia and the United States have also agreed to attend, while civil rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have called for more initiative on the part of the United States.

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said the U.S. could galvanize action by regional governments by calling a meeting itself, and should not wait for the Thailand-hosted gathering, as people are dying at sea.

The United Nations (UN) says that more than 25,000 people have fled the border region of Myanmar and Bangladesh since the beginning of the year, risking their lives on the open seas and reportedly paying large sums to people smugglers. Other than Myanmar's persecuted Rohingya minority, economic migrants from Bangladesh have also been reported to be among those smuggled.

Sectarian violence in recent years has made the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in western Myanmar (also known as Burma) a particular target while the country struggles to transition from decades of military rule. Sectarian violence in 2012 left 200 Rohingya dead and thousands living in makeshift camps.

According to UN figures, more than 1.3 million Rohingya live in Myanmar's western Rakhine State, where they are regarded as stateless. Myanmar considers them to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh - even though many have lived in the country for several generations.

ss/msh (AFP, AP)

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