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Myanmar says it’s not to blame for migrant crisis

A Rohingya migrant who arrived in Indonesia by boat spoke to relatives in Malaysia.
A Rohingya migrant who arrived in Indonesia by boat spoke to relatives in Malaysia.RONI BINTANG/reuters

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar refused to shoulder the blame for an escalating migrant crisis Saturday, and cast doubts on whether it will attend a meeting to be hosted by Thailand later this month aimed at easing an emergency that has left boatloads of refugees stranded at sea.

''We are not ignoring the migrant problem, but our leaders will decide whether to attend the meeting based on what is going to be discussed,'' said Major Zaw Htay, director of the office of Myanmar's president. ''We will not accept the allegations by some that Myanmar is the source of the problem.''

Boats with more than 2,000 desperate and hungry refugees have arrived in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia in recent weeks, and thousands more migrants are believed to be adrift at sea after a crackdown on human traffickers prompted captains and smugglers to abandon their boats.

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Many of those on the overloaded vessels are ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Others are Bangladeshis fleeing poverty.

Both groups seem intent on reaching Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country that has hosted more than 45,000 Rohingya over the years but now says it cannot accept any more. Indonesia and Thailand have taken similar stances.

All three nations have their navies stationed in boats at maritime borders to push boats away or execute a so-called ''help-on'' policy of giving food and water — and pointing them to other countries.

Myanmar appeared to direct some of the blame for the current crisis on its neighbors.

''From a humanitarian point of view, it's sad that these people are being pushed out to sea by some countries,'' said Zaw Htay, who heads the office of Myanmar President Thein Sein, who has not spoken publicly about the crisis since it escalated May 1.

Thailand has organized its May 29 regional meeting with officials from 15 countries to discuss the ''root causes'' of ''irregular migration in the Indian Ocean.''

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Zaw Htay said Friday that Myanmar's government ''will not attend a regional meeting hosted by Thailand if 'Rohingya' is mentioned on the invitation.'' He accused governments of trying to divert their human smuggling and slavery problems by dumping the blame on Myanmar. On Saturday, he said an official invitation still had not arrived.

An increasingly alarmed United Nations warned Friday against ''floating coffins'' and urged regional leaders to put human lives first.