BANGKOK/KUALA LUMPUR, AP and AFP
AP and AFP–Four Malaysian navy ships began searching the seas for stranded boat people Thursday in the first official rescue operation since desperate migrants started washing onto Southeast Asia’s shores, and a formerly reluctant Myanmar agreed to attend a regional meeting aimed at easing the crisis.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis are believed to be trapped on boats with little food or water �X some after being pushed back by the navies of at least three countries �X and the international community has warned that time to save them is running out.
The announcement Thursday by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was the latest in a series of breakthroughs, including an offer by his country and Indonesia to provide temporary shelter to the desperate men, women and children until a more permanent solution is found.
He said he had ordered his navy and coast guard to conduct search-and-rescue efforts for other boats.
��We have to prevent loss of life,�� he tweeted.
Navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar said four vessels had been deployed, and three helicopters and three other ships were on standby.
Myanmar, which earlier hinted it would skip a regional meeting in Thailand next week bringing together representatives of more than a dozen nations, changed course Thursday, saying it would attend. Swap Places with Boat Migrants, Thai PM Tells Critics
Thailand’s junta chief Thursday said those who felt his government should do more to help stranded boatpeople should ��migrate�� to sea themselves and swap places with them. The comments from Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha came as Bangkok was criticized for not following Indonesia and Malaysia in agreeing on Wednesday to accept stranded migrants. ��Anyone who supports this idea (of accepting boatpeople), please contribute one baht a day or take them to your home when their case has been processed,�� the former army chief, who took over in a coup a year ago, told lawmakers during a speech on the budget. ��Or you migrate out to the sea and bring them to live here instead,�� he added. In the past 10 days, nearly 3,000 Myanmar Rohingyas and Bangladeshis have been rescued or swum to shore in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Several thousand more are believed to be trapped on boats at sea with little food or water in a crisis sparked by smugglers abandoning their human cargo after a Thai crackdown on human-trafficking routes. Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand had sparked growing international outrage by driving off boats overloaded with exhausted migrants. But after a meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Malaysia and Indonesia softened their stance, saying they would take in migrants for a year, or until they can be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies.