Myanmar hits back at international pressure

    A senior Myanmar official has lashed out at growing international pressure over the nation’s refusal to engage in talks about the boats floundering in the Andaman Sea while Malaysia yesterday threatened to call an emergency ASEAN meeting to break the deadlock.

    By Guy Dinmore   |   Monday, 18 May 2015

    In a hard-line statement, director of the President’s Office U Zaw Htay accused Thailand and Malaysia of trying to shift the blame for a problem that has its root in human traffickers and corrupt officials exploiting migrant workers.

    The statement on May 15 came as Western diplomats and other envoys worked at persuading Myanmar to acknowledge the exodus of stateless Rohingya Muslims from its territory and join a region-wide effort to deal with the crisis.

    Myanmar has not formally responded to international calls for dialogue on the issue, including Thailand’s invitation to attend an urgent meeting of involved countries on May 29. Bangkok says it wants to find a solution to “an unprecedented increase of irregular migration”, including its “root causes” in countries of origin – a reference mainly to Myanmar and Bangladesh.

    The US says it will send a senior delegation to the meeting, and its ambassador in Yangon is among the foreign envoys lobbying Myanmar to attend.

    Last night, Malaysia’s foreign minister threatened to call an emergency meeting of the ASEAN, which his country is chairing this year, if Myanmar refuses to participate in talks.

    “If necessary, we will call for an emergency [ASEAN] meeting,” Foreign Minister Anifah Aman told the state-run Bernama news agency.

    Mr Anifah said Malaysia “hopes Myanmar can sit together to find a solution before it is brought to the international level”.

    U Zaw Htay made it clear that Myanmar would not accept being singled out for blame. Writing on Facebook, he said corrupt officials in Thailand and Malaysia were taking money from human trafficking gangs and hiding their guilt by making Myanmar appear responsible for an exodus that originated primarily in Bangladesh.

    “As countries in ASEAN region, they need to deal with their own weaknesses and problems boldly. Their guilt won’t disappear if they just put the blame on Myanmar,” U Zaw Htay wrote.

    Associated Press quoted him as saying separately that Myanmar would not attend the special meeting if “Rohingya” was mentioned on the invitation. The government officially refers to the group as Bengalis.