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January 28, 2009

Thailand: UN agency should join regional meeting on Rohingyas

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva advised on Tuesday that the United Nations' refugee agency be invited to join the recently proposed regional talks involving countries most concerned with resolution of the issue of Rohingya migrants.

Thai News Agency quoted the foreign ministry as saying its proposal to host the meeting with countries affected by the flow of intending migrants had received positive responses from Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, India and Bangladesh.

Abhisit said he had discussed with the foreign ministry the possibility of inviting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to join the regional meeting in an attempt to tackle the problem at its root cause.

"The UNHCR should be invited to join the proposed meeting as the Rohingya problem is a transnational issue and Thailand is not the cause of the problem," Mr. Abhisit said.

The Thai premier made his remarks following recent foreign media reports about Rohingya migrants allegedly being mistreated by the Royal Thai Navy before being pushed back into international waters in the Andaman Sea.

Despite his defence of the Thai armed forces and related security agencies in their treatment of the migrants, Abhisit, conceded that there might be some Thai officials involved with human trafficking syndicates, and said that he had ordered an investigation into the matter.

The premier said he hoped the international community would come to a better understanding regarding Thailand's stance on the migrant issue once it has been discussed among all parties concerned.

The Rohingyas are a Myanmar Muslim ethnic minority who fled to India and Bangladesh to escape persecution by the military junta.

Given the relatively short distance between the refugee camps and Thailand's western coasts, the migrants reportedly arrive in Thailand by sea through transnational human smuggling networks which may include Thai nationals and the complicity of some officials.

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