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The Latest on Rohingya: US envoy says address root causes

A Rohingya boy sleeps on the floor at a temporary shelter in Langsa, Aceh province, Indonesia, Thursday, May 21, 2015. In the past three weeks some thousands of people, mainly Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshis trying to escape poverty, have landed in overcrowded boats on the shores of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. After initially pushing many boats back, Malaysia and Indonesia announced on Wednesday that they will offer temporary shelter to incoming migrants. (AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)

5 p.m. (1030 GMT)

A senior U.S. diplomat says the root causes of the exodus of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims need to be addressed as a way to solve the humanitarian crisis facing Southeast Asia.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken says those fleeing Myanmar “are in despair and don’t see a future when they are in internally displaced persons camps.”

He says they need to be moved back to their homes, provided for in terms of education, health care and opportunities, as well as freedom of movement.

The Rohingya have been denied all those rights in the predominantly-Buddhist nation, leading to thousands of them falling prey to human traffickers as they flee in boats and become stranded.

Blinken, who held talks with Myanmar’s leaders in the capital, Yangon, said the Rohingya “should have a path to citizenship and to a durable future in this country if they meet the requirements. Because the uncertainty that comes from not even having any status is one of the things that may drive people to leave. “

He urged all governments in the region to act immediately to bring migrants ashore and provide humanitarian and medical assistance and treat those on board humanely.

— By Robin McDowell, Yagon, Myanmar

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2 p.m. (0730 GMT)

Myanmar says its navy has rescued 208 migrants aboard two fishing trawlers off the western coast.

According to the director of the president’s office, Zaw Htay, the migrants are Bangladeshi men.

They were found off the coast of Rakhine state, where most of the Rohingya minority Muslims have been fleeing persecution in the majority-Buddhist nation and thousands became stranded in the Andaman Sea.

Authorities in Myanmar do not recognize the Rohingya, refer to them as Bengalis and consider them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

About half of the more than 3,000 migrants who landed on the shores of Indonesia and Malaysia are Rohingya from Myanmar and the other half from Bangladesh proper. They share the same language and religion.

Htaw says the Myanmar navy will provide humanitarian assistance, conduct verification and return them to where they came from.

— Aye Aye Win, Yangon, Myanmar

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10 a.m. (0300 GMT)

The U.N. refugee agency is estimating that over 3,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants — or even more — could still be adrift in the Andaman Sea.

The exact numbers are not known, but the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says it triangulated reports in the media and other sources and estimates the current number could be over 3,000 — or more that no one knows about.

More than 3,000 Rohingya minority Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshi economic migrants also on the boats with them have already landed in Indonesia and Malaysia, and over 100 in Thailand.

Only Rohingyas are being given a one-year temporary shelter while Bangladeshis face repatriation.

Malaysian navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar says four vessels are searching for any migrant ships that could still be out at sea, and three helicopters and three combat boats are on standby.

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3 p.m. (2200 GMT)

The U.S. military says it is preparing to help countries in the region address the humanitarian crisis of the Rohingya migrants stranded at sea.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool told The Associated Press Thursday that the Department of Defense “is responding to this crisis and taking this seriously. We are preparing to stand up maritime aviation patrols throughout the region and working with local partners to help with this issue.”

It was the first indication that the U.S. military is ready to take direct role. Washington has been urging governments in the region to work together to conduct search and rescue and provide shelter to thousands of vulnerable migrants.

— Martha Mendoza, Santa Cruz, California

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10 a.m. (1400 GMT)

A bipartisan group of 23 U.S. lawmakers is urging the Obama administration to prevent Southeast Asian seas from becoming a “graveyard” for thousands of Rohingya boat people.

The lawmakers made the appeal in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry late Wednesday, ahead of discussions on the crisis between Myanmar’s government and the No. 2 ranking U.S. diplomat, Anthony Blinken, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s capital.

The members of the House of Representatives said the United States should provide support in search and rescue and humanitarian assistance for migrants in imminent danger in the Andaman Sea after fleeing “systematic repression” in Myanmar.

The U.S. should also work with Southeast Asian nations and address the “root cause” of the crisis, it says. The letter is strongly critical of President Thein Sein’s government for pursuing “hate-filled” legislation against minorities in Myanmar. It recommends targeted U.S. sanctions against those who incite violence against the Rohingya if the situation continues to deteriorate.

The top-ranking Republican and Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee are among the signatories of the letter, which was provided Thursday to The Associated Press. Lawmakers provide oversight, but don’t set U.S. foreign policy.

— Matthew Pennington, Washington, D.C.

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