Vietnam joins talks to handle regional problems involving `boat people'

For the first time in a decade, Vietnam participated yesterday in multilateral discussions on the problems caused by Vietnamese fleeing by boat to the shores of Southeast Asian nations. The meeting included members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Hong Kong, which bear the brunt of the exodus, and Western countries that resettle the so-called boat people. The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) is also participating.

During 1987, Vietnamese refugees surged into the region at the highest level in years. In response, some Asian countries adopted tough policies, including pushing the boat people back to the sea.

Vietnam, eager to mend frayed relations with its noncommunist neighbors, agreed this year, the first time since 1979, to cooperate in finding a solution. It recently reached an agreement with Hong Kong to repartriate some Vietnamese and held talks on a similar program for Malaysia.

A total of 28,116 Vietnamese boat people fled to neighboring countries in 1987, the highest annual figure since 43,676 fled in 1982, according to UNHCR figures.

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