Myanmar's navy is escorting 727 migrants stranded in the Andaman Sea to a "safe" location where it will verify their identities, the country's information minister said on Tuesday, correcting an earlier comment that they were headed for Bangladesh waters.
"The operation is starting. They will be taken to a safe destination," Ye Htut told Reuters by telephone.
He would not disclose that location due to "security and safety concerns."
The migrants were found drifting on Friday in a converted fishing boat that was taking on water. Ye Htut said the navy had provided them with food and water.
They are the among an estimated 2,000 people the United Nations said could still be at sea after being abandoned by people smuggling gangs since a crackdown started last month in Thailand.
Ye Htut did not say where the migrants were from.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar and economic migrants from Bangladesh are believed to be trapped on crowded boats with little food or water — some after being pushed back by the navies of at least three countries — and the international community has warned that time to save them is running out.
In Myanmar, the Rohingya are fleeing years of state-sanctioned discrimination. Over the past few years, Rohingya were targeted by violent mobs of Buddhist extremists and then confined to camps in western Rakhine state. At least 120,000 have fled to sea, and an unknown number have died along the way.
President Barack Obama on Monday said Myanmar needed to end discrimination against Rohingyas in order to make its fledgling democracy a success.
The seaborne exodus has mushroomed into a regional crisis for which Myanmar insists it is not to blame. Seventeen countries were represented at a meeting inBangkok last week after 4,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants landed on the shores of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia in recent weeks.
Scott Busby, the U.S. Deputy Assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labour, on Tuesday welcomed an agreement between affected countries to address "root causes" of the exodus, but said Myanmar should make a start by granting Rohingyas citizenship.
"Many people have been there for a very long period of time, they need access to citizenship," he told reporters in Cambodia.
Al Jazeera with Reuters