Vietnam appeared today to be abiding by its promise to restrain the exodus that has sent hundreds of thousands of refugees to sea in small boats.
This, combined with other pledges made at the U.N. conference on refugees in Geneva last week, haas eased -- at least temporarily -- the Asian refugee crisis.
Geneva conference generated new pledges to help resette refugees and a Vietnamese committment to "make every effort" to halt for now the stream of departing "boat people."
In Malaysia, officials indicated satisfaction with those actions and one Foreign Ministry official in Kaula Lumpur said the Geneva conference "went beyond our expectations."
They denied, however, a report that Malaysia would lift the naval cordon that has turned hundreds of refugee-packed boats away from the country's eastern shore in recent months.
Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Mohammed Ghazali Shafie called the conference "altogether encourging," but cautioned that deeds are necessary to match the words.
In Kuala Lumpur, officials of the government task force charged with supervising refugees said there is no change in the government's policy of towing away the boatloads of refugees who attempt to land in that country.
However, both refugee officials and members of the task force said that the exodus from Vietnam has slowed down substantially in the past week and that their ships are intercepting no boats in the South China Sea.
They said this pattern developed about a week ago and speculated that it was in response to pressure from other countries accusing Vietnam apparently otther countries accusing Vietnam of inhumane treatment. Vietnam apparently began shutting off the exodus at about the same time it agreed to attend the Geneva meetings, they said.
In the past week, Malaysia has sent about 500 refugees out to sea in repaired boats. All of them had been held temporarily in beach camps on the eastern shore while their boats were being fixed under a policy adopted last February to avoid giving sanctuary to refugees who demolished their ships upon landing.
However, sources in Kuala Lumpur speculated that Malaysia might now change its policy and resume giving refugees asylum as a result of the Geneva conference.
A stepped-up resettlement effort eased the burden on Malaysia this week. Eight airlifts with about 3,200 persons are scheduled to leave for the United States this week and several others are expected to go to other countries.
About 800 of them are being taken out of Pulau Bidong, the seriously overcrowded island camp that holds more than 40,000. The rest came from two other U.N.-sponsored camps on the eastern shore.
Those developments open up space in the U.N. camps for other, more recent refugees.
Officials in Thailand had no comment tonight but privately expressed some concern that so much attention at Geneva was devoted to the "boat people" who have fled Vietnam. Most of the refugees in U.N. camps in Thailand have fled overland from Laos and Cambodia.
There was no indication, however, that Thailand would revert immediately to a policy of thrusting fleeing Cambodians back into their war-torn country. Six weeks ago, the Thai military returned nearly 45,000 to an uncertain fate in Cambodia but have not touched another 40,000 Cambodian refugees who also have obtained sanctuary.
A Bangkok newspaper, the Nation Review, praised the Geneva conference, saying that it accomplished "far beyond what most people expected at the start."
Some Southeast Asians viewed the Vietnamese restraints with skepticism. Foreign Minister Sinnathamby Rajahratnam of Singapore said, "If they can turn off the flow for a few days, they can turn it off permanently."
The conference in Geneva produced of homes for about 260,000 refugees, not enough to empty Southeast Asian camps entirely but enough to ease the pressure and rise hopes that the burden could be removed eventually.
In addition, tentative promises that large-scale transit centers would be established in the region could ease further the pressures on such countries as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
The Philippines announced that an island large enough to hold 50,000 refugees would be offered, although that government has yet to designate the island. It will be in addition to a small island already promised in the Philippines, is is believed.
In Indonesia, reports circulated that a large territory known as Irian Barat -- once the western part of New Guinea -- might be opened to as many as 100,000 temporary refugees. A mountainous area controlled by the Dutch until 1962 it is now the eastern-most part of Indonesia and has a population of about a million.
A Japanese newspaper, the Ashai, reported that the idea of using Irian Barat as a large temporary resettlement center is being discussed between U.S. and Indonesian defense officials and that President Suharto has "basically agreed."
The availability of large-scale transit centers in Southeast Asia has been one of the measures sought for months by Malaysia.