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Asia-pacific

Rohingya boat people accuse Thailand of abuse

©

Video by Katherine SPENCER

Latest update : 2009-12-28

Rohingya boat people found off the Indonesian coast have accused the Thai government of further serious abuses and being cast adrift in engineless boats. Rohingyas are an oppressed Muslim minority based mainly in Burma.

REUTERS - Two Rohingya boat people found off Indonesia this week made more allegations of abuse by the Thai army, saying on Wednesday they were rounded up and beaten before being cast adrift in rickety, engineless boats.

 

Rahmat bin Mohammad Daud Yullha, 37, one of a batch of 198 Rohingya found near Aceh on Tuesday, told Reuters in broken Malay he had been jailed for praying in a mosque in his native Myanmar before fleeing to Thailand looking for work.

"I was caught and detained for three months. They beat me every day. Every day (I) only drunk a gulp of water," said Yullha, who said he was a baker with a wife and three children at home in the former Burma's northwest, near the Bangladesh border.

 

"I beg to stay in Indonesia. I want to bring my kids and wife. Instead of going back to Burma, I'd rather be shot in Indonesia. I want to die in the hands of the Muslims," he said.

He said he was held and detained on a boat on an island in Mae Sok in the southern Thai province of Ranong, from where the army dragged 1,000 Rohingya out to sea in December. Of the 1,000, 550 are feared to have drowned.

"Every day they added 10 people until our boat was full and we were towed to the open sea and set adrift," Yullha said.

Thailand's treatment of the Rohingya, an oppressed Muslim minority from mainly Buddhist, army-ruled Myanmar, has been widely condemned as more and more evidence emerges of abuse on the part of the military.

The Thai military has admitted towing hundreds out to sea and cutting them adrift but has insisted they had adequate food and water and denied reports the boats' engines were sabotaged.

Some of the all-male group of 198 were in critical condition after what they said was three weeks at sea. 

During that time, 22 died, their bodies thrown overboard into the Andaman Sea, other survivors said.

Last month, another boat carrying a similarly destitute bunch of 193 also washed up off Indonesia's Aceh province.

Chris Lewa of Rohingya rights group The Arakan Project told Reuters the latest group to arrive included some men known by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representatives to have been in Thailand in mid-January.

The UNHCR asked Bangkok for access to the men on Jan. 20 but was told three days later they were no longer in the country.

Deportation orders

There was no immediate Thai response to the latest abuse allegations, although earlier in the day Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said Bangkok would continue to regard the boat people as illegal economic migrants and deport them.

"Thailand has no intention of opening any refugee camp," Suthep said, adding any Rohingya caught in Thai waters would be humanely treated.

But 20-year-old Nurullah, another of the 198 found on Tuesday, said he was detained two weeks after arriving in Thailand, where he had found a job as a fisherman.

Nurullah, who also said he was from a village in Myanmar, used hand signals and a few words of English to tell his story to reporters. At times he was on the brink of tears.

He said he was a biology teacher and that he left Myanmar because there were no jobs. Pointing to scars on his back and hand, he said he was beaten, put in an engineless boat with about 200 other people, and set adrift by the Thai authorities.

"It's hard," he said. "I (am) afraid (for) my mother and sisters. I don't know about them," he said.

He and about 70 others were being treated in hospital for dehydration and exhaustion.

Indonesia has said it considers the boat people economic migrants who should be deported, but foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said on Wednesday Jakarta would "not let any human rights violation happen to them".

According to the UNHCR, 230,000 Rohingya now live in Bangladesh, having fled northwest Myanmar after decades of abuse and harassment at the hands of its military rulers.

Date created : 2009-02-05

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