Mon, Jan 19, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Thai PM to discuss alleged violations with rights groups

AGENCIES , BANGKOK

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday he would meet human rights groups to discuss alleged violations, as further reports emerged of ill-treatment of refugees from Myanmar by the security forces.

“Tomorrow I will meet all human rights organizations at Government House to discuss all issues and problems about violations, including a few incidents reported on recently, as well the Rohingyas case,” Abhisit told reporters.

The Rohingyas are Muslims from Myanmar. Many have fled the Buddhist-dominated, army-ruled country to escape repression and economic hardship, but rights groups say hundreds were recently detained on a remote Thai island before being forced back to sea by the security forces with little food or water.

The Thai Foreign Ministry said it was looking into the allegations.

The Bangkok Post reported yesterday that only 107 out of 412 refugees survived one such incident on Dec. 18. It spoke to survivors now in a relief camp on the Andaman Islands in India.

It also said there had been more recent incidents, including one in which 200 refugees were missing and may have died after being set adrift by Thai authorities around the turn of the year.

The Bangkok Post said 46 refuge-seekers from Myanmar were taken into custody by Thai authorities on Friday after their boat was intercepted off an island in southern Thailand.

Vice Admiral Narong Thedbisal, who commands naval forces in the area, has denied his men mistreated refugees after a Hong Kong newspaper reported tourist accounts of soldiers whipping migrants on a beach in the south.

The Bangkok Post said that privately, Thai officials had expressed concern the Rohingyas could be trying to join a separatist rebellion by Muslims in southern Thailand.

However, Colonel Thanathip Sawangsang, a spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), dismissed that.

“We cannot say that we see these Rohingyas taking part in the deep South insurgency,” he said. “They are included in new kinds of threats to national security, such as drug trafficking, illegal immigrants and transnational crime.”

He also said that the ISOC complied with the law in dealing with immigrants.

“No harm will be done to them,” he said.

Myanmar’s neighbor Bangladesh is home to more than 20,000 Rohingya refugees living in two official camps since 1992 after fleeing persecution in their home country.

Meanwhile, human rights groups said yesterday they were appalled at accusations that the Thai government sent hungry and desperate refuge-seekers from a Myanmar ethnic minority back to the sea to die.

David Mathieson, an expert on Myanmar with New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the treatment of the Rohingya — a Muslim group from Arakan state in Myanmar near the Bangladesh border — was “completely unacceptable.”

“These are really serious allegations that need to be investigated by the UN and the Thai government,” he said.

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