Sat, Feb 14, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Thai PM admits Rohingya were pushed out to sea

DPA , BANGKOK

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva admitted in an interview with CNN yesterday that there had been instances of authorities pushing Rohingya boat people back to sea, contradicting earlier denials by the Thai military that abuses had been committed.

“It’s not exactly clear whose work it is,” Abhisit told CNN. “All the authorities say it’s not their policy, but I have reason to believe otherwise. I will certainly hold the guilty parties accountable, once I find out who is responsible.”

The Thai prime minister last month ordered an investigation into accusations that almost 1,000 Rohingya refugees had been pushed out to sea in 30 boats without engines and sufficient food supplies in December.

Tales of abuse by Thai Navy personnel emerged after hundreds of the Rohingya boat people were rescued in the territorial waters of Indonesia and India. Some 500 of the boat people pushed out to sea are still missing and feared drowned.

The Rohingya, from Myanmar’s Arakan State, have been denied citizenship in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Myanmar’s junta claims the Muslim minority originated from Bangladesh.

Persecuted and denied job opportunities and the right to own land in Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh where they live in refugee camps.

Thousands of Rohingya men have paid smugglers to take them to Thailand and Malaysia in search of work.

Thailand’s military regards the Rohingya as a security threat, fearing they will join the separatist movement in the majority Muslim deep South, where almost 3,300 people have died in clashes and revenge killings over the past five years.

The Thai government has proposed talks between the concerned countries — Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand — to find a long-term solution to the refugee problem.

The Rohingya issue is expected to be discussed on the sidelines of the upcoming ASEAN summit from Feb. 27 to March 1 at the Hua Hin beach resort, 130km southwest of Bangkok.

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