Thai military 'forces Burma refugees to face death at sea'

Click to follow

The Thai military has been accused of seizing hundreds of refugees, towing them out to sea and "leaving them to die" in boats without engines and barely any food or water.

Aid groups said hundreds of water-borne refugees from the Burma-Bangladesh border were arrested and held on an island in the Andaman Sea then forced out into the ocean. About 500 are being treated for severe dehydration after being rescued by Indian coastguards. Survivors said scores of others are still missing.

The refugees who were allegedly abandoned belong to the Rohingya group, a stateless Muslim minority who live on the border between Burma and Bangladesh, in particular in the west of Burma in Rakhine state. The Rohingya have long been persecuted by the Burmese authorities, which have banned them from either marrying or travelling without permission and from owning property. They are even denied citizenship.

As a result, many try to escape to neighbouring Bangladesh. In 1978, about 200,000 of the group fled there after a particularly brutal crackdown against them, known as the Dragon King operation. In 1992 a similar number fled to the Cox's Bazaar area of Bangladesh, though many were subsequently forced to return to Burma.

Observers say that with the refugee camps in Bangladesh long having stopped taking people, the Rohingya are now trying to travel to Thailand and then make their way overland to Malaysia, a Muslim majority nation. They are also seeking to reach other countries in the region, including Indonesia.