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Aung Hla Tun
30 Jan 2009 07:09
Burma’s junta stepped into the deepening Rohingya crisis on Friday, denying any of the Muslim boat people washing up in Thailand, India and Indonesia were from its soil, but promising to take unspecified “measures”.
“The Rohinja is not included in over 100 national races of the Union of Myanmar [Burma],” it said in all state-controlled papers, its first reaction since reports surfaced two weeks ago of the Thai army towing migrants out to sea and leaving them to die.
Rohinja is an alternative spelling for the oppressed Muslim minority from Rakhine state in Burma’s north-west.
“Moreover, a statement released yesterday by Thailand did not mention that those who made attempt to illegally enter Thailand from the sea were from Myanmar,” the announcement added.
“Nevertheless, the departments concerned of the Government of Myanmar will take necessary measures in connection with the above matter,” it continued, without elaboration.
More than 500 Rohingya are feared to have drowned since early December after being towed out to sea by the Thai military and abandoned in rickety, engine-less boats.
The army has admitted cutting them loose, but said they had food and water and denied the engines were sabotaged.
Thailand is trying to depict them as illegal economic migrants, but paraded a group of 78 intercepted on Monday on domestic television, showing off wounds the migrants said were inflicted by Burma naval officials.
Survivors of some of the Thai “push-backs” have corroborated the reports of Burma abuse, with one man who washed up on Indonesia’s Aceh province in early January telling al-Jazeera television he faced certain death if sent back to Burma.
In a bid to avert international outrage at its treatment, Thailand allowed United Nations refugee workers on Thursday to see 12 children among the 78, who are in police custody in the southern province of Ranong awaiting almost certain deportation.
However, deputy Foreign Ministry spokesperson Thani Thongpajkdi said the UN visit to the 12 had “no implications for their legal status”.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials are now back in Bangkok amid no signs of them being allowed to see any others in the group. Spokesperson Kitty McKinsey said she could not discuss the children’s testimony without approval from the Thai government.
According to the UNHCR, 230 000 Rohingya now live a precarious stateless existence in Bangladesh, having fled their ancestral homes in northwest Myanmar after decades of abuse and harassment at the hands of its Buddhist military rulers.
The junta have never recognised them as one of the country’s 130-odd ethnic minorities, and those who have not fled are restricted from travel inside the country.
Besides Bangladesh, there are large numbers of Rohingya in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.
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