Thai colonel denies abuse of 126 Muslim migrants

The Arakan Project detailed one incident in which four men who refused to board one of the engine-less vessels were thrown into the sea with their hands bound.

Thai colonel denies abuse of 126 Muslim migrants

The Thai colonel at the heart of reports the army towed hundreds of Rohingya migrants out to sea and left them to die denied any abuse on Tuesday.

Thai colonel said he gave them food and water and helped them on their way.

At a hearing of parliament's Foreign Affairs committee, Colonel Manat Kongpan claimed the migrants were stripped to the waist when they were first detained on Thai soil, but denied that they were not beaten or whipped, as some media reports have said.

"It's true that they were asked to take off their shirts," said Manat, who is head of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), a Cold War-era anti-communist arm of the military, in the southwest coastal province of Ranong.

"We gave them food and asked them where they wanted to go. They told us to Malaysia and Indonesia," he claimed the committee. Reporters were allowed to observe the hearing for the first 30 minutes.

"Left to die"

Manat's account is at odds with that provided by the Arakan Project, a small non-governmental organisation dedicated to the plight of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Arakan state in northwest Myanmar, abutting Bangladesh.

The Arakan Project said that in December Thai security forces detained around 1,000 Rohingyas on Koh Sai Daeng, a remote tropical island in the Andaman Sea, after intercepting them on their way south through Thai waters.

They were kept under armed guard, given very little food and reported being kicked and beaten with sticks, the Arakan Project said. Then, in two separate incidents around Dec. 18 and Dec. 30, the military forced 992 Rohingyas onto boats without engines before towing them far out to sea and abandoning them, it said. Of the 992, 550 are missing and feared drowned, it added.

The group also detailed one incident in which four men who refused to board one of the engine-less vessels were thrown into the sea with their hands bound.

The Arakan Project said its information came from interviews with survivors picked up by the Indian coastguard on the Andaman Islands, an Indian-administered archipelago 750 km (470 miles) northwest of the Thai resort island of Phuket.

Indian police on the Andamans have also given Reuters witness testimony corroborating the Arakan Project's version of events.

"From flags, banners on boats and uniforms we understood that we were in Thailand," Abdul Muslim, a Bangladeshi survivor, told police in a statement after being rescued on Jan. 13.

"They gave us very little to eat and left us in the middle of the sea to die," he continued. "We were altogether 547 in four different boats, without an engine. Twenty in our group died. We don't have any idea about the others."

Indian police described the survivors as "weak, hungry and tired" and in need of medical treatment several days after their rescue.

"Even today some of them feel uneasy while swallowing anything. Many vomit while eating food. We are sending them to hospital whenever required," T. Sebastian, Deputy Superintendent of Police in the Campbell Bay Islands, told Reuters.

Reuters
Last Mod: 21 Ocak 2009, 15:53
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