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This group of Rohingya was processed through the courts in Ranong

Update: PM Admits Boat People Towed to Sea

Friday, February 13, 2009
Report Updated Saturday

PRIME MINISTER Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday admitted that there were "some instances" of Rohingya migrant boats being towed out and set adrift at sea.

In an interview with CNN, Khun Abhisit expressed regret about any losses that may have occurred, but he stopped short of confirming allegations that a specific Thai military unit orchestrated the action.

"It's not exactly clear whose work it is," Khun Abhisit told CNN.

"All the authorities say it's not their policy, but I have reason to believe some instances of this happened, but if I can have the evidence as to who exactly did this I will certainly bring them to account," he said.

"There are attempts, I think, to let these people drift to other shores. I have asked whether people are aware of such practices.

''The one thing that is clear is that when these practices do occur, it is done on the understanding that there is enough food and water supplied."

The PM told CNN that he was "doing the best I can to correct the situation."

Up until yesterday, Khun Abhisit had said that the reports of mistreatment by Thai authorities were "exaggerated".

On Saturday The Nation carried a headline: 'PM comes clean on Rohingya atrocities'

This is the first use we can recall of the word ''atrocities'' in connection with treatment of the Rohingya boat people in Thailand.

The article began: ''After being in a state of denial for weeks, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has finally admitted to international media that Thai authorities pushed Rohingya boat people back out to sea and abandoned them.''

The Nation reported: ''Panitan Wattanayagorn, deputy secretary to the prime minister, earlier said the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) had been assigned to integrate all security regarding migrants along the West Coast.

''Colonel Manat Kongpan, commander of Isoc's Fourth Region, yesterday told reporters the military had not committed any such inhumane acts towards the boat people.

'''Thais should not pay attention to such crazy news reports. If anyone had died, there'd be bodies,'' he said. ''The media are simply quoting those wanting to attack Thailand.''

The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong reported on Saturday: ''Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has insisted he has the political will to punish any officials, including army officers, involved in abusing Rohingya boatpeople.

Mr Abhisit this week acknowledged for the first time that Rohingya had been cast adrift from Thailand in recent months but insisted they had adequate food and water. The expulsions had now stopped, he said.

''Investigations by the army's powerful counter-insurgency unit, the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), and independent agencies would continue, Mr Abhisit said. He alone would decide who was responsible and how to proceed with any prosecutions.

'''Because it will go through the due process of law, I will decide which is the best channel of proceeding,''' he said in a CNN interview on Thursday - his longest statement yet on the boatpeople crisis.

'''Clearly the system does try to get to the bottom of things,'' he said when asked whether Thailand's powerful army could, in reality, be prosecuted. ''It needs political will, and I say I have the political will.'''

From Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald:

More than 1000 Rohingya boat people are believed to have been herded into wooden boats with no engines and left at sea over the past seven weeks.

Hundreds have been rescued or washed up to shore in Indonesia and the Andaman Islands, showing scars from alleged beatings and saying they were left with little food and water to survive.

Hundreds more cannot be accounted for, and are presumed drowned.

By conceding that the boatloads of Rohingya have been allowed to drift, Mr Abhisit has tacitly acknowledged that the boats do not have engines.

Survivors of the practice have detailed how engines were stripped from their vessels before being towed out to sea.

Mr Abhisit said his investigation had yet to uncover who was responsible but that he regretted ''any losses''.

The concession follows international condemnation of the practice, and criticism and expressions of deep concern from the governments of Indonesia and Australia about the incidents.

The fate of the Rohingya will be discussed at a meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations this month and at a regional forum on people-smuggling tentatively scheduled for next month.

Phuketwan Latest Reports: Rohingya in the Andaman


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