PHUKET: The boatpeople families who arrived on Phuket earlier this week after 13 days on the water are already back at sea in another boat, a senior army officer said today.
has also confirmed through independent sources the departure of the 73 men, women and children from the Thai-Burma port of Ranong.
Colonel Manat Kongpan, who heads Thailand's Internal Security Operations Command, Fourth Region, said today the families trucked off Phuket yesterday afternoon had already been placed on another vessel and ''helped on.''
The Thai military were finding women and children with increasing regularity on the boats of Rohingya, he said.
Colonel Manat said the Thai military were intercepting ''two or three'' vessels each week. About 3000 people had been apprehended since this ''sailing season'' began in October, he said.
The families are fleeing continuing racism and persecution in Burma's Rakhine state.
Activists who keep track of departures from Bangladesh and Burma estimate the number of Rohingya who have put to sea since October at more than 10,000.
Colonel Manat said that the present ''help on'' policy in Thailand was designed to assist would-be refugees from Burma reach ''a third country.''
''We treat them well,'' he said. ''We provide them with the best possible boats and provide food, water and fuel.''
Human Rights Watch made a last minute plea today to the Thai Government to prevent the families who came ashore on Phuket from being deported.
An HRW spokesman said this afternoon that they received a positive response from the Government.
confirmed through Colonel Manat and other sources today that the Phuket boat families are back on the Andaman Sea.
''They are already with another boat,'' the colonel said, just after noon. Rohingya boatpeople are constantly being apprehended and put back into boats again.
The boat that was intercepted off Phuket on January 1 after a 13-day voyage carried 16 children, with 10 under the age of 10 and some as young as three years old.
The leader of the group told Phuketwan
at sea on Tuesday: ''Our families put to sea because there is no hope in Burma. If we stay, we will die.''
Under the present Thai government policy, the boats are intercepted at sea and not allowed to land in Thailand. Instead, they are ''helped on'' with alternative boats, fuel and provisions.
Burma's Asean neighbors - Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia - have refused to intervene to end Burma's persecution of the Rohingya and the ethnic cleasing in Rakhine state since ''communal violence'' broke out in June.
Instead the Asean partners deal in different ways as secretly as possible with thousands of boatpeople whose lives are now being put at risk in greater numbers every day.
International rules regarding refugees are ignored in favor of ad hoc policies designed to pass on the problem, covertly if possible.