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Rohingya Boatload 'Helped On' by Burmese Navy, Says Source

Friday, November 9, 2012
PHUKET: A boat with about 120 Rohingya on board has been ''helped on'' by the Burmese Navy not far from the Thai border, according to usually reliable sources.

The boat was intercepted just north of Ranong, the Thai port on the border with Burma, Phuketwan has been told.

The vessel is continuing its voyage, probably with the intention of sailing past Phuket and Thailand's Andaman coast to possible sanctuary in Malaysia.

It's the first report so far this sailing season of the Burmese Navy adopting a ''help on'' policy. In the past, the Burmese Navy has been accused of capturing and torturing Rohingya before allowing them to proceed.

The ''help on'' strategy, now also being employed by the Thai Navy, involves intercepting Rohingya boats if they venture too close to the coast on the perilous journey south.

Navy patrols supply passengers with food and water, medical attention or mechanical help but urge those on board not to land before reaching Malaysia.

October to April marks the ''sailing season'' for Rohingya, with this season so far distinguished by the sinking of two overcrowded vessels off the coast of Bangladesh.

Close to 200 men and boys may have lost their lives. Locals reckon about half the boats that set out for sanctuary from around Cox's Bazaar or further south in Burma's troubled Rakhine state capsize or sink at sea.

The desperation of the Rohingya to escape repression in Burma is more intense this sailing season after waves of community violence in June and October saw hundreds killed and thousands torched from their homes.

While some will have learned of the historic visit to Burma - also known as Myanmar - by US President Barack Obama later this month, international horror at their plight seems unlikely to halt the unofficially sanctioned ethnic cleansing of the despised Muslim minority.

Deprived of citizenship and with hatred at their backs, the Rohingya have been putting to sea in increasing numbers, knowing the odds and the dangers.

''The risk factor is certainly there,'' said Chris Lewa, director of the advocacy group Arakan Project. ''Many simply feel they have no other choice. ''Bangladesh has closed its borders so there is no other escape.''

Phil Robertson, the deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, told IRIN: ''More people are getting on boats to get to Malaysia. This year might be one of the largest sailing seasons [of Rohingya refugees going to Malaysia from the two countries].''

The contrast between the region's haves and the have-nots will be at an extreme next month when some of the most expensive yachts in the world gather off Phuket for the elite Asia Superyacht Rendezvous.

While millionaires party, would-be refugees possessing only the clothes they are wearing will be voyaging through the same Andaman Sea waters in hope of a new life.

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