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Rohingya men being checked for weapons in an Andaman town

Exclusive: Secret Rohingya 'Exile Island' Revealed

Friday, January 9, 2009
Photo Album Above

THAILAND'S Army is secretly detaining boat people on an ''exile island'' in the Andaman and periodically sending them off at sea in international waters in large numbers.

Senior Army figures in the Andaman region deny that they are holding Rohingya (Burmese Muslims). But Phuketwan has confirmed from several sources that the boat people are being released in international waters with paddles as their only power.

With an important Asean summit looming, the recent discovery of Rohingya boat people in Indonesia and the Indian-controlled Andaman and Nicobar islands, possibly from Thailand, is likely to bring unwanted international attention for Thailand's new government.

Today two Phuketwan reporters motored around Koh Sai Dang (Red Sand Island), where people in local villages along the coast assured us that the Army is holding Rohingya in primitive conditions.

New Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Pirom recently toured the key Andaman provinces and it is difficult to imagine that the Rohingya would not have been a key topic of discussion.

Fleeing rough camps in Bangladesh, they are coming down the coast with basic provisions in such numbers that local police, marine police and the Royal Thai Navy have problems dealing with all of them.

Since the Army became involved, secrecy has surrounded the manner in which Thailand deals with the Rohingya.

Because only males are coming, not families, the Rohingya are classed as an issue of national security. Others see it as a matter of human rights.

As well as looking closely at the tropical island where the Rohingya are said to be being kept in primitive conditions, Phuketwan has spoken at length with many people involved in dealing with the Rohingya in Thailand.

Senior Army officers decline to admit what others are saying openly: that the Rohingya are being held in secret in extremely rough conditions on Red Sand island.

Overseen by a doctor, the Rohingya are fed until they recover from their harrowing trip south, then carried out off the coast and released in international waters.

''To arrest people when they enter Thai waters then release them in international waters, without motors or sails, would clearly be a violation of international human rights,'' said Chris Lewa, a Bangkok-based social worker who is seeking better treatment for the Rohingya boat people.

The accompanying photographs in the Photo Album came from a policeman who works at a station on the Andaman coast. They were taken on December 28, when 94 Rohingya arrived in the province of Phang Nga on a barely seaworthy boat.

Like other Rohingya, these boat people were handed on to the Army. More have come since then.

Thousands more are almost certainly coming.

The Army denies having any dealings with boat people, yet Phuketwan has ascertained that soldiers regularly truck these people to coastal villages from whence they are carried to Red Sand Island.

Phuketwan has many other photographs and records of conversations, which we plan to publish over the next few days.

These include an interview with the Governor of Ranong, Vanchat Wongchaichana, who has charge of the coordinated regional response to the issue of the Rohingya.

Look for more on Phuketwan soon, along with a first-hand report from the waters off Red Sand island.

In Pictures: Arrest of the Rohingya

Photo Special: Phuket Navy Holds Burmese Muslims
Photo Exclusive
The first astonishing photos of hundreds of Burmese Rohingya attempting to enter Thai waters are on Phuketwan now, as chronicled by the Royal Thai Navy.
Photo Special: Phuket Navy Holds Burmese Muslims

'Starving' Boatloads: Phuket Call for UN Action
World Exclusive
Hundreds of hungry boat people are being apprehended north of Phuket, prompting a call for United Nations intervention. Phuketwan exposes the Andaman's serious human rights issue, the Rohingya.
'Starving' Boatloads: Phuket Call for UN Action

Burmese in Thailand: Essential Reading

Exile Island Plan: 200 Burmese in Jail

Crackdown on Burmese as Arrest Numbers Grow

54 Burmese Found Dead in Phuket Bound Container

Deathship Burmese Muslims Forced Back to Border

Andaman Island Sites Readied for Boat People

Burmese Detention Island Cause for Concern

Water and Fire: A Tsunami Reunion


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