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Navy sailors allegedly fired shots in an incident with a Rohingya boat

Rohingya 'Shooting' North of Phuket: Numbers Game Verifying Details

Friday, March 15, 2013
PHUKET: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is seeking confirmation from Thailand's Government that a Rohingya boat was intercepted north of Phuket, and that shots were fired at some stage during the interception.

Accounts of the incident are being cross-checked with boatpeople who arrived in Aceh, Indonesia, four days after the alleged shooting near the village of Hinlad in Phang Nga province.

Fishermen and residents in the village say two bodies were buried after the incident and that other bodies were seen in the sea but not recovered.

An international numbers game is now being played to determine how many boatpeople arrived in Phang Nga and were still alive before the shooting on February 22 and how many did not make it to Aceh.

A boatperson speaking on a video recently obtained and published online (see below) by Phuketwan says that there were 133 people on the boat, including six women and two children, when it landed north of Phuket.

Only 121 were on the boat when it arrived in Aceh four days later. If both sets of figures are correct, then 12 people disappeared from the Rohingya boat between February 22 and February 26.

According to local fishermen, the body of a woman was among those corpses seen in the Andaman Sea after the shooting incident.

The UNHCR has called for an investigation into the events surrounding the arrival in Thailand of that boat from Burma. So have media correspondents, Phuketwan and another rights organisation, Human Rights Watch.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra indicated on Monday at a Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand dinner that an investigation would take place.

While the accounts of the boatpeople and the villagers have been well documented by several independent sources, Thailand's military has so far been reluctant to approve an investigation or even to acknowledge that something untoward took place.

It is believe a number of boatpeople were shot or drowned when they jumped into the water in early morning darkness at a beach not far from Hinlad.

The boatpeople panicked, survivors have said, when about 20 of them were asked to leave the large boat and move to a smaller boat.

No explaination has been forthcoming from the military personnel directly involved in the incident.

Three more Rohingya boats have been noted by Hinlad villagers this week off the coast - two on Sunday and a third on Tuesday. Villagers believe all the boats were ''helped on'' by the Thai military towards Malaysia.

Today's Briefing Note From UNHCR


THE UN refugee agency has asked the Royal Thai Government to verify recent reports that a Rohingya boat was towed out from Thai waters, and that shots were fired during the interception.

UNHCR has met the survivors of a boat incident reported in Phang Nga, southern Thailand, cross-checked their accounts with other sources and established that the incident is the same one reported by boat people who arrived in Aceh, Indonesia on February 26. UNHCR staff in Indonesia have spoken to some of the 121 arrivals in this group, which includes women and children.

Those interviewed in both countries said that they left their village in Burma's northern Rakhine state around February 5. During the journey lasting three weeks, they ran out of food and water.

When intercepted by authorities in Thai waters, they were provided with some assistance and then twice towed from Thai waters out to sea.

According to converging accounts, at least three shots were fired during interception, but information is conflicting as to whether these were warning shots or actually aimed at the passengers.

Survivors and local fishermen near Phuket said two dead bodies were recovered from the sea, though it was unclear if the cause of death was shooting or drowning.

UNHCR is gravely concerned that people fleeing unrest could have been turned away and exposed to further distress in their search for safety.

We are seeking access to such boats intercepted in the high seas.

Following the inter-communal violence in Burma's Rakhine state last year, thousands of people have boarded smugglers' boats from the Bay of Bengal to seek safety and stability further south.

More than 7000 people are estimated to have taken this dangerous voyage in the first two months of this year, though the clandestine nature of these movements makes it difficult to know the real scale of the movements.

Amid news reports of boats being pushed back to sea, some boats have arrived on the shores of countries in South-east and South Asia.

Since January, more than 1800 boat arrivals - the vast majority Rohingya from Rakhine state - have been accepted on Thai soil and provided assistance in shelters and immigration detention facilities mainly in the south.

UNHCR has welcomed the Thai government's decision to provide them with six months of temporary protection while solutions are sought.

In Indonesia's Aceh province, more than 180 presumed Rohingya have arrived so far this year, among them 12 women and 58 children. The youngest is a seven-month-old baby.

The local authorities in Aceh are providing medical and other assistance. The International Organisation for Migration is providing food and relief supplies.

The local community and civil society have also donated food, clothes and sanitary items. UNHCR is interviewing them to assess their protection needs.

In Malaysia, two boats have been picked up in the last week with some 320 people believed to be Rohingya in need of international protection.

In mid-February, a boat with over 30 people was rescued in Sri Lanka, reportedly after some 90 of their fellow passengers had died of starvation and dehydration during the long journey from the Bay of Bengal.

The survivors joined another 130 people reportedly originating in Burma and Bangladesh who had arrived in Sri Lanka earlier this year.

UNHCR is appealing to all States in the region to keep their borders open to people fleeing persecution. Our offices are ready to support States in assisting and protecting these individuals.

Villagers' Video Shows 133 Boatpeople




Television Report from ABC Australia


THE ABC learns of claims that the Thai military shot Rohingya asylum seekers fleeing conflict in western Burma.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-03-08/accusations-thai-military-shot-fleeing-refugees/4562006/

A military vessel connects with a Rohingya boat



Would-be refugees on a beach at Surin island


Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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There exist strict rules governing the issue of live ammunition in peacetime, with the exception of that used in a live firing exercise. A ''bullet count'' is made for ammunition given out by the armourer to the serviceman coming on duty and should be signed for. When he comes off duty a count is made again and signed for by the armourer. Any live ammunition not returned is notified to the CO and the weapon inspected to see if it has been discharged. If this rule applies to Thai forces then the armourer should have information as to whether shots had been fired or not, as should the CO.

Posted by Pete on March 15, 2013 19:26

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And with this 5 survivors on shore near Phuket, that would make it a missing 7 people who drowned or were shot? This looks like a tragic accident to me. Fear, no understanding, warning shots fired, darkness and people jumping the water.

Posted by Lena on March 16, 2013 17:58

Editor Comment:

Four survivors were recovered alive from the waters around the area, quite some distance north of Phuket. They are now, with a fifth person from an earlier boat, in Malaysia. Two bodies were retrieved. But there is no precision about the figures. Stateless people fleeing race-hate do not keep manifests.


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