PHUKET: Thai authorities raided a secret transit camp for Rohingya on the border with Malaysia today, apprehending 366 men, women and children and seven alleged people traffickers.
Sixty-two of those being held were aged under 15 with three babies less than a year old, and 11 women, local police said.
The raid is the latest development as thousands of Rohingya flee ethnic cleansing in Burma after being burned from their houses in what's called ''community violence.''
It came as an undercover Rohingya working with the Army bought two boatpeople for 95,000 baht in a ''sting'' in Padangnezar district, in the Thai province of Songkgla.
The captive Rohingya were being held in a remote hillside border camp near Malaysia and are still there today after last night's raid, with Thai soldiers recording their names.
Public Health medical teams were also examining the captives, said Lieutenant Colonel Katika Jidbanjong of Padangbezar Police Station.
One source told Phuketwan
that the camp was just one of several on the border, and that the other camps contained larger numbers of people.
The ''sting'' operation was led by Kalam, who has a single name and is a member of the Rohingya National Organisation of Thailand.
''We began negotiating at the camp to buy two men for 95,000 baht about 2pm,'' he said. ''We had to wait until 8pm, when the brokers arrived. As soon as we met with them, the soldiers moved in.''
There were many checkpoints surrounding the hillside camp. Three brokers and four camp security guards were being held, Kalam said.
The issue of the Rohingya and Burma's continuing desire to expel them is now causing serious problems for Burma's Asean neighbors, Thailand, Malaysia and, to a lesser extent, Singapore.
A group of 73 men, women and children, apprehended on a boat off Phuket on New Year's Day, were swiftly trucked north to the port of Ranong, on the border with Burma, where they were placed on another boat heading south.
Colonel Manat Kongpan, who heads Thailand's Internal Security Operations Command, Fourth Region, said the families had immediately been placed on another vessel and ''helped on.''
At the same time, Human Rights Watch was making a plea for Thailand's Government to keep the Phuket boatpeople in Thailand to resolve their future.
It's not known whether today's raid was connected to the apprehension of the Phuket boatpeople, which received extensive media coverage, along with the arrival days earlier on the Malaysian holiday island of Langkawi of more than 500 Rohingya.
Colonel Manat said today that other boatloads of Rohingya had been apprehended and ''helped on'' since the Phuket families were sent south by sea on January 2.
He said that women and children were now frequently present on boats where once only men and teenage boys ventured out.
At least 10,000 Rohingya have been recorded as fleeing Bangladesh or northern Burma by boat in the first three months of the safe ''sailing season'' with many thousands more expected to flee in the next three months.
The issue is expected to be high on the priority list of Le Luong Minh of Vietnam who has just taken over as Asean Secretary General from Dr Surin Pitsuwan.
Four years ago yesterday, Phuketwan
journalists working with the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong broke the news of secret ''pushbacks'' of Rohingya from Thailand.
Several hundred men and boys drowned before Thailand ended that policy and replaced it with the ''help on'' process.
Boatpeople intercepted off the Thai coast are now given food, provisions and fuel but told they must not land in Thailand. Malaysia appears to be the preferred destination.