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The five Rohingya: Four say they survived being shot at by Thai military

Military 'Opened Fire, Killed Rohingya'

Wednesday, March 6, 2013
PHUKET: Thai security forces opened fire on defenceless Rohingya boatpeople north of Phuket, killing at least two and as many as 15, according to detailed accounts by three survivors and Thai villagers who are sheltering them.

The killings, which are said to have occurred on February 22, came during a botched attempt by the military to transfer about 20 would-be refugees from the large boat on which they arrived from Burma (Myanmar) with 110 others, to a much smaller vessel.

When some feared they would be separated from family members, they jumped in the water and the military men opened fire during the predawn incident, the witnesses said.

Survivors Habumara, 20, Rerfik, 25, and Jamar, 16, said yesterday that they swam for their lives when the shooting broke out. They are currently being sheltered by sympathetic villagers.

Two fresh graves, said to contain Rohingya, were seen by a Phuketwan reporter and an Australian news television crew yesterday.

The three survivors said they believed that the killers were members of the Thai Navy, but village residents said they probably belonged to another branch of the Thai military.

Previous abuses of the Muslim Rohingya have been carried out by other arms of the Thai military or operatives trained as paramilitaries.

Vice Admiral Tharathorn Khajitsuwan, the Commander of Thai Navy Three, which patrols the Andaman coast, declined to comment.

One Rohingya, Rerfik, said that their boat, which had run out of fuel on its journey from Burma, was intercepted by local Thai fishermen on February 21.

The fishermen helped them ashore at a beach on Surin island, a popular destination for international tourists on dive boat and snorkelling excursions.

''Other local people brought us food and water,'' Rerfik said. A meal was provided on the beach for the exhausted boatpeople.

At 6.30pm that day, a military boat arrived at the beach. A video shot by villagers shows the Rohingya craft being towed close to shore by a vessel with the hull designation TOR214, which is listed as a Thai Navy fast patrol boat.

''The villagers told us not to worry, we were told that they were just going to transfer us safely to the mainland,'' Rerfik said.

But the next morning, the military decided to transfer 20 of the Rohingya to the smaller vessel nearby offshore, and the shooting broke out.

''There was a shot fired into the air when we decided not to move,'' Refrik said. ''And so we jumped. That's when they opened fire on us, in the water.''

''We all heard the gunshots,'' a fisherman told a local woman who had been waiting by the pier for the Rohingya boat to be brought to shore.

''A little bit later, Rerfik was pulled from the water. During the day, the others were found and rescued.''

Two bodies were also pulled from the water and buried, with fishermen telling villagers they had seen more bodies in the water. As many as 15 people may have died, the fishermen told the villagers.

The residents of the village north of Phuket are now sheltering four survivors, as well as another Rohingya who arrived on an earlier boat.

Soldiers descended on the village and searched the area for two days after the incident, but the survivors were kept hidden.

The fate of the other 100-plus Rohingya is not known, after they were towed away by the military vessel.

The Thai military has previously been accused of cooperating with people traffickers by handing over boatpeople who are then smuggled to Malaysia for a large fee or sold as bonded laborers.

Habumara said: ''Most of us were hoping to reach Malaysia but my aim is to go on from there to Australia. We are not sure what will happen to us now.''

Thailand has been swamped this October-April ''sailing season'' by Rohingya, who are fleeing persecution and deprivation in their native Burma and border areas in Bangladesh.

Thousands have set sail to escape a recent outbreak of violence targeting their communities.

In 2009, the Thai military was revealed to have secretly adopted a policy of towing Rohingya out to sea in powerless boats and casting them adrift. Hundreds died as a result. The policy was quickly abandoned by then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Since 2009, the Thai military has adopted a ''help on'' policy. Rohingya boats are intercepted at sea and supplied with food, water and fuel, on condition that they do not come ashore in Thailand.

Persecution of the Rohingya in Burma has grown with renewed violence since June, forcing thousands of people to flee by sea - and including women and children for the first time this October-to-April ''sailing season.''

As a result, Thailand has been swamped with record numbers of Rohingya. The arrival of women and children in boats - first reported by Phuketwan on January 1 this year - led to Rohingya being brought ashore through January and raids on secret Thai-Malaysia people-traffickers' camps, where more women and children were discovered.

Detention centres and refuges throughout Thailand are now crowded with 1700 Rohingya whose status and fate is being decided by the Thai government, with advice coming from NGOs, between now and July.

Video Recorded by Villagers North of Phuket


A military vessel connects with a Rohingya boat



Would-be refugees on a beach at Surin island



A version of this article appears in Thursday's edition of the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Inexcuseable...

Posted by J on March 6, 2013 20:52

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It's a big disgrace. This is a country claimed to be Buddhistic and democratic and welcoming visitors with the big smile.
There is no excuse when armed military fire into a group of unarmed civilians. It should be impossible to happen in a country like this.

Posted by OJ on March 7, 2013 06:36

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If I enter another country illegally, get caught and then try to run away I am inviting a response. Clearly these people are economic refugees (they want to go on to Australia) I can see that Thailand doesn't want to have the same problem/financial/social burden as Australia, and therefore turning them right back is a good policy.

Posted by Ian on March 7, 2013 09:19

Editor Comment:

The stories Rohingya tell of rape, violence, hunger, intimidation and persecution indicate it's more than economic, Ian. Selling people into slavery or shooting them in the water is not an appropriate response to border violations. The core of this problem is Burma's ethnic cleansing. Incursions into Thailand will cease when the Rohingya are no longer subjected to racist brutality in their homeland. ''This is our country'' bluster is an inappropriate response. How about doing a bit more research?

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You can only hope that international pressure can force the government in Burma to change its stance on these poor people. After all, Burma is looking for international companies to kick start there economic development
Sad to say they don't give a toss and will only do the minimum.
And multinational companies cant wait to get in there.
Still hopeful.

Posted by hopeful on March 7, 2013 11:17

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It is easy to complain for the non-Thai editor of Phuketwan about my 'this is our country' bluster when in fact this is not even your country, so who do you speak for?

Posted by Ian on March 11, 2013 15:46

Editor Comment:

I don't speak for the small-minded, big-headed bigots who reckon they know it all and haven't a clue about values other than money and self-interest. This applies especially to those who think having an anonymous presence on this site entitles them to bluster about everything. I speak for all thoughtful people capable of telling the difference between right and wrong, Ian. Your previous petty, mean-spirited post criticising the French won't appear, either. Goodbye, Ian.


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