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Page last updated at 09:16 GMT, Friday, 23 January 2009

Thailand defies UN over migrants

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

Burmese Rohingyas under guard in Thailand
The Thai military is accused of sending refugees off to likely death

Thailand says 126 asylum-seekers from the Burmese Rohingya minority who were detained by the military a week ago have been sent back out to sea.

The UN Refugee Agency asked to see the detainees three days ago, but never received a response.

Last month almost 1,000 Rohingyas were detained and then towed out to sea by Thai security forces in boats with little food and no motors.

Hundreds of survivors have been rescued, but hundreds more are missing.

Less than a month after taking office the new Thai government is struggling to manage a public relations disaster caused by the treatment meted out by Thai military units to Rohingya boat people last month.

Map

Top military commanders have denied mistreating any of the Rohingyas, but testimony from exhausted survivors who washed up in India and Indonesia have given a very different picture. They say they were packed onto boats with no motors, then set adrift on the high seas with little food or water.

The UN has been trying to get information about a group of 126 who arrived in Thailand a week ago - but has so far been denied access to them.

The government admits it has had trouble getting information about these detainees from the local military units known to be holding them.

Now it is being told they too have been sent back out to sea - although under what conditions is not clear.

Human rights groups fear they too may have suffered the same fate as the previous groups.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has assured them illegal migrants will be treated humanely, but he appears to have little control over how the military deals with them.



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