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Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Thailand changes tack on refugees

A boatload of Rohingya migrants
Images obtained by CNN appear to show Rohingya being towed out to sea

The latest boatload of Burmese migrants to arrive in Thailand has been handed to the police rather than the military, after an outcry over their treatment.

The Thai military picked up 78 Rohingya boat people, who are Burmese Muslims, and handed them to the police.

It follows claims from other Rohingya, washed up in Indonesia and elsewhere, that the Thai military had beaten them and sent them back to sea.

It is thought almost 1,000 have been set adrift - with hundreds feared dead.

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Rights groups have expressed outrage at their treatment.

The Rohingya are fleeing persecution in their home country, where they are denied citizenship by the government.

Our correspondent in Thailand, Jonathan Head, says the most recent group are the very picture of misery.

He says they are exhausted and emaciated and several are carrying vivid scars across their backs - which they say are the result of being whipped by the Burmese navy as they left, as a warning not to come back.

Thai television broadcast images of the police looking after the latest group to land in Thailand - giving them food and medicine.

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The latest boatload of migrants to be picked up are scarred, exhausted and emaciated

Police Col Veerasilp Kwanseng said most of the refugees were suffering from "quite serious exhaustion" and needed medical help.

"Many had wounds on their bodies, but I don't know exactly what caused them," he told Reuters.

Our correspondent says the fact they have been handed to the police means they should be processed by the courts - and if they are deported it is likely to be in a more humane manner than the way many have been expelled by the military.

Thailand's new government says it is trying to establish exactly what happened, but our correspondent says the government is getting little co-operation from the armed forces.

Senior military officers have denied such mistreatment is even possible, and have accused the foreign media of trying to tarnish Thailand's international image, our correspondent adds.

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