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UN urges Thailand refugee inquiry

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Thai officials aboard a patrol vessel detain Rohingya refugees

The United Nations has urged Thailand to launch a full inquiry into claims their military mistreated hundreds of ethnic Rohingya migrants from Burma.

Thailand has promised an investigation but the UN expressed doubts over its transparency as it is to be led by the military unit accused of the abuse.

Rohingya washed up in Indonesia and elsewhere have said the Thai military beat them and sent them back to sea.

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

A group of 78 Rohingya landed in Thailand two days ago and, according to reports, many of them appeared in court on Wednesday for entering Thailand illegally.

They are likely to be deported back to Burma, where they face persecution from the authorities.

'Good co-operation'

UN refugee agency officials were allowed to meet 12 minors, aged between 14 and 17, from the latest group of migrants on Thursday.

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"They were in good condition," said Kitty McKinsey, UNHCR Asia spokeswoman.

"It's a big step forward that we have gotten access to them. We're now getting good co-operation from the Thai government to solve this issue."

She added that she would discuss the UN's findings with the Thai authorities before publicising them but reaffirmed the UNHCR's demand for Thailand not to return them to Burma forcibly.

Many of the 78 people were badly scarred from beatings they said they had received from Burmese troops.

They are being handled by the police and immigration - unlike the Rohingyas who arrived last month and were detained on an island by the Thai military before reportedly being set adrift at sea in barges with no engines and little food or water.

Burmese denial

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya defended the decision to allow the military to investigate.

"Well it's our internal arrangement, and then if the military investigation is not satisfactory we can set up another group to do it," he said.

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

Our correspondent in Thailand, Jonathan Head, says the issue has been a public relations disaster for the new government - which has been unable to offer a clear response to the international community.

He says that based on previous practice, it is unlikely any military personnel will be held accountable.

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

An unnamed Burmese official told the AFP news agency on Thursday that there was no evidence to suggest the Rohingya were even from his country.

"There is no so-called Rohingya ethnic minority group in our history before or after our independence," he said.

"It is totally unacceptable to say the Rohingya are from Myanmar [Burma]."

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