Page last updated at 16:12 GMT, Friday, 13 February 2009

Thai colonel defends expulsions

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

Col Manas Kongpan
Col Manas Kongpan is being backed by his government

The Thai military officer at the centre of the controversy surrounding the expulsion of Rohingya asylum-seekers has defended his role.

Col Manas Kongpan has insisted he always treated the Rohingya humanely, and accused some foreign media of deliberately tarnishing the Thai image.

Thailand's military is alleged to have set more than 1,000 Rohingya boat people adrift at sea with no engines.

They have also complained of brutal treatment by the Thai security forces.

The Thai authorities now admit some of the Rohingya were towed out to sea, but insist they were given adequate supplies of food and water.

Hundreds have been washed up in Indonesia and the Andaman Islands.

Under scrutiny

Col Manas Kongpan is the regional commander of the Internal Security Operations Command.

He was one of three officers blamed by a Thai court for a massacre of Muslims five years ago. Now he is being accused of ordering more than 1,000 Rohingya boat people fleeing Burma to be set adrift at sea over the past two months.

They all come from journalists who have problems with Thailand and just want to slander us
Colonel Manas Kongpan
He insists this is not true, and that although the boat people are not allowed into Thailand, their boats are repaired and they are given food and water before being sent out of Thai waters.

This is contradicted by testimony from a number of Rohingya survivors, who have spoken of being detained and beaten on an island by the Thai military, before being towed out to sea and abandoned on boats with no engines.

But Col Manas dismisses such accounts, saying they had never been confirmed.

"They all come from journalists who have problems with Thailand and just want to slander us," he said.

He argued that no other country treated asylum-seekers as humanely as Thailand, and that if any proof of ill-treatment were presented to him, he would resign.

Col Manas is being backed by his government, which insists there is insufficient evidence to support the Rohingya claims.

But Prime Minister Abhist Vejjajiva has promised a full investigation, and punishment of anyone found responsible for abuses.

Col Manas' role will almost certainly be scrutinised by that investigation, if it ever takes place.

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