Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Thais hold more migrants amid row

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

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

The Thai military has taken into custody another group of asylum-seekers from Burma's Rohingya minority.

It comes amid accusations - denied by the military - that units set hundreds of refugees adrift at sea last month.

A boat carrying 46 Rohingyas was intercepted this morning off an island in southern Thailand, police confirm.

Survivors who drifted to Indonesia and the Andaman Islands accuse the Thai military of towing them out to sea in boats with no engines and no food.

The commander of the military units responsible for dealing with asylum-seekers has denied the accusations.

However, testimony from exhausted and dehydrated survivors who have reached the Andaman Islands or Indonesia's Aceh province over the past week describes brutal treatment at the hands of the Thai security forces.

'Security risk'

They say they were detained on an offshore island, then pushed onto boats without engines, and with their hands tied. They say many of the asylum-seekers died trying to swim back to land.

Privately, some Thai military and police sources have admitted to the BBC that this has been happening - they say the escalating numbers of Rohingyas reaching Thailand from Burma or Bangladesh are seen as a security risk, because of fears they may include Islamic militants.

The reason they disable their engines, they say, is to prevent them trying to come back to Thailand.

Refugee welfare groups have condemned the practice as inhumane.

The Thai government says it has ordered an investigation of the incident, but stressed that is committed to humanitarian principles in handling illegal immigration.

Thailand accommodates millions of illegal migrants, mainly from neighbouring Burma, but takes a hard line against some, forcibly deporting those thought to threaten security.

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