Thursday, January 29, 2009

Boat people arriving in Thailand not from Myanmar: official

YANGON (AFP) – A senior Myanmar official on Thursday denied that boat people from the Muslim Rohingya ethnic group, who have washed up in Thailand claiming abuse back home, originate from its shores.

Human rights groups have said the Rohingya come from Myanmar's western region and often flee persecution by the junta, but the official told AFP the group were from Bangladesh and had no historical connection with Myanmar.

"There is no so-called Rohingya ethnic minority group in our history before or after our independence," said the official, who refused to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media. (JEG's: but Maung Aye promises to address the problem... ooops a bit of lack of communication here...)

"It is totally unacceptable to say the Rohingya are from Myanmar," he added.

Thailand has been accused of mistreating up to 1,000 Rohingya migrants, hundreds of whom were rescued off India and Indonesia last month claiming they had been beaten by Thai soldiers and towed back out to sea.

The issue has cast into the spotlight a group believed to number about 700,000 in Myanmar but which has long been denied citizenship and faces religious persecution and crippling poverty, rights groups have said.

A further 78 boat people were detained this week on arriving in Thailand, supposedly from Myanmar, and await deportation.

Local press carried pictures of some of the men with welts on their backs and the Bangkok Post newspaper reported that the migrants said they were caned by Myanmar authorities and threatened with death if they returned.

The Myanmar official, however, claimed that such reports were untrue.

"These so-called Rohingyas are Bangladeshi who left their state for a better life, trying to get sympathy from Western countries by claiming to be Rohingyas from Myanmar," he said.

"(It's) not our problem. It's the problem of Bangladesh," he added. (JEG's: pass the buck, never their problem)

Myanmar -- ruled by the military since 1962 -- is a predominantly Buddhist country but is also home to more than 135 different ethnic groups, some of whom are Christian and Muslim.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has requested access to any Rohingyas arriving in Thailand, saying there are legitimate concerns that some could face persecution back in Myanmar.

The Thai foreign ministry Wednesday "categorically denied" reports that it had mistreated any migrants.

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