January 18, 2009 / 6:03 AM / in 10 years

Thai PM to meet rights groups on violation reports

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Sunday he would meet human rights groups to discuss alleged violations, as further reports emerged of ill-treatment of refugees from Myanmar by the security forces.

Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva speaks after his arrival in southern Pattani province, south of Bangkok January 17, 2009. Abhisit said on Sunday he would meet human rights groups to discuss alleged violations, as further reports emerged of ill-treatment of refugees from Myanmar by the security forces. REUTERS/Surapan Boonthanom

“Tomorrow I will meet all human rights organisations at Government House to discuss all issues and problems about violations, including a few incidents reported on recently, as well the Rohingyas case,” Abhisit told reporters.

The Rohingyas are Muslims from Myanmar. Many have fled the Buddhist-dominated, army-ruled country to escape repression and economic hardship, but rights groups say hundreds were recently detained on a remote Thai island before being forced back to sea by the security forces with little food or water.

The Foreign Ministry says it is looking into the allegations.

The Bangkok Post reported on Sunday that only 107 out of 412 refugees survived one such incident on Dec. 18. It spoke to survivors now in a relief camp on the Andaman Islands in India.

It also said there had been more recent incidents, including one in which 200 refugees were missing and may have died after being set adrift by Thai authorities around the turn of the year.

The newspaper said 46 refuge-seekers from Myanmar were taken into custody by Thai authorities on Friday after their boat was intercepted off an island in southern Thailand.

Vice Admiral Narong Thedbisal, who commands naval forces in the area, has denied his men mistreated refugees after a Hong Kong newspaper reported tourist accounts of soldiers whipping migrants on a beach in the south.

The Bangkok Post said that, privately, Thai officials had expressed concern the Rohingyas could be trying to join a separatist rebellion by Muslims in southern Thailand.

However, Colonel Thanathip Sawangsang, a spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), a counter-insurgency unit, dismissed that.

“We cannot say that we see these Rohingyas taking part in the deep South insurgency,” he told Reuters. “They are included in new kinds of threats to national security, such as drug trafficking, illegal immigrants and transnational crime.”

He also said that the ISOC complied with the law in dealing with immigrants. “No harm will be done to them.”

Myanmar’s neighbour Bangladesh is home to more than 20,000 Rohingya refugees living in two official camps since 1992 after fleeing persecution in their home country.

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