Thai military accused of shooting fleeing refugees

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The Thai military has been accused of shooting Rohingya asylum seekers fleeing conflict in western Burma.

People who were on the boat have told the ABC that they jumped into the water and swam when Thai authorities began towing it out into international waters.

It is claimed Thai soldiers then fired shots.

The military has denied shooting the asylum seekers, but Thai villagers say they later retrieved two bodies from the water, one with a gunshot wound to the head.

Communal violence in western Burma is driving thousands onto boats to find safety.

Fighting between ethnic Buddhist Rakhine Burmese and Rohingya Muslims has led to the Rohingya being isolated in camps.

They are a stateless people, unaccepted by either Burma or neighbouring Bangladesh, and now many are seeking homes elsewhere.

Around 5,000 to 6,000 have so far arrived in Thailand, but the journey is an ordeal in itself.

In this case, four men accuse Thai authorities of towing their boat out to sea in what is known as a push back to remove them from Thai territory, and then opening fire when they jumped out of the boat.

The men say some warning shots were fired, but it is unclear whether the Thai officers deliberately fired at those in the water.

However, survivor Rafik told the ABC that even as he was swimming he knew that one or two people were dead.

«When the boat was being towed out, we were afraid we would be pushed out to sea, so 10 to 15 people jumped off. Then they opened fire,» he said.

Of about 15 who jumped into the water, at least eight people remain unaccounted for.

Rafik does not know what became of them.

«I don’t know. I know that one was dead, some said two were dead,» he said.

Rafik and three others were picked up by a fishing boat and are now in hiding in a Thai village.


The boat carrying about 100 Rohingya first reached Thailand after it ran out of fuel.

A passing fisherman towed it to Surin Island, north of Phuket, where villagers provided food and water before calling the authorities to help the new arrivals.

Videos provided to the ABC show both a Thai navy boat and a boat from the Internal Security Operations Command at the island.

The Rohingya say that after the authorities arrived they were put back on their own boat and towed out to sea where the incident occurred.

None of the videos obtained by the ABC show any shooting.

However, villagers confirm they heard gunshots and later retrieved the bodies of two men from the water.

«As we are also Muslim, we wanted to help retrieve the bodies to do a religious ceremony. We feel miserable. All the villagers who saw them feel miserable,» villager Manat Are told the ABC.

The ABC did witness two fresh graves where the villagers say they buried the men. They say that one of the bodies had a gunshot wound to the head.

‹No such incident›

Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command denies the allegations.

In a statement it said: «The allegation is not true. There was no such incident. They were not shot by Thai authorities.»

It is unclear what happened to the boat the men jumped off and around 100 more Rohingya passengers who are said to have been on it.

Those asylum seekers are clearly shown in the videos from the island, which depict a large group of men and a few women and children.

Many are trying to get to Malaysia, and beyond.

«If possible, I want to go to Australia», said Rohingya man Habumara.

This is not the first such allegation levelled at the Thai authorities, who were accused last month of removing the engine from a Rohingya boat which then drifted all the way to Sri Lanka over 25 days.

Of 130 people on that craft, 97 died.



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