AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Published — Tuesday 15 January 2013
Last update 14 January 2013 9:39 pm
BANGKOK/LAIZA, Myanmar: Thailand arrested and pledged to deport more than 150 Myanmar Rohingya migrants discovered in a hidden camp near the country's southern border with Malaysia, police said yesterday.
The 71 men and 85 women and children were found on a rubber plantation in Songkhla Province, local police colonel Krisakorn Pleetanyawong said, four days after some 400 Rohingya were discovered in another raid in the province.
"They will be treated under the law as illegal immigrants and will be deported," he told AFP, adding that a Thai man had also been arrested on suspicion of violating immigration law.
Thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim minority group not recognized as citizens in Myanmar, have fled communal unrest in the country's western Rakhine state, heading to Thailand and other countries.
Rights groups decry Thailand for failing to help Rohingya migrants who reach its territory, instead pushing them back to Myanmar or into neighboring countries including Malaysia, which offers sanctuary to the minority group.
Human Rights Watch has called on Thai authorities to allow the United Nations' refugee agency access to the Rohingya before taking action to deport them.
HRW Thailand researcher Sunai Phasuk said women and children were increasingly among boatloads of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar.
"It appears that the families are being uprooted in their homeland and they have to seek somewhere safe to stay," he told AFP.
The UN has urged Myanmar's neighbors to open their borders to people escaping a wave of communal violence in Rakhine.
Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims have left at least 180 people dead in the state since June, and displaced more than 110,000 others, mostly Rohingya.
Myanmar views the roughly 800,000 Rohingya in Rakhine as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.
Although tensions have eased since a fresh outbreak of killings in October, concerns have grown about the fate of asylum-seekers setting sail in overcrowded boats.
Rebels say 3 dead in Myanmar strike
Meanwhile, Kachin rebels in Myanmar said three civilians were killed and six wounded yesterday in the first government attack on their stronghold, as fighting escalated in the country's last active civil war.
Three shells landed in the centre of Laiza, a town on the northern border with China that serves as headquarters for the Kachin Independence Army, said Colonel James Lum Dau, spokesman for the KIA's political wing.
"This is the first time they have directly bombarded Laiza," he told AFP.
The KIA said the victims of the early morning strike included a 15-year-old boy and a 76-year-old man.
A video contributor to AFP saw three bodies after the shells landed near one of the town's main roads, in a densely-populated area of wooden and concrete homes and small shops with no obvious military targets.
People were going about their daily chores when the attack happened, causing panic and leaving residents fearful and weeping, he said, adding that two small children were among the wounded.
The shelling came after the US and UN condemned the army's use of air strikes in an upsurge of fighting since December that has raised questions over the government's commitment to reform after a transition from military rule.
Myanmar presidential spokesman Ye Htut told AFP that he had received no information about the attack and said the army did not "intentionally" target civilians.
Around 20,000 residents and 15,000 displaced people are thought to be in Laiza, he said, adding that there was "nowhere to go" except to China, which in August pushed several thousand refugees back into Myanmar.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Kachin state since June 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the KIA broke down. The total number of casualties is unknown.
Matthew Smith of Human Rights Watch said there was concern that further fighting could cause "a large outflow of refugees," but that authorities in China's Yunnan province could attempt to block them.
"There has been some indication that they are planning to do the right thing and provide temporary protection, but until we see some action on the ground, that remains a concern. It is potentially tens of thousands of asylum seekers," he said.
An increase in fighting has cast doubt over a peace process seen as key to the country's emergence from decades of junta rule.
Myanmar has struck tentative ceasefires with most of the other major ethnic rebel groups, but several rounds of talks with the Kachin have shown little tangible progress.
President Thein Sein defended the army's response to the Kachin rebellion in comments reported in state media on Friday, saying the army had done everything possible "to make positive contributions to the peace process."
Some experts have however raised questions over the level of control Thein Sein, a former general, exerts over army units in Kachin after an order to end military offensives in December 2011 was apparently ignored.
He since said that the military only acted in self defence.
The army and the rebels have traded claims over a helicopter crash last week which killed three army personnel. State media put the incident down to engine failure, rebutting KIA claims to have shot it down.