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BANGKOK: Thailand’s navy blocked more than 200 Rohingya boat people from entering the kingdom as part of a new crackdown on refugees from violence-hit western Myanmar, officials said yesterday.
Thousands of Rohingya — members of a stateless Muslim minority group described by the UN as one of the most persecuted in the world — have fled Myanmar in recent months, mostly believed to be heading for Malaysia.
A Thai navy official in Bangkok said more than 200 Rohingya were found on Tuesday about 40km off the Thai mainland. “We took them food and water before pushing them towards a third country,” said the official, who did not want to be named.
Local media said the boat people were found near Raja Noi island in the Andaman Sea off Phuket province — a magnet for foreign tourists.
National Security Council Secretary-General Paradorn Pattanathabutr said on Monday that Thailand would turn away any more Rohingya boat people who tried to land on its shores.
The tougher stance came after Thai authorities said they were investigating allegations that army officials were involved in the trafficking of Rohingya.
An explosion of tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine since June 2012 has triggered a huge exodus of Rohingya.
More than 1,300 members of the minority group have been detained by Thailand after landing on its shores in recent months.
Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.