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Myanmar navy detains 200 fleeing Rohingya from Bangladesh’s camps

Boat seizure comes just days after Suu Kyi’s denial of persecution allegations

YANGON: Almost 200 Rohingya Muslims sailed more than 1,500 kilometers to escape Bangladesh refugee camps only to be arrested by Myanmar’s navy, the country’s military said yesterday.
The boat seizure came just days after Myanmar’s leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the UN’s top court to deny allegations of a genocidal campaign against the ethnic minority.

With the monsoon over and seas relatively calm, increasing numbers of Rohingya Muslims are once again risking their lives attempting to reach Malaysia or Indonesia.
Bangladeshi authorities say they are stopping one or two boats a week leaving the country’s shores, and many more are thought to evade patrols. Few make it as far south as Kawthaung, Myanmar’s southern-most tip, where on Sunday the country’s navy picked up the 173-strong Rohingya group, including 69 women and 22 children, a military spokesman said.

“We will hand them over to immigration authorities and police to take action,” said Zaw Min Tun, adding they had come from camps in Bangladesh and were heading to Malaysia.
“Our navy found them on a suspicious boat in the sea,” he told Reuters by phone. “The police will proceed according to the law.” More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017 to escape a military-led crackdown that UN investigators have said was carried out with “genocidal intent” and included mass killings and rapes.

Myanmar has denied widespread atrocities, framing the violence as a response to attacks by Rohingya militants, but has acknowledged killings at Inn Din village, where soldiers and Buddhist villagers murdered 10 Muslim men, as well as in another village, Gu Dar Pyin. Myanmar has also denied persecution. Some 600,000 Rohingya remain in largely Buddhist Myanmar, confined to camps and villages in the western Rakhine state where they are unable to travel freely or access healthcare and education. Three Rohingya living in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state told Reuters by phone they had heard the boat was bound for Malaysia. They asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

For years, Rohingya on both sides of the border have boarded boats organized by smugglers in the dry months between November and March, when the sea is calm. The dangerous journey to Thailand and Malaysia has cost many lives. The exodus peaked in 2015 when an estimated 25,000 people crossed the Andaman Sea, many drowning in unsafe and overloaded boats. But smuggling has continued.

Myat Thu, assistant director of Kawthaung township’s administrative office, said it was not yet clear whether the group arrested on Sunday set sail from Myanmar or Bangladesh. “Now we keep them at an island in Kawthaung in the sea, with security guards,” he told Reuters by phone. “We are making sure that all of their human rights are protected.” Bangladesh coast guard official Saiful Islam told Reuters they were unaware of any boats leaving the camps for Myanmar.

“If we had such information, we would have stopped them,” he said by phone. More than 90 Rohingya, including 23 children found on a beach in the Irrawaddy delta region after boarding a boat from Rakhine, appeared in a Myanmar court on Dec. 11 to face charges of traveling illegally.
Hundreds have been imprisoned in jails and youth detention centers across the country. “It shouldn’t be that way,” Muslim leader Wunna Shwe, joint-secretary of the Islamic Religious Affairs Council in Myanmar, told Reuters. “The government must examine their citizenship and grant citizenship to those who are eligible. It will be difficult to solve this issue without recognizing the rights of the people in the existing camps.” – Agencies

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