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Navy denies abuse of illegal migrants

world Updated: Jan 17, 2009 13:17 IST

Thailand's navy on Saturday denied it had been involved in the abuse of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar following reports they had been detained and forced back out to sea.

Navy spokesman Captain Prachachart Sirisawat said the navy had investigated the allegations following media reports that included photographs showing people lying on a beach with their hands trussed above their heads.

"The authorities followed the regular process when arresting the illegal migrants," Prachachart told AFP.

The people in the photographs released by the BBC and accredited to the Thai navy were reportedly ethnic minority Rohingyas from the Myanmar-Bangladesh border region who had been travelling to Thailand in search of work.

The BBC said they had been detained by the Thai navy and later towed out to sea with little food or water, and left to fend for themselves.

Prachachart said the reports and photographs were misleading.

"The navy has investigated and found more pictures of these 200 illegal migrants later receiving food and water from the authorities," he said.

The navy's denial follows an announcement late on Friday by the foreign ministry that it would "reassess the overall situation of illegal immigrants" with regard to neighbouring countries.

The Rohingas told the BBC they paid middlemen to take them to Thailand by boat but after being detained by the Thai navy upon entering Thai waters were taken to the Thai island of Koh Sai Daeng.

They said they were later forced onto boats without engines that were towed out to sea and left to drift.

Hundreds of Rhongas had been rescued by the Indian coastguard and were now being treated for dehydration in the Andaman islands and the Indonesian province of Aceh, the BBC reported, adding hundreds were still missing.

Refugee International, a Washington-based advocacy group, this week criticised the Thai military and said that sending people seeking asylum back to sea was a contravention of international standards and law.