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Thai PM hold talks on migrant abuse allegations

world Updated: Jan 19, 2009 10:23 IST
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Thailand's premier Abhisit Vejjajiva on Monday met human rights officials to discuss allegations the Thai navy set hundreds of migrants adrift at sea, as his deputy expressed disbelief at the reports.

Photos, survivor accounts and reports from rights groups suggest up to 1,000 members of a Muslim ethnic minority from Myanmar washed up on Thai shores late last year, only to be towed out to sea and left with scant food and water.

Thailand's navy has denied the allegations and the foreign ministry is investigating, while Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said on Monday that the defence minister had also been tasked with the matter.

"I was primarily informed that the soldiers did not do that. There are several pictures, I believe we can find out the truth," he told reporters.

"I myself believe the officers did not do such a thing because Thai people have generosity and kindness."

Deputy government spokesman Buddhipongse Punnakanta said Abhisit met members of the National Human Rights Commission on Monday to discuss the matter.

"The prime minister told the commission not to worry about the Rohingya case," he told reporters. "He assigned all the government authorities involved to keep him up-to-date."

The Indian coast guard has so far rescued 446 of the boat people almost all of them members of the Rohingya group from western Myanmar near the Bangladesh border but officials say hundreds remain missing.

Indian officials said survivors gave accounts of being beaten by Thai authorities, before being towed back to sea and set adrift without engines or navigational equipment and with just a few bags of rice.

Another 200 foreigners, mostly Rohingya, were rescued off the northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island earlier this month.

Rights groups say the Rohingya are stateless and face persecution from Myanmar's military regime, forcing thousands into rickety boats each year to try to escape poverty and oppression and head to Muslim-majority Malaysia.