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Thailand arrests over 150 Rohingya

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.