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Thailand 'happy to cooperate', but Army plays dumb on detainees

Thailand would cooperate with the United Nations on the controversial Rohingya boat people but only on the governŽment's conditions, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has sought access to 126 rohingya boat people believed to be held on Sai Daeng Island in the Andaman Sea.

However, the military told the Foreign Ministry yesterday it had "no clear information" about refugees in its custody that the UN wants to talk to.

Prime Minister Abhisit said: "We are glad to work with interŽnational organisations and conŽcerned countries but they must understand that the problem does not begin here."

The UN refugee agency had the right to inquire over possiŽble rights violations but it must work on cooperative basis with proper procedures set by the Thai government, he said.

Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said the UNHCR had yet to subŽmit an official request for access to the Rohingya.

The previous request from the UNHCR asked only generŽal information about the boat people incident, he said.

The Navy has been accused of pushing nearly 1,000 Burmese rohingya boat people back to sea since December. Many survived and were resŽcued in India and Indonesia, but up to 500 may be missing.

The Navy has denied the allegation, made by survivors and a group that supports the Rohingya. The Navy says its personnel did not violate the boat people's rights.

But rohingya boat people told Indian Coast Guards and international media they were forced to get on small boats whose engines were removed, towed to sea and abandoned. They received little food and water and some were beaten for resistance.

About 500 are missing. But an unconfirmed report suggests 80 may have been rescued and rearrested by Thai officials. They were allegedly taken back to Koh Sai Daeng.

The UN said earlier another group of 46 rohingya people, who were intercepted in a boat last Friday, were handed over to the military.

Despite a meeting with security agencies yesterday, Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Thani said they had "no clear information" about the 126 rohingya boat people in miliŽtary custody. And the "status" of Sai Daeng Island remained unclear as to whether it was a holding centre for illegal migrants, he said.

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