By Surasak Tumcharoen
BANGKOK, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Thailand's navy chief Adm Surasak Rounroengrom has categorically dismissed the allegations that his men had killed at least two Rohingya migrants in the sea off Pang- nga province last month.
The Thai navy chief's comment was made in response to the charges from Human Rights Watch which accused that navy soldiers on a patrol boat of firing on the Rohingya boat people who had fled sectarian violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state on Feb. 22.
The Thai navy chief said his men would only look to help those asylum seekers rather than harm them as alleged by the United States-based organization. "We'd give those boat people some food, water, medicine and fuel purely on humanitarian basis. We'd even fix their boats so they could proceed toward their preferred destination in another country. Under no circumstances would we ever harm such pitiful people," said Adm Surasak.
Human Rights Watch's Asia director Brad Adams called on the Thai government to launch investigation into the alleged incident in which at least two among a total of about 130 Rohingya migrants were shot dead by the Thai navy.
The Rohingya migrants had crammed up a boat which sailed on the Andaman Sea until it ran out of fuel near Surin Island off Pang- nga province and was approached by the navy patrol boat.
Adams alleged that the Thai navy soldiers told them to split up into small groups to board other boats. However, he alleged, the soldiers fired on a group of the Rohingya migrants after they had jumped overboard in apparent bid to escape.
The bodies of the two migrants who died of bullet wounds were later found afloat by local islanders, alleged the Human Rights Watch director who also charged that the Thai navy had failed to observe international law pertaining to the use of force to handle asylum seekers.
Thousands of Muslim Rohingya migrants have fled the riotous Rakhine state using seedy barges to sail on the Andaman Sea with intent to reach the territory of a predominantly-Muslim country such as Malaysia and Indonesia where they would be settled as refugees under care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
But many ended up on the shores of Thailand's southern provinces where they would be given temporary shelter and finally sent off toward a third country.
However, hundreds of Rohingya migrants who had arrived by boat to the Thai southern province of Ranong were brought on trucks to a border spot in Songkla province where they would be hired as illegal workers earlier this year. The Thai authorities arrested the human trafficking racket and sent the Rohingya boat people back to the sea.
Thailand has obviously adopted the policy to provide food, water and supplies for the Rohingya on temporary and humanitarian basis and to eventually send the boat people off to a third country at a later date.