updated 4/6/2007 9:34:00 PM ET 2007-04-07T01:34:00

Human traffickers wielding knives forced about 300 African migrants to jump into the sea off Yemen early Friday, causing at least 32 to drown, a Yemeni security official said.

The migrants, mostly Ethiopians and Somalis, were packed into two rickety boats that had crossed the Gulf of Aden from Somalia when their crews forced them overboard as they approached Yemen's coast, the official said.

Survivors said those who stood up to the crew were stabbed, beaten and thrown overboard, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The incident is the latest case of abuse of people trying to get to Yemen from the Horn of Africa, where violence has escalated, especially since Ethiopia intervened in the armed struggle between Somalia's U.N.-supported interim government and Islamic groups.

Yemen said Thursday that about 5,000 illegal immigrants from Ethiopia and Somalia had arrived here since the beginning of the year and that 395 passengers had perished while trying to cross by boat.

Many migrants were slain by traffickers or drowned after their boats sank or they were forced overboard, the government said.

Discussing Friday's incident, the security official said authorities had found 268 survivors on two different beaches about seven miles apart in Yemen's southern province of Shabwa. They included 120 Somalis and 145 Ethiopians.

The official said authorities had recovered 32 bodies washed ashore and survivors had reported a number of fellow passengers missing.

Migrants who manage to land in Yemen without being caught travel to such cities as Aden and San'a, the capital, where they work as laborers for less than a $1 a day, according to the government.

Women and young girls work as domestic servants, while young boys often beg in the street.

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