Image: Myanmarnese refugees
Rohingya refugees have eat lunch after being rescued by Acehnese fishermen on Tuesday in Idie Rayeuk, Aceh province, Indonesia. Members of the dehydrated and starving group say 22 others died in the small wooden vessel during the crossing.
updated 2/3/2009 7:00:23 AM ET 2009-02-03T12:00:23

Indonesia's navy picked up 198 starving, dehydrated boat people from Myanmar who said they drifted for three weeks after authorities in Thailand forced them to sea in a boat without an engine, an official said Tuesday.

Twenty-two others died on the small wooden vessel during the crossing, the survivors told Indonesian officials.

It was the latest in a string of accusations that Thai authorities have been habitually abusing boat people fleeing the military dictatorship in Myanmar by abandoning them to die at sea. Thailand has repeatedly denied the accusations.

'Miracle they survived'
Indonesian fishermen discovered the 40-foot boat off Aceh's coast in northern Sumatra and towed it to shore Monday, navy officer Tedi Sutardi told The Associated Press. The passengers had run out of food and water.

"They were standing on the boat for 21 days because there was no space to sit," Sutardi said. "It is a miracle they survived."

At least 91 were admitted to the Idirayeuk General Hospital in weak condition due to "lack of fluid and malnutrition," hospital director Edie Gunawan said. A 13-year-old boy was among those with severe dehydration, said emergency nurse Muji, who goes by one name like many Indonesians.

The drifting boat was the second load of Rohingyas, a stateless Muslim group facing decades of persecution in Myanmar, to arrive in Indonesia in a month. Other boatloads have been found near India's Andaman Islands.

Beaten and set adrift
The boat people in Indonesia recounted being beaten and set adrift by Thai authorities, Sutardi said.

One survivor told investigators the group was among 1,000 Rohingyas working in Thailand as migrant laborers, Sutardi said. They spoke of being forced to leave Thailand on nine motorless boats in December after being detained as illegal workers.

Some of them were beaten and "we could see they had black and blue marks on their backs," Sutardi said.

Neither a Thai military spokesman nor Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat were aware of the latest allegations. But Tharit said Thailand has no policy of forcing illegal migrants back to sea.

The Rohingyas, an ethnic minority not recognized by Myanmar's military regime, number about 800,000 in that country. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Middle East.

More on: Rohingyas   |  Thailand   |  Myanmar

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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