Human rights groups have said that hundreds of Rohingya, a Muslim minority group fleeing persecution in Myanmar, had been detained by the Thai military and towed back out to sea and left to die.

Myanmar denial

"We handed over 62 people who just completed their sentences. Immigration have to wait for doctors' permission to release four more who are in hospital having wounds tended to," Wanchart Wongchaichana, Ranong's governor, said on Saturday.

Myanmar’s military government has denied the Rohingya arriving in Thailand, India and Indonesia recently could not have come from its soil because they are not among its recognised ethnic groups.

The Thai government insists they are not refugees, and should be deported.

According to the UNHCR, at least 230,000 Rohingya now live a precarious stateless existence in Bangladesh alone, having fled their homes in Burma's north-west.

Those who have not fled are restricted from travel inside the country.

The UNHCR has again urged Thailand not to forcibly return the refugees to Myanmar.

On Friday, Amnesty International, a leading human rights group, called on Myanmar to stop persecuting the Rohingya and urged neighbouring countries to meet their humanitarian obligations.

Thailand's military has been accused of towing hundreds of Rohingya out to sea in poorly equipped boats with scant food and water, a charge it has "categorically denied".

'Illegal immigrants'

Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand's prime minister, told Al Jazeera: "We will allow the UNHCR to come and observe the way we are dealing with these people and we maintain a policy that we do treat them as illegal migrant workers but we would treat them according to humanitarian principles."

Many of the thousands of stateless Rohingya living in Bangladesh illegally or in
migrant camps say they would rather die than be returned to Myanmar, where they say "only death awaits us".

"Where shall we go?" asked Haji Abdul Motaleb, a leader of the Muslim Rohingya group living in an unofficial camp at Ledha, on the bank of the Naf river along the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

"There (in Myanmar) the military junta is ... trying to cleanse the Muslim minority by forcing them from their homes and into hard labour without pay. Rapes, killings and other torture have been rampant," Motaleb told the Reuters news agency.

The accusations surfaced earlier this month after nearly 650 Rohingya were rescued off India and Indonesia, some claiming to have been beaten by Thai soldiers.

Hundreds of the boat people are still believed to be missing at sea.