Myanmar seizes boat with 93 Rohingya fleeing to Malaysia

UN-mandated investigators have accused Myanmar's army of 'genocidal intent' and ethnic cleansing.

    Rohingya have in the past paid people smugglers to make the treacherous sea journey out of Myanmar [File: S Yulinnas/AP]
    Rohingya have in the past paid people smugglers to make the treacherous sea journey out of Myanmar [File: S Yulinnas/AP]

    Authorities in Myanmar seized a boat carrying 93 Rohingya fleeing displacement camps in western Rakhine state in hopes to reach Malaysia, an official said on Tuesday.

    The vessel was the third bound for Malaysia stopped in Myanmar's waters since monsoon rains began to subside last month, bringing calmer weather and raising fears of a new wave of hazardous voyages after a 2015 crackdown on people smugglers.

    Moe Zaw Latt, director of the government office in Dawei, a coastal town in southern Myanmar, said fishermen reported a "suspicious" boat to authorities.

    The navy stopped the boat on Sunday and detained the 93 people, who said they had come from the Thae Chaung camp in the Rakhine state's capital of Sittwe.

    "They said they ran away from the camp. They said they intended to go to Malaysia," said Moe Zaw Latt, adding authorities were preparing to send them back to Sittwe on Tuesday.

    Photographs in media showed police standing by as passengers - many of them women in headscarves and children - huddled on the deck.

    The boat resembled vessels the Rohingya typically use to escape the apartheid-like conditions in Rakhine state, where their movements and access to services are severely curtailed.

    'Root causes'

    Myanmar detained 106 Rohingya men, women and children on a boat near the commercial hub of Yangon on November 16 when their engine failed on their way from the Sittwe camps to Malaysia.

    Those people have been returned along with another group of more than 80 people whose boat was seized off the coast of southern Rakhine last week, also bound for Malaysia, according to an aid worker in Sittwe monitoring the boat movements.

    The UN refugee agency has said Myanmar must "address the root causes of displacement", including the lack of citizenship for the Rohingya, who consider themselves native to Rakhine.

    Myanmar regards Rohingya as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and has confined tens of thousands to sprawling camps outside Sittwe since violence swept the area in 2012.

    More than 700,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh last year fleeing an army crackdown in the north of Rakhine, according to UN agencies.

    UN-mandated investigators have accused the Myanmar army of "genocidal intent" and ethnic cleansing. Myanmar has denied most allegations of atrocities, blaming Rohingya rebels who attacked police boats for sparking the exodus.

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    SOURCE: Reuters news agency