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Thai military faces more 'dump-at-sea' claims

  • Story Highlights
  • Boat people say they were part of group of nine boats of 1,200 people
  • Group claims Thai military abandoned them at sea
  • Thai army denies allegations; government has launched an inquiry
  • Delegates from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar in Thailand
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(CNN) -- Indonesian authorities found 198 refugees from Myanmar early Tuesday off the country's west coast who said they had been drifting in a wooden boat for three weeks after they'd been towed out to sea by the Thai military.

Rohingya refugees hold their names up outside a police station in Ranong, Thailand, on January 31.

This picture provided to CNN is said to be the Thai army towing refugees out to sea.

A survivor told Indonesian immigration officials that his boat was part of a group of boats carrying about 1,200 people who were set adrift by Thai military forces who had found them.

The survivor also said 220 people had been on his boat, but 22 died, said Iwan Riyanto, an Indonesian immigration official. An official with the Sabang Region Navy also told CNN that the survivors on the boat said they had been set adrift by the Thai military.

"They were part of the nine boats containing Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh that were set adrift by the Thai security forces," Riyanto said.

A Thai foreign ministry spokesman told CNN Tuesday that his government was aware of the report coming out of Indonesia. "

"We have to listen to that but we need to verify, and there shall be no judgment made yet," Tharit Charungwat said.

Meanwhile, delegates from five countries -- Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar -- went to Thailand's Ranong province Tuesday, prompted by such allegations. Video Watch a report on more refugees washed ashore in Indonesia »

Allegations arose a month ago that a group of Myanmar's Rohingya minority -- who have been fleeing their homeland for years, saying they are persecuted by its military government -- had been dumped at sea by Thai military authorities.

A recent CNN investigation found evidence of such activity. Photos obtained by CNN include one that shows the Thai army towing a boatload of about 190 refugees. CNN also interviewed a refugee who said he was one of the few who had survived after a group of six rickety boats was towed back to sea and abandoned by Thai authorities earlier this month.

The Thai government has launched an inquiry. The Thai army has denied the allegations.

But after extensive questioning by CNN, one source in the Thai military confirmed that the Thai army was operating a dump-at-sea policy.

The source defended it, saying that each boatload of refugees was given sufficient supplies of food and water.

That source said Thai villagers had become afraid of the hundreds of Rohingya arriving each month, and they had accused the refugees of stealing their property and threatening them.

The Thai government has said that "there is no reasonable ground to believe" that the Rohingya were fleeing Myanmar because of persecution.

"Their profile and their seasonal travel further support the picture that they are illegal migrants, and not those requiring international protection," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued in late January.


One of the refugees who came ashore in late January said they would be killed if returned to Myanmar because of their minority status. He said the Rohingya are stateless because they lack bribe money to obtain identification cards in Myanmar.

The discovery comes nearly a week after a judge in Thailand fined dozens of other Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who pleaded guilty to charges of illegal entry after fleeing their homeland in December.

CNN's Andy Saputra and Dan Rivers contributed to this report.

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