By Alan Morison and Premkamon Ketsara
The Burmese Navy handed over a boatload of Rohingya men, women and children to people smugglers who killed 12 and savagely beat many others, survivors revealed today.
The group of 139, discovered by residents in a rubber plantation north of Phuket last night, were recovering today after a harrowing 22-day voyage south to Thailand with little food and water.
Mostly young men and teenagers, some of the children ranged from two, three and four years old.
Survivors showed recent scars from savage beatings to Phuketwan journalists at a community hall in the port of Kuraburi in Phang Nga province. They were being fed by a group of sympathetic local Muslims for the first time in days.
”We were all facing death,” one of the men told Phuketwan. ”The smugglers charged us each 200,000 kyat to make the trip. The boat was quite large and stopped along the way to pick up more passengers.
”About 10 days ago, the Burmese Navy took possession of the vessel and handed us over to a group of smugglers. There were about four Burmese and four Thais. They killed 12 of us for no reason and threw the bodies overboard.
”Others were beaten badly. We don’t know why.”
It is not clear what happened to the vessel after the passengers were offloaded near Kuraburi. The smuggling of Rohingya has become a significant industry along Thailand’s Andaman coast. It’s now said to be more profitable and less dangerous than selling drugs.
The Arakan Project, a Rohingya advocacy group, reports that at least 9000 Rohingya joined the mass exodus from Burma in November, a record for a single month.
Although the Royal Thai Navy patrols the Andaman Sea, nothing is revealed publicly by Thailand’s military about the massive numbers of Rohingya sailing south.
Thousands are now being processed through secret jungle camps in southern Thailand.
Escapers have told the Reuters news agency and Phuketwan of deaths in the camps, of the rapes of women by other Rohingya, and of torture being inflicted when captives make telephone calls to extort large payments from relatives and friends already in Malaysia, which is where the families are heading.