March 16, 2013 8:30 pm
The UN's refugee agency on Friday called on the government to investigate reports that Thai navy men shot at Rohingya boat people fleeing sectarian conflict in Myanmar.
"The UNHCR has met the survivors of a boat incident reported in Phang Nga, southern Thailand, cross-checked their accounts with other sources and established that the incident is the same one reported by boat people who arrived in Aceh, Indonesia, on February 26," said the agency's spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba.
She said that UNHCR staff in Indonesia spoke to some of the 121 arrivals in this group, which includes women and children.
"UNHCR is gravely concerned that people fleeing unrest could have been turned away and exposed to further distress in their search for safety. We are seeking access to such boats intercepted in the high seas," she said.
The UNHCR, citing survivors of the alleged shooting in late February, said at least three shots were fired by Thai sailors as they intercepted a Rohingya boat off Phang Nga, and towed it further out to sea. But it was unclear "whether these were warning shots or aimed at the passengers," it said in a statement, adding the boat had been at sea for three weeks and was low on supplies since leaving Myanmar’s unrest-hit Rakhine State.
"Survivors and local fishermen said two dead bodies were recovered from the sea, though it was unclear if the cause of death was shooting or drowning," UNHCR said.