An international rights watchdog has accused Thailand’s navy of shooting and killing Rohingya asylum-seekers fleeing ethnic tensions in Burma, but Thai officials have rejected the claims.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tuesday that according to survivors, navy sailors fired on a group of some 20 Rohingya asylum-seekers on Feb. 22, killing two of them.
The incident in Phang Na province’s Kuraburi district occurred while the sailors were pushing the group back out to sea after they fled sectarian violence in western Burma’s Rakhine state, HRW said, urging Thailand to prosecute the shooters.
Officials in Thailand, which has faced criticism for deporting Rohingyas back to Burma or detaining them as illegal immigrants, denied the allegations, saying soldiers had no reason to hurt the migrants.
"The Thai navy commander responsible for that area has rejected the report," said foreign ministry spokesman Manasvi Srisodapol, according to Agence France-Presse.
Defense ministry spokesman Colonel Thanathip Sawangsang also refuted the claims, saying Thailand acts "on humanitarian principles" to provide food and water to Rohingyas before allowing them to travel on southward to Malaysia.
Thousands of Rohingyas, a predominantly Muslim group considered one of the world’s most persecuted minorities by the U.N., have been denied citizenship by Burma even though they have lived there for generations.
Ethnic clashes last year between Rohingyas and Buddhist Rakhines in Rakhine state left at least 180 dead and thousands homeless, with the Rohingya believed to have borne the brunt of the violence.
HRW called on Thailand to ensure its navy is adhering to international standards on the use of force.
“Rohingya fleeing Burma should be given protection, not shot at,” said the group’s Asia director Brad Adams.
“The Thai government should urgently investigate why sailors opened fire at boat people helpless in the sea and prosecute all those found responsible.”