22 Thai Tourists Detained in Myanmar for 'Trespassing' Wait to Get Home

2020-12-07
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22 Thai Tourists Detained in Myanmar for 'Trespassing' Wait to Get Home A group of Thai tourists waits to leave on a fishing trip in Ranong province, Thailand, Nov. 6, 2020.
BenarNews

Twenty-two Thais being held in Myanmar on allegations of trespassing after their boat broke down while they were fishing are asking for help to get back home, a member of the group told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

The fishing enthusiasts, who range from 26 years of age to 80 years, were detained by Myanmar officials on Nov. 8, and have spent most of the time in a coronavirus quarantine, Apiwat Chobtumdee, one of the tourists, told BenarNews by telephone on Thursday.

“We are waiting to come home and are asking the Thai government for help,” said Apiwat, who along with 21 others took the boat from Thailand’s southern Ranong province.

“Myanmar officials told us that we would be prosecuted for illegal immigration, whereas the Thai officials said we were arrested in Thai waters. We were put in a 21-day quarantine for COVID-19, which will end on Friday. After that we may be taken to prison or to a police station. None of us knows for sure.”

Thai military officials on the border said they asked Myanmar officials to give the tourists COVID-19 protective gear and other essentials. The deputy governor of Ranong also asked that the tour group be moved to a hotel, but Myanmar refused, military officials said.

“Right now, we are being detained in a COVID-19 quarantine unit which is in an old school. It is difficult to be here, we are sleeping on tables and chairs. Thai officials sent us some mattresses, which helped to a certain extent. We have trouble eating the food provided and the restrooms are not fit for the elderly,” Apiwat said.

Meanwhile, the Thai embassy in Yangon has stepped in to help the 22 tourists after several attempts to solve the issue at a bilateral border level failed, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told BenarNews on Friday.

“The Royal Thai Embassy in Yangon is following up and providing assistance to this group closely,” Thanee Saengrat, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told BenarNews on Friday.

“Normally, the primary step is to solve a dispute at the Township Border Committee level as it was agreed in the 41th TBC Meeting. A discussion at TBC level should be held prior to pressing charges if any boat trespassed the boundary,” Thanee told BenarNews, referring to a committee that works with Myanmar border officials.

However, officials in Myanmar decided to forego that primary step and instead sent the case to the union government in Naypyidaw without any formal discussion at the border committee level, Thanee said, adding that’s the reason the TBC in Ranong had to seek help from the foreign affairs ministry.

On Friday, the local government in the Tanintharyi region of Myanmar told Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister agency of BenarNews, that it was urging the union government to file immigration charges against the Thais because they had trespassed into the country’s waters.

“We have asked the union government now to proceed with the case. As for the regional government, we recommend that it should press immigration charges against them since there was a violation,” Kyaw Min, regional immigration and human resources minister for the Tanintharyi government, told RFA.   

The tourists were allowed to quarantine in a school rather in a police station and were also allowed to receive food sent by Thai officials, said Thu Hein Soe, a local administration official in Tanintharyi.

 “To tell you the truth, they were supposed to be detained at the police station. But we kept them at a quarantine facility due to the pandemic. We fed them at the official government rate. And we also allowed them to receive the food via their agents,” Thu said.

The tourists would be transferred to a hotel after their quarantine ended on Friday, Thu said.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, with additional reporting by RFA's Myanmar Service.

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