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Burmese Migrants Blown Off Course to Indonesia


A boatload of 77 Burmese men has landed on a small island off the coast of Indonesia's northwestern Aceh province after bad weather blew them off course. Their original destination was Malaysia, where they were hoping to find work.

The men, all ethnic Rohingyas, told Indonesian officials they fled Burma on April 15 and were sailing to Malaysia. Storms sent them off course and washed them up Monday on Rondo Island, which lies just off the northern tip of Sumatra island.

The Indonesian navy picked up the men and took them to Sabang Naval base, just off the coast of Aceh.

Sabang police chief Edi Siswanto says the refugees, who had not eaten for three days, were given food and clothing and are now being housed in a shelter.

He says police have informed the immigration office in Jakarta about the men and will wait for instructions on how to proceed.

Siswanto says communication with the men was difficult because only one of them spoke a little Indonesian.

Siswanto says the refugees claim they could not making a living in Burma so decided to sail to Malaysia where they hoped to find work.

The Rohingyas, who are Muslim while the majority of Burmese are Buddhist, have fled Burma by the thousands in recent years claiming persecution by the military government.

In 1991 and 1992, more than 250,000 Rohingyas, roughly a third of their population, fled over Burma's border to Bangladesh. At least 20,000 remain there in refugee camps.

Many countries accuse Burma's military government of massive human rights violations against its people. The United States, the European Union and other governments have imposed economic sanctions on the country to push it to move toward democracy.

Thousands of Burmese citizens, because of persecution or poverty, or both, have fled the country seeking sanctuary and work in neighboring countries such as Thailand and Malaysia.

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