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Indonesia Criticizes Thailand for Towing Burmese Muslims Out to Sea

  • Katie Hamann

Indonesia has criticized Thailand for towing hundreds of Burmese Muslims out to sea in boats and demanded an end to persecution of minorities in the region. Almost 400 Rohingya refugees have been rescued in boats of the coast of Indonesia in the last month. Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda says the men have a clear case for applying for refugee status.

Speaking on Friday Indonesia's foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda directed several thinly veiled comments towards regional countries guilty of human rights violations.

Without naming Burma, Wirajuda said it was now time for "countries of origin" to stop abusing minorities and refugees, in accordance with principles of human rights set out in the new charter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The charter was officially passed into law in December last year.

In a later interview foreign affairs spokesman Teuku Faizasyah repeated the minister's message. "We look at these problems of the boat people arriving on our shore related to the problems in countries of origins," he said. "That's why we call to countries of origins to respect the rights of the minorities."

And there was also this message for countries that refugees travel to as a transit point.

"We call on the countries were the boats pass, to treat them well and not to allow them to arrive in other regional countries so it becomes a regional problem," said Faizasyah.

The Thai government has vigorously defended the decision by its navy to tow more than 1,000 Rohingya men out to sea. Those who have been rescued claim they were deserted without engines and little food or water.

Thailand says the men are economic migrants and a threat to Thai jobs. In recent weeks Indonesia also claimed that the Rohingya had left their country seeking better jobs and could therefore be deported under Indonesian law.

But in the wake of the arrival of a second boatload and renewed claims of torture at the hands of the Burmese military regime, foreign minister Wirajuda said was now considering granting the Rohingya refugee status. He said the United Nations High Commission for Refugees would be invited to assess their situation.

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