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Rights Group Says Thai Navy Fired at Fleeing Rohingya Refugees

Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation into an incident in which the Thai navy allegedly shot at a group of Rohingya "boat people," killing at least two of the asylum seekers.

The New York-based group Wednesday said its investigation revealed that Thai sailors last month opened fire on about 20 Rohingya refugees during a mission to push the group back out to sea.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma in recent months to escape sectarian violence and state-sponsored discrimination.

Thailand has refused to accept most of the refugees. It has instead ordered its navy to intercept the boats and provide the passengers with food and supplies before sending them on their way.

Human Rights Watch has criticized the "push back" policy, saying Thailand is failing to provide the Rohingya asylum seekers with the protections required under international law.

In the February 22 case, the rights group says around 20 Rohingya jumped overboard toward land to escape Thai sailors, who had pushed their drifting vessel back to sea off the coast of Phang Nga province.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the Thai sailors opened fire on the refugees in the water, killing at least two. Four others say they managed to swim to shore and were hidden by Thai villagers. The fate of the rest of the passengers is unknown.

Human Rights Watch wants Thailand to investigate the incident and prosecute those found responsible. The group's Asia director Brad Adams said that "Rohingya fleeing Burma should be given protection, not shot at."

The United Nations says the Rohingya people are among the world's most persecuted minority groups. They are denied citizenship and many other basic rights in Burma, where they are regarded as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

An outbreak of sectarian violence in Burma's Arakan, or Rakhine state, between Rohingya Muslims and majority Buddhists has killed dozens and displaced hundreds of thousands in recent months.

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