Dozens of corpses wash to shore in Myan­mar: sources

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY ROBIN MCDOW­ELL

Dozens of corpses have washed to shore in Myan­mar’s west­ern state of Rakhine in the last month, an ad­vo­cacy group and vil­lagers said Wed­nes­day. Some were be­lieved to be Ro­hingya Mus­lims try­ing to es­cape traf­fick­ing ships, while oth­ers were Bangladeshi.

Ye Htut, the pres­i­den­tial spokesman, and other of­fi­cials were in meet­ings and could not im­me­di­ately be reached for com­ment.

Rakhine State Min­is­ter Maung Maung Ohn had no word on the bod­ies but his of­fice was check­ing into the re­port.

At least 47 bod­ies washed up on beaches and the mouths of rivers May 12-24, many so badly de­com­posed they were un­rec­og­niz­able, said Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, which has been mon­i­tor­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in the iso­lated, north­ern tip of Rakhine for more than a decade.

Lewa — who pro­vided a vil­lageby- vil­lage break­down and the dates each corpse was found — be­lieves they drowned while try­ing to swim to shore.

Re­li­gious leader Ashu Du­lar and other res­i­dents in two vil­lages con­tacted by The As­so­ci­ated Press by phone gave sim­i­lar ac­counts, to­gether tal­ly­ing at least 18 corps- es in a much less com­plete sur­vey.

Myan­mar has de­nied blame for a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis that has gripped Southeast Asia since early May, with more than 4,600 des­per­ate and hun­gry boat peo­ple res­cued in five coun­tries af­ter a mas­sive, re­gional crack­down on hu­man traf­fick­ing prompted some cap­tains to aban­don their hu­man cargo at sea.

The United Na­tions says around half those brought to land have been Ro­hingya, flee­ing vi­o­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion in their pre­dom­i­nantly Bud­dhist coun­try; the re­main­der, it says, are Bangladeshis, es­cap­ing poverty.

Myan­mar, which de­nies the ex­is­tence of the Ro­hingya, in­sists all those who have fled by boat in re­cent months were Bangladeshi. The gov­ern­ment has gone to great lengths to make sure it is not dis­proven — at least not on its own soil.

Its Navy de­tained jour­nal­ists, in­clud­ing the AP, over the week­end, eras­ing their cam­era mem­ory cards, when they were try­ing to con­firm the na­tion­al­i­ties of 727 mi­grants on a boat hid­den away for days near a re­mote is­land.

The ship was be­ing towed Wed­nes­day to north­ern Rakhine.

And late last month, Myan­mar’s gov­ern­ment claimed a ship with more than 200 mi­grants — all Bangladeshis — had been re­cov­ered. But many more Ro­hingya were taken off the ship and brought to shore un­der the cover of dark­ness be­fore they landed, said Araf, a 26-year-old woman, who was among those who said she was forced to dis­em­bark with her five chil­dren. Oth­ers in Sit­twe, the state cap­i­tal, had sim­i­lar ac­counts.

For months, ships crammed with hun­dreds of mi­grants stayed in the Bay of Ben­gal, hop­ing to leave af­ter the se­cu­rity crack­down eased. That didn’t hap­pen and con­di­tions on board de­te­ri­o­rated, re­cent es­capees com­plain­ing they were get­ting al­most noth­ing to eat and were badly beaten if they made any noise. Some bought their free­dom with help from fam­ily and friends, pay­ing hun­dreds of dol­lars.

“In some cases, bro­kers started us­ing fish­ing boats to bring a few peo­ple to shore,” said Lewa. “But they were afraid to come too close and dropped them as near to the coast as they could.”

Of the 47 bod­ies found, 15 corpses washed up in Alei Than Kyaw; 14 in Oo Daung River; 11 in Tha Pyay Taw; six in Tha Ya Kone and one in Myinn Hlut, the Arakan Project said.

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