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Army rejects US help for Rohingya

(Photo: Reuters)

By Wassana Nanuam
May 24, 2015

American forces told to leave Phuket

The Royal Thai Armed Forces rejected an American request to use Phuket as a maritime patrol base to assist Rohingya migrants, a military source said yesterday.

The US asked to keep its maritime surveillance aircraft in Phuket after the anti-submarine warfare training exercise “Guardian Sea” ended on Wednesday, the source said.

The US said it wanted to conduct maritime patrols from Phuket as part of an operation to provide humanitarian assistance to Rohingya migrants.

But both the RTAF and the Royal Thai Air Force declined the request and asked the US to remove its aircraft and soldiers from Thailand by Friday.

The source said US officials in Thailand for the five-day training exercise were upset because they asked if they could keep the aircraft in Phuket several times.

The rejection reflects Thai irritation over US pressure to resolve human trafficking problems here, the source said.

The RTAF was also concerned the US would interfere or do something that might disadvantage Thailand's handling of the Rohingya matter, the source added.

Police investigating Rohingya trafficking said no new arrest warrants were issued yesterday. A total of 77 suspects are still wanted and 46 have been taken into custody. Most of the suspects are politicians and leaders in Satun province, said a local source.

Pawin Pongsirin, deputy chief of Provincial Police Region 8, said the Office of the Attorney-General has sent a number of public prosecutors to work with police on the Rohingya case.

This is because the case is complicated and witnesses in countries including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Malaysia may be asked to speak to Thai investigators, Pol Maj Gen Pawin said.

Deputy national police chief Ake Angsananont has instructed officers to intensify pressure on suspects to come out of hiding or face arrest, the source said.

According to former foreign minister Kasit Piromya, the experience of handling boats of Vietnam refugees fleeing their country two decades ago should be used to deal with the current wave of Rohingya migration.

Thailand, Asean, the international community and the UN should also cooperate with the migrants' countries of origin, such as Myanmar and Bangladesh, he said.

He called on Interpol and international intelligence agencies to step in to help investigate human traffickers targeting the Rohingya.

Mr Kasit urged countries around the world to set up funds dedicated to caring for displaced Rohingya, improving living conditions for Rohingya people in Myanmar's Rakhine state, and building temporary shelters for Rohingya in Thailand.

Asean should also explore ways of convincing Myanmar to recognise the Rohingya as its citizens, he said.

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