Thailand pushes back 200 Rohingya boat people: navy

Thailand's navy blocked more than 200 Rohingya boat people from entering the kingdom as part of a new crackdown on refugees from violence-hit western Myanmar, officials said Wednesday.

Thousands of Rohingya -- members of a stateless Muslim minority group described by the UN as one of the most persecuted in the world -- have fled Myanmar in recent months, mostly believed to be heading for Malaysia.

A Thai navy official in Bangkok said more than 200 Rohingya were found on Tuesday about 40 kilometres (25 miles) off the Thai mainland.

"We took them food and water before pushing them towards a third country," said the official, who did not want to be named.

Local media said the boat people were found near Raja Noi island in the Andaman Sea off Phuket province -- a magnet for foreign tourists.

National Security Council secretary-general Paradorn Pattanathabutr told AFP on Monday that Thailand would turn away any more Rohingya boat people who tried to land on its shores.

The tougher stance came after Thai authorities said they were investigating allegations that army officials were involved in the trafficking of Rohingya.

An explosion of tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine since June 2012 has triggered a huge exodus of Rohingya.

More than 1,300 members of the minority group have been detained by Thailand after landing on its shores in recent months.

Officials have said those already in Thailand will be allowed to stay for six months in detention while the government works with the UN refugee agency to find third countries willing to accept them.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.

The UN estimates that about 13,000 boat people fled Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2012, with some dying during the perilous sea voyage. Thailand has been criticised in the past for pushing Rohingya back out to sea.

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