'At least 100 killed' in bloody clashes on migrant vessel

Bangladeshi Mohammad Meshar Ali showing compatriot Mohammad Murad Hussein's scars as he narrated the fight over supplies aboard the foundering boat off Indonesia.
Bangladeshi Mohammad Meshar Ali showing compatriot Mohammad Murad Hussein's scars as he narrated the fight over supplies aboard the foundering boat off Indonesia.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LANGSA - Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants on board a foundering vessel off Indonesia fought with axes, knives and metal bars in vicious clashes that left at least 100 dead, survivors said as they recovered from their ordeal.

They described bloody, nightmarish scenes after the overcrowded vessel was abandoned by its crew last week, with desperate migrants "slaughtering" one another in fierce battles over dwindling supplies.

Exhausted survivors in camps in Indonesia's Aceh province, many bearing bruises and cuts, said they believed between 100 and 200 people were killed in the fighting last Thursday.

They are among nearly 3,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis who have come ashore in the past week in South-east Asia, after a Thai crackdown disrupted regular human-trafficking routes.

While many were hacked to death on board, others jumped from the vessel as they sought to escape the carnage. Those who survived were rescued by local fishermen. Both sides blamed the other for starting the fighting.

"Suddenly, the Bangladeshis came out on deck and attacked all of us who were on the top of the boat," said Rohingya migrant Asina Begun, 22. "Those who wanted to save their lives had to jump into the sea, but my brother could not. When they found him, they beat him and then slaughtered him."

But the Bangladeshis said the Rohingya, a Muslim minority fleeing persecution in Myanmar, had been favoured by the boat captain, who spoke only a Myanmar language and gave them all the food and water. They said they were attacked after begging the Rohingya for supplies.

Bangladeshi Mohammad Murad Hussein related how the Rohingya were on the boat's top deck and the Bangladeshis, who made up the bulk of passengers, were on a lower deck.

As fighting erupted, the Rohingya sought to stop the Bangladeshis from getting onto the upper deck, he said. "From the upper deck, they were spraying hot water, pepper water at us. Anyone who went up was hacked at with a cleaver," said the 30- year-old, whose body was covered with many scars.

As the migrants recovered from the ordeal, their thoughts turned to their families, whom they had not seen for two months. "They don't know whether we are alive or not. They probably think we are all dead," said Bangladeshi migrant Mohammad Meshar Ali.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE