Sri Lanka rescues more Myanmar boatpeople

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's navy on Saturday rescued 38 Myanmar nationals who were drifting off the island's east coast, the second batch of boatpeople to be saved in as many weeks, officials said.

Sri Lankan naval craft responding to a distress call plucked the 38 people from a rickety boat drifting about 400 km off the east coast, a navy official said.

Four of the rescued passengers required treatment for dehydration and they were being brought to the southern port of Galle, he said.

"Four people required medical attention and are out of danger," said the navy official, who asked not to be named. "They will reach shore by tomorrow (Sunday)."

It is the second time in less than two weeks the navy has gone to help a crippled foreign boat.

On Feb 3, the navy rescued 138 Bangladeshi and Myanmar nationals from a sinking boat. One of the passengers in that boat had died before help reached.

Officials said it was unclear if those identified as Myanmar nationals were Rohingya - members of a stateless Muslim minority described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted groups - who had fled Myanmar.

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

Thailand's navy blocked more than 200 Rohingya boatpeople from entering the kingdom late last month as part of a new policy under which they will be given food and water but barred from landing if their boat is seaworthy.

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