Myanmar police arrest trafficking gang linked to deaths of 13 Rohingya

Myanmar is facing genocide accusations at the United Nation’s top court following the mass exodus. PHOTO: AFP

YANGON - Myanmar police have arrested 12 suspected members of a human trafficking gang linked to the deaths of 13 Rohingya, the military said.

Police raided a compound in Hlegu town near the commercial hub Yangon on Dec 9, seizing five vehicles and an oil tanker used in the trafficking, the junta said on Tuesday.

The gang had trafficked 255 “Bengalis” from western Rakhine state, it said, using a pejorative word for the Muslim minority, who face widespread discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

It did not say what their final destination was.

Thirteen Rohingya found dead on a roadside near Hlegu on Dec 5 were linked to the ongoing investigation into the gang, it said.

The statement did not give details on how they had died, but a Rohingya source and local media said the group had been travelling inside the oil tanker.

Nineteen other Rohingya waiting for traffickers to take them on the next leg of their journey were detained in the raid on the compound in Hlegu.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled a military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017, arriving in neighbouring Bangladesh with harrowing stories of murder, rape and arson.

Myanmar is facing genocide accusations at the United Nation’s top court following the mass exodus.

The Rohingya still in Myanmar are widely seen as interlopers from Bangladesh and are largely denied citizenship, many rights and access to healthcare and education.

Rights groups say they face arrest and prosecution for attempting to travel between townships, or outside of Rakhine state.

Each year, hundreds make perilous attempts to flee the country, often travelling by boat to Malaysia or Indonesia.

Earlier in December, the junta said 70 Rohingya hiding in a truck transporting ginger were arrested north of Yangon after the vehicle crashed into a roadside canal.

More recently, two Myanmar Rohingya activist groups said at least 100 ethnic Rohingya are stranded in a boat off India’s Andaman Islands and as many as 16 to 20 of them may have died of thirst, hunger or drowned.

One of the groups, Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network’s Rohingya Working Group, said the Rohingya had been adrift for more than two weeks without food and water.

The stranded boat was approached by five Indian ships late on Tuesday, a source told Reuters.

A spokesman for the Indian Navy said he did not have any details to share.

A spokesman for the Coast Guard did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

“We estimate that probably as many as 20 have died… some from hunger and thirst, and others jumped overboard in desperation. This is absolutely awful and outrageous,” said Ms Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project which works to support Myanmar’s Rohingyas.

Another boat, carrying more than a hundred Rohingya, was rescued by Sri Lanka’s navy on the weekend. AFP, REUTERS

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