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Rohingya boat capsizes, 60 feared dead
November 5, 2013: Around 60 ethnic Rohingya fleeing persecution and violence in western Myanmar were feared dead on Sunday after their boat capsized in the Bay of Bengal.
Only six survivors of the boatload, thought to number up to 70, have been found according to Aung Win, a Rohingya community leader in the town of Sittwe. The boat left Rakhine state at 10pm on Saturday and is believed to have capsized early on Sunday morning. “Families of the missing have been keeping watch on the beach since Sunday morning. I saw them waiting to find the dead bodies,” Aung Win told ucanews.com.
No bodies have yet been found, he said, adding that security forces were failing to carry out any sort of rescue mission. There have been unconfirmed reports that the police are searching for the six who survived.
With the rainy season nearing its end, the annual exodus of refugee-laden boats from Rakhine state is likely to rise. Observers fear the number of deaths will also increase, given the perilous nature of the voyages to Bangladesh, Thailand and beyond on rickety, crowded wooden vessels.
At least 140,000 people, the vast majority Rohingya, were displaced by two waves of violence between minority Rohingya Muslims and majority Rakhine Buddhists last year that left at least 200 people dead.
Thousands have since fled on boats organized by networks of people smugglers who charge hefty fees for the journey. Bribes of up to $2,000 per boat to security forces allow the practice to continue relatively unhindered.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said last Friday in Geneva that it believed around 1,500 people had left Rakhine state in the past week as the annual boat season begins. An estimated 28,000 people, mainly Rohingya, have left by sea since June last year, a UNHCR spokesperson told AFP, while "over 400 have died or gone missing" so far this year. In May a boatload of Rohingya attempting to flee Cyclone Mahasen went down off Myanmar's western coast, leaving 58 dead.
Meanwhile, more violence erupted on Saturday in Rakhine state’s Pauktaw after the body of a Rohingya was found. The discovery was made after six Rohingya left their camp for internally displaced persons to collect firewood.
According to Aung Win, security forces confronted the Rohingya and shot them, although this has not been independently verified. The incident left three people wounded, one of whom later died in hospital in Sittwe. “The dead body of a Rakhine woman was also found and it remains unclear who did this but security forces blamed the Rohingya for a retaliatory attack,” said Aung Win.
Rights groups have accused local authorities of attempting an ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Rakhine state, and say they have failed to tackle discrimination against the stateless Muslim group.