800 rescued off Aceh as pressure grows for solution

800 rescued off Aceh as pressure grows for solution
Rohingya migrants sit and stand on a boat.

LANGSA, Indonesia - About 800 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were rescued off Indonesia yesterday, as Myanmar undermined calls for a coordinated response to South-East Asia's human-trafficking crisis by threatening to boycott a planned summit.

Hundreds more migrants were aboard a boat that was intercepted offshore by Indonesia's navy, a military spokesman said, as authorities worked out what to do with it.

The Indonesian and Malaysian policy of turning away stricken boats filled with starving Bangladeshis and ethnic Rohingyas from Myanmar has been met with outrage from Washington and the United Nations.

Activists estimate up to 8,000 migrants may be at sea in South-East Asia, with horrific tales emerging of starvation and death.

The unfolding humanitarian crisis appears to have been precipitated by a Thai police crackdown that has thrown busy people-smuggling routes into chaos.

Indonesian police said at least 797 people were rescued by fisherman in Aceh province yesterday.

At least 61 children were ferried to shore by Indonesian fishermen. Nearly 600 migrants were already sheltering in Aceh after managing to get ashore in recent days.

Earlier yesterday, a boat carrying about 300 Rohingyas left Thailand's waters, a Thai official said, after authorities repaired its engine and provided some food.

Its passengers included many children and women who had wept as they begged for food and water after arriving near the southern Thai island of Koh Lipe on Thursday.

They told a boatload of journalists of a grim two-month odyssey in which 10 passengers had died of starvation or illness and were tossed overboard.

A Thai official said the passengers - who wanted to reach Malaysia - declined offers to come ashore in Thailand, fearing they would be sent back to Myanmar. They planned instead to make for Indonesia, the official said.

Regional governments have been roundly chastised for what Human Rights Watch described as a deadly game of "human ping pong" in rejecting the migrants.

Spokesman Jeff Rathke said US ambassadors in the region were coordinating with UN agencies and governments on ways to help.

The Bangladeshis are thought mainly to be economic migrants escaping their country's grinding poverty.

But the Muslim Rohingyas flee by the thousands each year to escape state-sanctioned discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and recent sectarian violence against them.

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