2,000 illegal migrants reach Indonesia and Malaysia

LANGKAWI - Nearly 2,000 boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been rescued or swum to shore in Malaysia and Indonesia, the authorities said yesterday, warning that more desperate migrants could still be in peril at sea.

The spate of arrivals comes as Thailand, a key stop on a South-east Asian people-smuggling route, cracks down following the discovery of mass graves that has laid bare the extent of the thriving trade.

Thousands of impoverished Muslim Rohingya - a minority unwanted by Myanmar's government - and Bangladeshis brave a perilous sea and land trafficking route through Thailand and into Malaysia, Indonesia and beyond every year.

Malaysian police said people smugglers had dumped at least 1,018 hungry migrants in shallow waters off the coast of the resort island of Langkawi since Sunday.

One boat was still stuck on a breakwater offshore, but the others were believed to have fled to sea.

"We know that there are more boats out there that want to come in," Langkawi police chief Haritth Kam Abdullah told Agence France-Presse, citing police intelligence.

The Indonesian authorities said they intercepted a boat off the coast of the north-western province of Aceh early yesterday with around 400 people aboard, a day after 573 people - described by one official as "sad, tired and distressed" - came ashore in Aceh.

At least 92 children were among those taken ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia.