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198 boat people from Myanmar picked up off coast of Indonesia's Aceh

INDONESIA'S navy picked up 198 boat people from Myanmar in critical condition after they were forced to sea by authorities in Thailand and drifted for three weeks without an engine, an official said today.

Twenty-two others died on the crossing from Thailand after fleeing the military dictatorship in Myanmar, navy officer Tedi Sutardi said, citing witness accounts.

Their small wooden boat was discovered by fisherman Monday off Aceh's coast in northern Sumatra and towed to shore. The 40-foot (12-meter) vessel had no engine and the passengers had run out of food and water, Sutardi said.

"They were standing on the boat for 21 days because there was no space to sit," he said. "It is a miracle they survived."

It was the second load of Rohingyas, a stateless Muslim group facing decades of persecution in Myanmar, to arrive in Indonesia in a month.

The survivors recounted being beaten and set adrift by Thai authorities, Sutardi said.

At least 56 were admitted to the Idirayeuk General Hospital with severe dehydration, including a 13-year-old boy, said Muji, an emergency ward nurse. Like many Indonesians, Muji goes by a single name.

A witness told investigators the group was among 1,000 Rohingyas working in Thailand as migrant laborers, Sutardi said. They spoke of being forced to leave Thailand on nine motorless boats in December after being detained as illegal workers.

Some of them were beaten and "we could see they had black and blue marks on their backs," Sutardi said.

The Rohingyas, an ethnic minority not recognized by Myanmar's military regime, numbers about 800,000 in that country. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Middle East.


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