While the Thai media continue with their hard task of speculating on which celebrity is pregnant meanwhile the foreign media are providing some initial investigations on what is happening with the Rohingya boat people. A few days ago, BP blogged on SCMP going to Ranong to investigate what was happening. Now, it is Al Jazeera‘s turn:

Thailand’s military is facing fresh allegations of abuse of ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

Villagers in Kura Buri on Thailand’s southern coast have told Al Jazeera that they were asked to remove the engine of a boat with Rohingyas on board before it was towed back out to sea.

It is unclear what happened to the people on the vessel in December.

BP: Isn’t this just outsourcing their work to civilians to provide deniability?

The Al Jazeera article continues:

On Thailand’s Andaman coast, Al Jazeera’s Selina Downes also found decaying boats that had been dumped by the Thai authorities.

Local villagers said that one boat had recently been discovered carrying about 46 Rohingya who had spent almost two weeks travelling from Bangladesh.

Decaying boats

"You can see all manner of discarded items including shoes, caps, blankets, water bottles … No one here knows what has happened to these 46 people, or at least no one is telling us," Downes said.

The allegations were made as Thailand offered to host a regional conference aimed at stemming the flow of illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis leave Myanmar aboard rickety boats each year in hopes of finding work elsewhere, with many travelling to Thailand by sea and then overland to Malaysia.

Saman Maneejansuk, a member of a civilian force trained by Thailand’s military to round up illegal immigrants, told Al Jazeera that the Rohingya were a threat to the area’s security.

"We practise how to shoot guns and train after dark because sometimes the Rohingya come at night by boat and run up into the hills. We don’t want them coming here," he said.

From AFP the other day:

CNN reported Thursday claims that the army had handed the refugees over to a civilian militia, citing army and senate sources.

The army has said it is investigating the incident but spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd denied the militia claims.

"It is impossible for the Thai military to do that," Sunsern told AFP.

"The Thai military has no duty to push those illegal migrants back (to sea). If we find illegal migrants, we must follow the process — detain them and inform the police. We transfer them to the police to proceed further," he said.

BP: Those denials work as long as no one investigates. Fortunately, we have the foreign media to investigate – it should be noted they also looked into a number of abuses under Thaksin particularly in the early years when the Thai media did nothing.

We also see how the rhetoric shows it is all style and little substance from Abhisit. First, we were promised an investigation, but as The Nation reports:

Abhisit has promised to investigate the incident but has assigned ISOC to carry out the probe, which is therefore not expected to be impartial.

BP: Given ISOC is the agency accused, they are basically investigating themselves. Is the way to achieve an impartial investigation?

Second, we are told the UNHCR will be given access, but you have to consider everything about what this entails:

The Thai government will allow representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to visit rohingya boat people who are detained following their illegal entry into the country, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Saturday.

Abhisit said the UNHCR could file a request through the Foreign Ministry if it wants to send representatives to visit the boat people.

He said the Foreign Ministry had not so far received any request from the UNHCR.

BP: The UNHCR has said they already sent a request, but the Thai Foreign Ministry does not appear to be able to find the request or has lost the letter (note, have e-mailed the UNHCR for confirmation, but am still awaiting a reply). However, now, the problem has been solved as the Thai authorities have already "escorted" them back to the sea meaning the UNHCR won’t be able to access them.

Third, the lack of civilian control over the military is already well-known, but this is even more stark as Abhisit owes the military for making him PM as BBC reports:

In fact the difficulty Mr Abhisit has encountered in getting information from ISOC about another group of 126 Rohingyas it detained last Friday suggests he will get very little co-operation from the armed forces.

For six days the military stonewalled the government - despite the fact that Mr Abhisit is officially the commander of ISOC.

The foreign ministry has struggled to explain to journalists why the government cannot say where the missing 126 boat people are, despite an official request from the UN refugee agency to see them.

On Friday, the government was bluntly told by the local ISOC commander that the 126 had gone.

No-one seems sure where, but the foreign ministry official I spoke to thought they had been pushed back out to sea.

The reason Mr Abhisit can do little about this embarrassing situation is that he owes his job at least in part to the military.

It was pressure from the army commander General Anupong Paochinda in December that helped persuade political factions to desert the previous government and back Mr Abhisit’s bid to become prime minister.

"The bargain the Democrats have made with the military is constraining them," says Thitinan Pongsudirak, from Chulalongkorn University.

"It’s clear the military has undue leverage over the Abhisit government, and this undermines his entire morality-based platform."

BP: Yes, others have said the same thing, but it is much better when the quotemeister confirms it.