SCMP has a new update (subscription only again):
Colonel Sangob Naktanom, deputy commander of the Ranong regional command on the Andaman coast, said the army had been funding the programme, under which village chiefs were trained to “gather together” boatpeople on suitable land.
He did not concede they were being held against their will. However, a photograph obtained yesterday by the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) showed a group of men in Muslim garb being detained behind barbed wire on an island – identifiable from rock formations as Koh Sai Daeng.
Colonel Sangob said the villagers provided food, water and clothing while they repaired the Rohingya’s boats. The Rohingya were then sent on their way. He said villagers sometimes found them new boats, or berths on boats heading to Indonesia and Malaysia. Others were handed to immigration police.
Colonel Sangob said the programme was an attempt to help the Rohingya, who did not want to stay in Thailand anyway. He denied that the army towed the Rohingya out to sea, or forced them to leave.
Reuters reported that Colonel Manat Khongpan, of the army’s internal security branch, testified to the Thai parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee that some villagers had “helped them repair their boat and towed it out to sea”. There was no explanation for this discrepancy.
“They never wanted to stay in Thailand, they wanted to keep going to Indonesia and Malaysia and so we helped the villagers help them,” Colonel Sangob said yesterday.
“The villagers did not want to do them any harm. The army did not want to harm them.”
Colonel Sangob said the regional Internal Security Operations Command, headed by Colonel Manat, was actively involved in monitoring the arrival of Rohingya in Thai waters.
Asked what inspired the programme, he said the growing annual influx of Muslim Rohingya was a potential security threat. “As the army, we have to ask ourselves, `Why are they coming here?’ … We had to tell the villagers to protect Thailand.
Colonel Manat denied in an earlier interview that the army was involved in handling Rohingya.
BP: The military seems to be wiping their hands of this issue by focusing on the what the villagers are doing as Reuters reports:
“The villagers in Ranong then helped them repair their boat and towed it out to sea. The villagers also prepared food to last them for 10 days. It’s not the villagers’ fault the refugees got lost,” he added.

BP: So were these villagers armed? The accounts by the survivors don’t mention about the villagers. The whole story has parallels with the Vietnamese boat people and their treatment in the 80s.