The fate of the ethnic Rohingya refugees has gained much public attention recently with more refugees boats passing by the western coastline of Thailand, some of them being intercepted by Thai authorities. Earlier this month the Thai army discovered about 900 mostly Rohingya migrants in Southern Thailand held by human traffickers in two detention camps (we reported).
It seems that some Thai officials play a questionable role in the handling of the Rohingya refugees (as they have already in the past). While the refugees have been permitted to stay in Thailand for half a year, some authorities allegedly sold the Rohingya refugees to human traffickers instead of deporting them back to Burma, where they are fleeing sectarian, targeted violence against them.
Also, Supreme Commander Tanasak Patimapragorn reportedly slammed the international community for “not doing enough” to help the migrants – at the same time apparently oblivious that the Thai authorities have regularly blocked international agencies such as the UNHCR from accessing them in the past.
And then there was this odd remark by Thailand’s prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, as reported by fellow Asian Correspondent blogger Francis Wade:
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Sinawatra indulged in some loaded conjecturing yesterday when she warned that the 840-plus Rohingya in detention in Thailand “might join the southern insurgency rather than seek asylum in a third country”. (…)
The Prime Minister’s statement, apparently unsubstantiated, is a reckless one, based mainly on the hackneyed assumption that any disenfranchised Muslim is automatically a terrorist threat. It risks directing anti-Muslim sentiment at the Rohingya, who are in Thailand in part to escape that branding.
“Thai PM: Rohingya ‘might join southern insurgency’”, by Francis Wade, Asian Correspondent, January 16, 2013
Reckless indeed. Coinciding with this, The Nation reported Sunday:
Some Rohingya migrants arrested for illegal entry have confessed to being trained by insurgents to undertake attacks in the restive deep South, according to a highly-placed source in the Justice Ministry’s Forensic Science Institute.
The source said the men had entered Thailand through Mae Sot in northern Tak province and later moved to Sungai Kolok in Narathiwat in the far south. Their case was discovered in 2009. (…)
RKK refers to the armed wing of the deep South insurgent movement. It stands for Runda Kumpulan Kecil, a Malay name that means “small patrol groups”. (…)
Authorities also found that some illegal immigrants had smuggled explosive substances from India, she said.
“‘2 Rohingya trained by RKK Muslim insurgents’“, The Nation, January 26, 2013
This is quite sensationalist and highly unreflective reporting even for The Nation* to base it off one single source. As usual, Thai media outlets would only sought comments from authorities and officials and take them at face value. But what about that ‘highly-placed’ source’? A female from the Justice Ministry’s Forensic Science Institute (see previous quote above) – hm, that can be only one person…!
After running blood tests on detained Rohingyas in the South, a forensic expert has found that some of them use drugs, and a few of them have been trained by the RKK Muslim insurgents.
Central Institute of Forensic Science Director Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand has revealed that the DNA tests on over 800 Rohingyas indicated that some of them use drugs, but she could not find any evidence that they are connected with drug dealers.
“Forensic expert: Some Rohinyas have connection with RKK“, NNT, January 28, 2013
AHA! Yes, the (formerly) prominent forensic scientist with the flashy hairstyles, Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand, indeed links the Rohingya refugees to the violent insurgency in Southern Thailand. Quite amazing that she and her team can – according to the article – determine from blood samples, drug tests and DNA examinations that some refugees are active insurgents…!
Here’s the kicker: this is not the first time she has done this. As hinted in the news stories quoted above, most of her stunning claims originate from 2009, when she said that “explosive residue” was found on a Rohingya refugee boat. And as Bangkok Pundit noted back then, she might have based her ‘findings’ on the GT200 – the infamous and expensive fraudulent bomb-sniffing device, which is nothing more than an empty plastic shell with a dowsing rod on it. It is (despite real scientific evidence about its ineffectiveness) still in use by the armed forces today – and also still enjoys the continued endorsement of Dr. Pornthip!
It is one thing that there might be people with criminal or other questionable backgrounds among the refugees, but linking them to the Southern Thailand insurgency can only add to the demonization of the ethnic Rohingya, who are suffering the same witch-hunt in Burma – and all that based on a spectacularly outrageous claim with little to no evidence.
*NOTE: After the publishing of this article, I was informed by persons familiar with the matter that the story indeed originates from a local pool news agency item, while The Nation did their double-checking with Dr. Pornthip and were asked not to name her as the source, the agency went ahead citing her name anyways…!
Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and freelance foreign correspondent based in Bangkok, Thailand. He writes about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and is also reports for international news media such as Channel NewsAsia. You can follow him on Twitter @Saksith.