30 Muslim Rohingya escape jail in Thailand's south

AP News
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Posted: Aug 09, 2013 9:05 AM

BANGKOK (AP) — Thirty Muslim Rohingya asylum seekers from Myanmar detained in southern Thailand for illegally entering the country escaped from a police jail cell on Friday, 10 days after they were moved from a crowded detention center, police said.

More than 1,700 asylum seekers from Myanmar's beleaguered Rohingya minority who arrived in Thailand by boat early this year are being held in crowded prisons. The 30 who escaped are among hundreds who protested last month against the cramped conditions.

The men used blades to cut the cell's bars and used ropes made of clothes to escape from the Sadao district police station in Songkhla province early Friday, Police Maj. Gen. Suwit Choensiri said.

He said police found the cell empty when they brought up food and water.

"These men had been making noise and sang loudly every night since they got here. We suspect they were trying to drown out the noise from cutting the bars," Suwit said by telephone.

Thailand's government initially said the asylum seekers could stay in the country for six months, but extended the deadline indefinitely. Human rights activists have called for authorities not to deport the Rohingya back to Myanmar, where they face widespread discrimination.

"Not only were (the escapees) stressed out because they lacked space, but also they were frustrated about the situation as they have no idea about their future," Suwit said. "If found, they won't face charges for escaping, but we will have to be more careful now."

He said police were checking closed circuit television footage to trace the men.

Sectarian violence in Myanmar involving the Rohingya has left hundreds dead and many more homeless since last year. Most of the homeless have elected to travel to other countries.

Early this year, Thai authorities conducted several raids in the southern provinces and detained hundreds of Rohingya refugees.