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June 24, 2017

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Over 100 Rohingya asylum seekers rescued off Indonesia

COT TRUENG, Indonesia/YANGON -- Fishermen in western Indonesia rescued more than 100 ethnic Rohingya who had sailed from Myanmar, an official said Wednesday, with an asylum seeker claiming they had been shot at in Thai waters.

The 121 Rohingya were found drifting late Tuesday around 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the coastal village of Cot Trueng, on the northernmost tip of Sumatra island in Aceh province, village chief Mukhtar Samsyah told AFP.

"Their boat ran out of petrol as they tried to sail from Myanmar to Thailand," he said.

But 21-year-old asylum seeker Farid Alam claimed the lack of fuel was due to sabotage by the Thai authorities.

He said the boat carrying the Rohingya, including six women and two children, had been intercepted in Thai waters three days after they left Myanmar around a month ago.

"They came onto our boat, threw away our food and petrol and then towed our boat further out to sea. During the night, they shot at us," he told AFP by phone in Malay, from an immigration detention center in Lhokseumawe city.

Alam said there were originally 12 more members on the boat, but he believed they had been "shot dead and fell into the sea."

All of those rescued were taken to the detention center Wednesday morning after being given a place to sleep, food and water.

"We want to stay in any country with Muslims. We don't mind where, Aceh is good too. But please don't send us back to Myanmar. Just shoot all of us — we are better off dead than going back to our country," Alam said.

The U.N. considers the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim ethnic group, to be one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Myanmar views its roughly 800,000 Rohingya inhabitants as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, denying them citizenship.

Buddhist-Muslim unrest in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine has left at least 180 people dead and more than 110,000 displaced since June 2012.

Almost 6,000 Rohingya fleeing the violence have illegally entered Thai waters since October, the Thai army said earlier this month.

In 2009 Thai authorities admitted to towing Rohingya asylum seekers out to sea after claims they had been abused and set adrift with minimal food and water.

A policeman died and 42 people were injured in Myanmar on Wednesday during a protest by farmers over what they said was a land grab by a private company, a growing source of tension as people assert their rights after the end of military rule.

Twenty-seven police were among the injured on the sixth day of demonstrations in Maletto Village Tracts, around 40 miles (64 km) west of Yangon in the fertile Irrawaddy Delta, the rice bowl of Myanmar.

The authorities had imposed a curfew in the area when the protesters become aggressive on Tuesday but it had been ignored, a police officer told Reuters.

"They just kept demanding immediate handover of the land to them and started to attack the policemen with sticks, daggers and slingshots with darts," he said.

According to the officer, police fired warning shots and rubber bullets.

The land, which includes fish ponds, belongs to Orchard Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Co.

"About 1,000 acres of land had been confiscated about 10 years ago without anything being done to it. Nothing is grown and no fish are kept there," said Win Cho, an activist.

Police officials could not give any information about the disputed land and company officials were not immediately available for comment.

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