Authorities in Burma and Bangladesh have denied accounts by Rohingya refugees that a helicopter from their country attacked boats carrying refugees seeking to enter Bangladesh by sea on June 8.
A second story published on Saturday by Radio Free Asia, based on refugee accounts, said a Burmese helicopter took off from near Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, and set fire to three boats carrying nearly 50 Muslim Rohingyas fleeing sectarian violence in western Burma in an attack that is believed to have killed everyone on board, according to refugee accounts.
Three ethnic Rohingyas, whose names were withheld because they are currently in hiding in Bangladesh, said six boats tried to reach Teknaf in the southernmost part of Bangladesh on June 8 at around 4 p.m.
Rakhine State Attorney General Hla Thein denied the reports of the attack in an interview published by the RFA on Saturday.
“It is absolutely untrue,” Hla Thein was quoted as saying, responding to the refugees’ claims.
RFA reported that Col. Htein Linn, the minister for border area and security affairs in Rakhine State, also said he knew nothing about such an attack.
The RFA said Aye Maung, a member of parliament for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), said that Burmese authorities have only one helicopter stationed at Sittwe airport and that it is unarmed. The helicopter is used only as transportation for the regional prime minister, he said.
Calls to the Burmese foreign ministry and to the Burmese Embassy in Washington went unanswered on Saturday, RFA said.
The Bangladeshi newspaper The New Nation reported on Friday that the Bangladesh Border Guard denied any attack by one of its helicopters had taken place, said RFA.
The refugees told RFA that many of their family members and close friends were among the occupants of the destroyed boats, which they said caught on fire.
It was unclear from the published accounts what caused the boats to catch fire. Afterwards, they said, a helicopter flew off in the direction of Sittwe.
“They burned three of our six boats,” a young father said.
“Only one of the boats we boarded managed to reach the shore in Bangladesh, as far as I know of.”
In a previous story, the RFA had reported that it was unclear from the refugee’s story whether the helicopter was of Burmese or Bangladeshi origin.
Bangladesh has closed its border to Rohingya refugees fleeing Rakhine State, saying it had no obligation to accept them and its budget resources are inadequate.