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58 missing after boat capsizes off Myanmar

Police officers walk in the rain as they guard a Rohingya internally displaced persons (IDP) camp outside of Sittwe, on Tuesday.

Source : Agencies / 15 May 2013

Fifty-eight Rohingya Muslims are missing after their boat capsized off the Myanmar coast as they tried to flee a looming cyclone, state media reported yesterday.

The boat, which got into trouble on Monday night, was one of seven vessels carrying Rohingya to higher ground from a camp in Pauktaw township in Rakhine state, according to state television. “The rescue operation is ongoing because 58 people are still missing,” it said, adding that 42 people had been rescued.

More than 100 Rohingya were aboard the boat, said James Munn, an official with the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The UN said tens of thousands of Rohingya were endangered by the storm. About 140,000 people — mostly Rohingya — are living in flimsy tents and makeshift shelters in Rakhine state. They sought refuge in the camps after two outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence last year.

Ashok Nigam, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, said nearly 70,000 of the displaced should be moved to higher ground. They are in low-lying areas along the coast that are highly susceptible to tidal surges and flooding. It was raining at the camps yesterday.Cyclone Mahasen is expected to make landfall late Thursday or early Friday.

The storm was heading toward Chittagong but could shift east and deliver a more direct hit on Rakhine state, according to Myanmar’s Meteorology Department. Heavy rains and strong winds are expected to batter Rakhine.

Myanmar state television reported Monday that 5,158 people had been relocated from low-lying camps in Rakhine state to safer shelters. International rights and aid agencies urged that the evacuations be stepped up.

 

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