Bangladesh has destroyed at least 30 wooden fishing boats to deter local captains from smuggling Rohingya refugees and illegal drugs across the border from strife-torn Myanmar, officials said today.
Border guards seized the vessels and arrested the captains after they were intercepted on Tuesday evening bringing more than 700 Rohingya Muslims across the river from Myanmar's westernmost Rakhine state.
The boatmen were also caught in possession of about 100,000 "yaba" pills, an illegal stimulant popular in Bangladesh, said a border guard official.
More than half a million Rohingya have fled ethnic bloodshed in Rakhine since late August, many by boat across the Naf River which divides Myanmar and Bangladesh.
"These brokers (boatmen) were smuggling people," one border guard told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media.
"We were asked to destroy the 30 boats. These are hand- pulled vessels, not run by engines", he added, saying non- motorised boats were used to avoid detection.
A government official confirmed 39 people, mostly Rohingya living in Bangladesh, were jailed for six months for "excessively charging" refugees for passage across the Naf River.
"The BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) has done an appropriate job," Zahid Siddique, a local magistrate and government administrator, told AFP.
Gangs of boat owners, crew and fishermen have been charging the fleeing Rohingya upwards of USD 250 for the two- hour journey that normally costs no more than USD 5. Bangladesh's elite Rapid Action Battalion this week rescued 20 Rohingya being held hostage by local gangs demanding huge fares from the refugees. (PTI)
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