JAKARTA (DPA) — The Indonesian military told local fishermen not to help boats carrying migrants and refugees land unless they were sinking, a spokesman said Tuesday, adding that passengers may have been deliberately thrown overboard to attract attention.
Thousands of migrants from Myanmar's Rohingya ethnic minority and Bangladesh are said to be stranded on boats in South-East Asian waters.
The military has deployed four warships and an aircraft to patrol the sea to prevent refugee boats from entering Indonesian territory, military spokesman Fuad Basya said.
Indonesian fishing boats and marine police rescued nearly 800 people late last week from a sinking vessel near the coast.
"Intelligence indicates that they deliberately threw people overboard so that they would be saved by fishermen," Fuad said.
"So we advise fishermen not to take the refugees unless they are drowning or the boats stall," he said.
He said the military would turn undocumented migrants away unless the Foreign Ministry advised otherwise.
Thousands of migrants are believed to be still at sea, possibly with little food after their boats were turned away by Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. In some cases, the crew had abandoned the vessels.
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