Six-week baby girl found as Rohingya flee Myanmar

Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya people on a boat cross the river Naf, from Myanmar into Bangladesh, in Teknaf June 11, 2012.

SHAHPURI ISLAND, Bangladesh - A baby girl taken across a border river at night to escape violence in Myanmar was discovered alone in a boat Wednesday by Bangladeshi guards who have turned back hundreds of refugees.

The six-week-old infant was handed to a Bangladeshi family who said she was in poor health but that they would look after her in the absence of her parents.

"Our river patrol team intercepted the boat at 2:00 am," said Major Shafiqur Rahman, who is in charge of the Bangladesh operation to send back boatloads of Rohingya trying to flee from unrest in Myanmar by crossing the river Naf.

"They searched inside and found this Rohingya girl aged about one and a half months," Rahman told AFP by telephone. "The boat looked empty. It was a miracle but the baby looked frail.

"We have handed her to a couple who accepted her willingly."

Since Monday, Bangladesh river patrol teams have turned back 16 boats carrying more than 660 Rohingya, most of them women and children, fleeing sectarian violence in Myanmar that officials said has killed around 25 people.

Rahman said food and other items were found in the drifting boat, but it was unclear why there were no other passengers. He said that other Rohingya on board might have escaped or been robbed or attacked.

"The baby is very sick," Kabir Ahmed, the head of the family that has taken her in, told AFP by telephone from the village of Golarpara.

"I don't know how long she was on that boat. We've given her milk and she was also treated by some (border) guards," Kabir, a fisherman aged 56 who has six children, said. "Let's pray for her."

In the latest night-time attempt by Rohingya to flee religious violence in Myanmar, 109 people were turned back in three boats early on Wednesday, despite growing calls for the border to be opened.

The vessels were found near Shahpuri Island, a settlement at the mouth of the Naf river where it flows into the Bay of Bengal.

Around 25 people were killed and a further 41 wounded in five days of unrest in Myanmar, a Myanmar government official told AFP Tuesday, without giving details of how they died or whether they were Buddhists or Muslims.

Rohingya leaders say the real number of dead is much higher.

The government in Dhaka has said it will not allow any refugees from Myanmar as Bangladesh already been burdened with an estimated 300,000 Rohingya who have been living in the country's southeast for decades.

But international calls are growing for border controls to be relaxed to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

"By closing its border when violence (in Myanmar) is out of control, Bangladesh is putting lives at grave risk," said Bill Frelick, refugee programme director at Human Rights Watch, a campaign group.

"Bangladesh has an obligation under international law to keep its border open to people fleeing threats to their lives and provide them protection."

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has also urged Bangladesh to let in the fleeing Rohingya.

A state of emergency has been declared in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine, which has been rocked by a wave of rioting and arson, posing a major test for the reformist government which took power last year.

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