Sri Lankan navy rescues over 100 Rohingya refugees adrift in rough seas

COLOMBO, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's navy has rescued 104 Rohingya adrift off the Indian Ocean island's northern coast, an official said on Monday, as members of the Muslim minority continue to escape violence in Myanmar and hardship in Bangladesh refugee camps.

Many Rohingya risk their lives every year by attempting to reach Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia on rickety vessels, and their numbers have surged following deteriorating conditions in the camps and last year's military coup in Myanmar.

The boat was first detected by the Sri Lanka Navy when it was 3.5 nautical miles from shore and a search and rescue operation was launched to eventually tow the vessel to a northern harbour on Sunday night, a navy spokesperson, Captain Gayan Wickramasuriya, said.

"The people have been handed over to the police," Wickramasuriya told Reuters. "The police will present them before a magistrate who will decide the next step."

A navy statement said it had 104 Myanmar nationals were found aboard a small trawler suspected to have originated from Myanmar and was heading to Indonesia when it ran into engine trouble in rough seas.

Wickramasuriya 39 women and 23 minors were among the rescued people, and an 80-year old man, one mother and her two children were admitted to hospital suffering from minor sickness.

In 2018, more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following a military crackdown in Myanmar that witnesses said included mass killings and rape.

Rights groups and media have documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.

Myanmar authorities have said they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.

Reporting Uditha Jayasinghe; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Lincoln Feast & Simon Cameron-Moore

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