YANGON (AFP) - About 13,000 boat people, including many stateless Rohingya Muslims, fled Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh in 2012 with hundreds dying during the perilous sea voyage, the UN said Friday.A wave of deadly sectarian violence in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine has triggered an exodus of refugees, mostly heading for Malaysia.“We know of at least 485 people who’ve drowned or are lost at sea,” said Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, adding the real death toll was probably far higher. “These numbers are very worrying,” Tan said. “The fact that even women and children are increasingly risking this journey shows the growing sense of desperation among the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh,” she added.More than 10,000 people have attempted the sea voyage since October 2012 - a sharp increase on last season’s departures, according to the Arakan Project, which lobbies for the rights of the Rohingya, considered by the UN to be one of the most persecuted minority groups on the planet.“It’s already more than the previous boat season, which itself was the most we’d seen,” with more than 8,000 people making the journey, according to Arakan Project director Chris Lewa.She said the estimate does not include boats that left the Rakhine state capital Sittwe, where tens of thousands of Rohingya are living in camps, as her NGO is not able to monitor those departures.October is the end of the monsoon season and traditionally marks the start of an annual wave of migration by people trying to reach Malaysia from the Bay of Bengal - often on rickety wooden boats.The latest exodus shows “the urgent need for countries in the region to respond to this humanitarian crisis by keeping their doors open to people in need of international protection from Myanmar”, the UN’s Tan said.Myanmar views the roughly 800,000 Rohingya in Rakhine as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship. Thousands more live in squalid refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh.Malaysia has become the sole hope for many Rohingya refugees, after Bangladesh closed its shared border to them and Thailand as well as Singapore refused to provide asylum to members of the Muslim-minority group.Kuala Lumpur expressed concern at the influx of refugees, saying Malaysia’s patience was being tested.“There is the humanitarian aspect,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman told AFP on Friday, citing the recent rescue of 40 shipwrecked Rohingya who were turned away by Singapore.“But we cannot allow Malaysia to become a destination of choice,” he added, noting that the country was already sheltering some 80,000 Rohingya.Meanwhile, Indonesia’s foreign minister said Friday Jakarta would pledge $1 million in aid to western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where tens of thousands have been displaced by sectarian violence.Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims have left at least 180 people dead in Rakhine since June, and displaced more than 110,000 others, mostly Muslim Rohingya.Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said he would visit Myanmar on a 24-hour trip starting Monday “to deal with the issue of Rohingya on the invitation of the Myanmar government”.“The Indonesian government, when I visit Myanmar, will inform of our pledge to commit $1 million of humanitarian assistance to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Rakhine state,” Natalegawa told reporters.“Obviously there is a humanitarian problem, a challenge. The people in that state, I’m informed, are in a difficult state in terms of their basic needs.”Meanwhile, China has made a diplomatic complaint to Myanmar after three bombs landed on its territory during air attacks on ethnic minority rebels in Kachin state, just over their shared border, Beijing said Friday.“The Chinese side has launched representations with the Myanmar side requiring them to take effective and immediate measures to avoid the repetition of similar incidents,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.The bombs landed just inside China on Sunday evening and caused no casualties, she told reporters at a regular media briefing. Myanmar said Friday that air strikes targeting ethnic minority rebels in the northern state of Kachin were in self-defence, vowing “maximum restraint” in the face of growing international concern.Fighting between the military, known as the Tatmadaw, and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the far north of the country also known as Burma has worsened in recent days.In a statement, Myanmar’s reformist government accused the rebels of Kachin of blowing up railway tracks, roads and bridges, ambushing military columns and threatening local people.“Due to these circumstances, the Tatmadaw had to take military action as self defence and in order to protect the safety of lives and properties of the people, safe and smooth transportation and peace and tranquility of the region,” the statement said. Kashmir issue be resolved through talks: Pakistan

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 05-Jan-2013 here.