(Adds comments from Human Rights Watch, UNHCR)

By Hnin Yadana Zaw and Timothy Mclaughlin

YANGON, June 1 (Reuters) - More than 700 migrants found

packed aboard an overcrowded boat in the Andaman Sea were still

being held offshore by Myanmar's navy on Monday, more than three

days after the converted fishing vessel was intercepted off the

country's coast.

"The government is checking their identity, asking what they

want to do and where they want to go," government spokesman Ye

Htut told Reuters, without providing further details of the

boat's location.

"Usually, most of them want to go back to Bangladesh, so we

will arrange according to their wishes."

Government officials have been tight-lipped about the

identities of 727 migrants on the overcrowded fishing boat,

found drifting and taking on water early Friday, as well as

their eventual destination.

The government initially labelled the migrants "Bengalis", a

term used to refer to both Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims, a

largely stateless minority in Myanmar that the government

refuses to refer to by name. Officials later said they believed

most of those on board were from Bangladesh.

Myanmar has come under harsh criticism for its treatment of

Rohingya, more than 100,000 have fled persecution and poverty in

Rakhine State since 2012. Myanmar denies discriminating against

the Rohingya.

Journalists from Reuters and other foreign media were

briefly detained and turned back to land after approaching the

boat on Sunday, as it was seen surrounded by navy patrol


Navy officials made journalists delete photographs and

footage of the boat, and at one stage a sailor pointed a rifle

at reporters.

A navy officer, who declined to be named, told Reuters on

Sunday that some migrants on board were able to speak Rakhine -

a local language in the western state that is not widely spoken

in Bangladesh.

Myanmar's government says the Rohingya are illegal migrants

from neighbouring Bangladesh, and denied during a 17-nation

meeting on the crisis in Bangkok last week that it was to blame

for a crisis that has seen more than 4,000 Rohingya and

Bangladeshi "boat people" arrive across Southeast Asia in recent


The migrants were abandoned at sea by people smugglers after

Thailand launched a crackdown on trafficking in early May.

"Just days after the Bangkok summit on the boat people and

the Myanmar authorities are already shamefully violating what

was agreed there," Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human

Rights Watch's Asia division in Bangkok, told Reuters.

Myanmar should immediately grant access to the migrants to

international agencies, Robertson said, "especially since no one

in the international community believes Naypyidaw's rash and

rushed assessment that these people are all from Bangladesh".

Kasita Rochanakorn, a spokeswoman for the United Nations

High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) in Yangon, said the

organisation had previously been invited to help refugees at a

disembarkation point in southern Myanmar, but had been

"subsequently told that the place of disembarkation had been


The UNHCR was still waiting for more information on where

the migrants would be unloaded, she said in an emailed


Myanmar officials had said last month that another migrant

boat found at sea with more than 200 people on board was mostly

filled with Bangladeshis.

But interviews by Reuters found more than 150 Rohingya had

earlier been on the same boat, but were quietly whisked off by

traffickers before authorities brought the boat to shore.

(Additional Reporting By Soe Zeya Tun and Aubrey Belford in

Yangon; Writing By Aubrey Belford in Yangon; Editing by Alex