MON refugees seeking sanctuary in Thailand from the civil war Burma are being harassed by Thai authorities to facilitate the construction of an oil pipeline between the two countries, according to US refugee workers in Bangkok and Mon relief officials.
Pressure on the Mon, one of the many indigenous Burmese minorities involved in a five-decade crusade against the ruling Slorc (State Law and Order Restoration Council), has increased steadily since the Thai and Burmese governments reached an agreement on the passage of the natural gas pipeline through Mon territory, according to Phra Wongsa Pala, a Buddhist monk and chairman of the Mon National Relief Committee.
Human Rights Watch/Asia reported in December last year that Thailand's treatment of Mon refugees" falls far short of international standards." In 1994 Thailand forced more than 6,000 Mon refugees back into Burma who were subsequently attacked by the Burmese military.
The report suggests mistreatment of refugees in "almost certainly linked to economic and security concerns" about development projects in Burma, including the proposed natural gas pipeline. Unocal , a US company, is one of the companies named in the report as being involved with the natural gas project.
Harassment now includes daily and nightly police raids on Mon temples along the Burma-Thai border, and persecution of the sick and disabled, the reports said. In raids authorities arrest men, women and children, torture victims, war-wounded, and seriously ill refugees, including those with UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) recognition, a special status accorded by the UN to political refugees, the reports alleged.
There are also threats to repatriate all ethnic Mon Buddhist monks back to Burma.
"Pressure is being placed on the little people," says Marryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful co-ordinator Vicki-Armour Hileman, of Davenport, Iowa, Hileman spent six years as a missionary in Asia including two years working with Mon refugees in Thailand.
"The Unocal pipeline, which the Burmese are trying to force through Mon territory, would mean an economic boom for Thailand. By rounding up the helpless, they hope to force the Mon into signing a peace accord and agreeing to the pipeline," Hileman said.
The Mon who occupy the area that is largely virgin jungle, are strongly opposed to the pipeline which they say will destroy their habitat, exploit their labour, and directly benefit the Slorc financially. They have voiced their opposition in several letters to Unocal.
Repeated raids are spreading panic among refugees, many of whom have been tortured in Burma and are terrified of arrest. In the last year, three have been seriously injured trying to avoid the police.
During an April 19 raid, Maung Kyan, a severely handicapped ethnic Mon refugee in need of serious ongoing medical treatment, was arrested by Yannawa police and put into detention with his wife and two small children.
Maung Kyan and his family all have UNHCR status, which in most countries assured protection until a safe return to their homeland is possible. Thailand however, is not a signatory of the UN Protocol.
Maung Kyan, who lost his eye-sight and both arms in a land mine explosion ten year ago, has recently had a cornea transplant and required daily medication and monitoring. The Mon National Relief Committee fears that without proper medical care and a clean environment, he could lose his eye.
The US embassy, the UNHCR, and various refugee groups have expressed concern over Maung Kyan's welfare, but have been unsuccessful in obtaining freedom for him and his family.
The Mon National Relief Committee had asked the US State Department and concerned US groups to call for his release and an end to the harassment of Mon refugees.