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From: E. Phillip Lim <webxity@CYBERWAY.COM.SG>
Subject: MM + TH: Is the news media making too much of Karen twins, Johnny and Luther?
Date: Friday, April 28, 2000 2:51 AM

Hostage Thailand

Editorial, Straits Times Interactive
27 January 2000

CONFRONTED by Karen guerillas-turned-terrorists, Thailand had no choice but to do what it did -- act tough. It stormed the hospital in Ratchaburi, where the Myanmar rebels had held hundreds of people as hostages. In the event, all 10 guerillas from a little-known radical group called God's Army were killed. Fortunately, the hospital patients and medical workers escaped unharmed. It was the second time in three months that the Thais were held hostage by Myanmar rebels fighting their own battles against the Yangon government. Last October, five gunmen who called themselves the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors seized the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok to protest against Yangon's treatment of pro-democracy dissidents. The seige ended when the Thais allowed the gunmen to escape to the Myanmar border. Could the Thais, who are sympathetic to the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, have taken a soft line again? Frankly, no. To be sure, Thailand's security has been found wanting, but this is an issue for the Thais to address. What is clear is that Thailand would have given further hostage to fortune had it yielded to the demands of the Karen insurgents. They had wanted medical treatment for their guerillas wounded in battles, and the Thai army to stop shelling their positions along the border. There would have been serious consequences if Thailand had agreed to the rebel demands. It will surely encourage them to resort to more terrorist acts, not to mention that lenient treatment would further complicate Bangkok's already difficult ties with Yangon. As it is, there was political fallout from last October's embassy seige, when Myanmar reacted by closing its border with Thailand and prohibiting the Thais from fishing in Myanmar waters.

Strictly speaking, the war waged by Myanmar's insurgents, who have been fighting against the Yangon government for the past 50 years, is no business of the Thais. But the two countries are neighbours which share a long and porous border. Thailand has played host to thousands of Karen refugees and Myanmar's political dissidents for as long as anyone can remember. Because of proximity, Thailand has been drawn unwittingly into Myanmar's domestic politics. Now the Thais are miffed, to put it mildly, because they feel their hospitality had been grossly abused. Not only had the seizure of the hospital put the lives of innocent Thai people at risk, it was, as Thai officials said, an infringement of Thailand's sovereignty. The 200- strong God's Army, a breakaway group from the Karen National Union, is led by two teenage brothers whose followers believe they have divine protection. This group had, in recent weeks, faced heavy bombardment from the Yangon military, which was intent on punishing it for giving refuge to the gunmen who seized its embassy in Bangkok. This had forced the insurgents to flee across the Thai border. But the Thai army pushed them back and it had fired at their positions, after four Thai solders on border patrol were killed by booby traps planted by the guerillas. True, the hospital seige underlines the sheer desperation of the Karen guerillas, but they will win no support and little sympathy for their cause, however justified, if they resort to terrorism. There has been a long running war between Yangon and the insurgents at the Thai-Myanmar border, and there is no solution in sight. Terrorism provides no answer to the rebels' plight. In this instance, the Thai people had expected their government to act firmly, and it did.

Copyright © 1999 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

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