[Documents menu] Documents menu

Message-ID: <199803090951.EAA17402@access1.digex.net>
Date: Mon, 9 Mar 1998 04:51:05 -0500
Reply-To: Southeast Asia Discussion List <SEASIA-L@msu.edu>
Sender: Southeast Asia Discussion List <SEASIA-L@msu.edu>
From: Alex G Bardsley <bardsley@ACCESS.DIGEX.NET>
Subject: Fwd: TH,BU: Karen refugees flee to avoid forced relocation (SMH)
To: Multiple recipients of list SEASIA-L <SEASIA-L@msu.edu>

X-URL: http://www.smh.com.au/daily/content/980309/world/world3.html

Karen refugees flee to avoid forced relocation

By Craig Skehan, Sydney Morning Herald
Monday 9 March 1998

Thousands of Karen refugees from Burma have fled from three camps in north-western Thailand to avoid efforts to move them outside the Salween National Park, according to officials and aid workers.

The 10,000 Karen at the centre of the dispute are among 116,000 members of Burmese ethnic minorities in Thai camps scattered along the poorly delineated border.

The involvement of some Karen refugees in the illegal logging of highly valuable teak trees in the national park is partly behind the Thai Government's decision to move the camp inmates.

But Karen leaders say that only a small minority of the refugees were involved in the logging and that a crackdown on official corruption would be the best way to protect the forests.

Of 8,000 people at three camps in the same area of the park, only 1,300 have been moved to a resettlement site. Instead, an estimated 2,000 Karen refugees have disappeared into the dense forest, hoping to join the Mae Hta camp on the Salween River.

Aid workers say another 1,000 Karen have moved to a small existing camp just inside the national park boundary.

Some camp leaders and students who fled brutal repression in Burma in 1988, say the new site is vulnerable to cross-border attacks by Burmese soldiers and members of an opposing Karen Buddhist splinter group.

Thai authorities say the dangers are being exaggerated because the Karen National Union (KNU) army wants to maintain the existing isolated refugee camps as de facto support bases.

The authorities claim the camps act as a channel for funds, supplies and information to advance the rebel campaign for a separate Karen state which has been going on since 1948.

The Thai military has recently intensified surveillance, and on Friday six heavily armed Karen fighters were arrested on the Thai side of the Salween River.

The existing camps in the national park have a village atmosphere, and proximity to the border allows residents to sneak back to Burma to check on their property or visit friends and relatives.

Some aid workers feel that the refugees are becoming pawns, squeezed between KNU political tactics on the one hand and Thailand's attempts to manage relations with the Burmese military junta on the other.

Improved access at the resettlement site will make it easier for foreign aid workers, many from Germany, France, Britain and Australia, to provide medical and educational facilities.

"Those arriving are saying they would have come earlier if they had known what it was like," said Mr Paul Taylor, from the Burmese Border Consortium, a non-government group which has played a leading role in providing humanitarian assistance to Karen refugees.

But he is concerned about a Thai Government order which has insisted aid groups cut food and other assistance to families who are trying to escape relocation.

Humanitarian organisations are attempting to dampen unrealistic expectations that the Government will abandon its relocation program and Thai patience is being encouraged.

However, those with a long involvement in the Burmese refugee saga are worried that a lack of co-operation will eventually see the military using force to either relocate Karen refugees out of the National Park or repatriate them back to Burma.

Thirty three long-neck Karen villagers have been reunited with their families in a refugee camp in north-west Thailand after spending three years in a "human zoo" tourist attraction.

Thai authorities, severely embarrassed by articles in European newspapers which criticised the exploitative style of the tourist operation, moved quickly to shut the show "village" and return the Karen to their families.

This material is subject to copyright and any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.

[World History Archives]    [Gateway to World History]    [Images from World History]    [Hartford Web Publishing]