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>
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
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
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.