Daily News- July 10- 2002- Wednesday
Shan mustn't be returned to BurmaRangoon seizes big base
Shan mustn't be returned to Burma
For the sake of humanity the Thaksin government must not forcibly repatriate the 498 ethnic Shan refugees who are residing in makeshift camps in Chiang Mai's Wieng Haeng district. In Burma, they would face great uncertainty. The displaced Shans, the vast majority of whom are women and children, had fled for their lives following the latest round of fighting between Shan rebels and Burmese government troops which erupted in late May. It does not take a genius to figure out why the Burmese government wants this particular group back. Some have family members who have joined the rebel Shan State Army to take up arms against the Burmese government .
Moreover, there have been reports that the Burmese would be willing to open the border if Thai authorities repatriated this particular group. Rangoon didn't say anything about the 120,000 Burmese nationals, most of them ethnic Karen, residing in other camps along the border.
Nevertheless, the idea of sending the 498 Shan in Wieng Haeng district back in return for the opening of the border was music to the ears of many people, especially those with vested economic interests with the junta. The idea is to resume cross-border trading, get local businessmen off the politicians' backs and return the border to normalcy.
But the Thai-Burmese border has never been normal. No matter what any government says, the fundamental problems - insurgencies, refugees, drug trafficking and overlapping claims - remain seemingly insoluble problems between the two sides.
What's appalling is that some Thai government officials agree with the idea of sending the refugees back as it would put Thai-Burmese relations back on track.Never mind that fighting ended only a few days ago and never mind that the area is still considered unsafe.
Military intelligence officers on the front lines insist the conflict is far from over, saying the hiatus at the moment is due to the fact that the Burmese government has to rotate fresh new troops into the area following over six weeks of intensive battles with the SSA.
For the past four years or so, the Burmese government has purposely displaced ethnic villagers in Shan State as part of a move to systematically deny the rebels the support that they usually receive from them.These internally displaced people are forced to relocate to a different area within the reach of Burmese government troops. Those unable to stand the pressure have crossed into Thailand to undertake menial work that most Thais refuse to touch.
But the idea of sending back the recently displaced Shan at Wieng|Haeng has prompted human rights activists and some leading members |of Parliament to call on the government to reconsider the plan for the|simple reason that it violates international norms and humanitarian practices.
Thailand's international standing is at stake here and the Thaksin administration knows that the prime minister cannot afford any more setbacksThe government has already lost a great deal of its moral authority when it decided, even before taking power, to hold hands with of one of the world's most condemned regimes, the State Peace and Democracy Council.Perhaps the premier should know that the latest round of debate over the Rangoon regime is centred on a recently published report that documented the use of rape by Burmese troops in the war against the Shan.
If the Thaksin government decides it is in the best interest of the nation to repatriate the displaced Shan at Wieng Haeng, it must live with the fact that blood will be on its hands.Perhaps Thaksin should be reminded of his Thai Rak Thai campaign promise to Thai citizens of Shan ethnicity that he would do his utmost to help those Shans who remain stateless.
Rangoon seizes big base
Two Burmese infantry battalions backed by their Buddhist Karen allies seized a major stronghold of the Karen National Union yesterday.Anti-Rangoon Karen fighters left their Law Thee Hta camp, located in Burma opposite Tak's Mae Ramat district, about 3pm yesterday and headed north after a three-hour attack by a combined force of Burmese soldiers and their allies from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a Thai border official said.
During the battle at least 10 mortar rounds landed on Thai soil, he said.The attacking force consisted of about 350 Burmese soldiers from the 201st and 202nd light infantry battalions and Karen fighters from the DKBA's division 999, the border official said.There were about 70 KNU rebels defending the camp, he added.
Field radio reports from both sides during the battle revealed that four Burmese soliders were killed and eight others wounded, while the KNU's losses were one killed and nine wounded.The captured KNU camp was burned down, and one Burmese battalion was stationed in the area.
The border official said an 18-year-old Karen villager, Mo Htu Por, was injured in one arm by one of the mortar rounds that exploded on Thai soil in Mae Ramat yesterday.Thai soldiers yesterday scoured the area where the shells landed to gather evidence for use in making a formal protest to Burmese authorities.The area was declared unsafe as several of the stray shells failed to explode on landing and had yet to be disposed of, the official said.On Sunday, five Burmese soldiers were killed and 12 others wounded in an attack by KNU rebels.
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