Refugee crisis deepens along Thai-Burmese border
February 25, 1997
Web posted at: 9:00 p.m. EST (0100 GMT)
In this story:
From Correspondent Tom Mintier
ALONG THE THAI-BURMESE BORDER (CNN) -- From a distance, high
above the Morger refugee camp in Thailand, it looks peaceful
enough. But for nearly 9,000 ethnic Karen refugees, life in
the camp is anything but.
The Burmese army is less than two miles away. In recent
weeks, the number of refugees has swelled along the
Thai-Burmese border as the army tries to stamp out the Karen
National Union (KNU), the last major ethnic group still
fighting for autonomy from Rangoon.
As part of the government offensive, the military-backed
Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) has attacked undefended
refugee camps on both sides of the border, leaving thousands
of refugees homeless.
Aid workers warn that the situation is worsening as refugees
wander back and forth from Thailand to Burma, seeking a safe
The recent military clashes have created nearly 40,000 new
refugees, many of whom have fled to Thailand, swelling the
number of Karen refugees already in that country.
Thailand faces a difficult diplomatic dilemma. There are
nearly 100,000 Karen refugees in camps along the border.
Those in Thailand are being pressured by that country to
return home to Burma.
On Tuesday, the commander-in-chief of Thailand's army, Gen.
Chetta Thanajaro, said the Burmese military had agreed to
accept Karen refugees taking shelter on the Thai side of the
border, but only if they wanted to leave.
Thanajaro made the announcement after meeting with his
Burmese counterpart, Gen. Maung Aye, at the Burmese border
town of Tachilek. It was not immediately clear what the
result of the offer will be.
Many of the refugees may not consider returning to Burma to
be an option. Some of the younger ones are KNU soldiers, who
sleep during the day and cross into Burma at night to go on
Until now, most of the fighting has pitted Burmese soldiers
against the Karen.
In one incident, three men were arrested in Thailand when
police discovered hand grenades in their pickup. One was a
Thai police officer, and the other two were Karen soldiers
who apparently slipped across the border.
To prevent similar incidents, Thai authorities are trying to
contain the situation. One move has been to consolidate more
than two dozen refugee camps.
"We try to make it ... a few number of camps," said Thai Gov.
Pongpayome Vasaputi of the Tak Province. "If we can do it, I
think it will make it more safe for the refugees."
Reducing the number of camps may provide fewer targets for
Burmese gunners, but will do little to end the clashes.
The KNU, formed in 1948 to seek greater autonomy for the
eastern Karen state, has rejected several peace overtures
from Rangoon and refuses to disarm.
Next year will mark the golden anniversary of the ethnic
minority's battle against the Burmese government -- 50 years
of killing and 20 years of refugee problems.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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