By Naw Noreen
Karen refugees in Thailand have spoken of their anger at claims made by Burma’s information minister that the majority of those living in Thai camps are insurgents or subversives.
Kyaw Hsan made the comments yesterday during a parliamentary session in which he also questioned why the Thai government wasn’t doing more to help curb protracted civil in Karen state.
Questioned about aid and assistance to refugees in Karen state, where ethnic armed groups have been battling a 60-year conflict against the Burmese army, he said that the government had so far spent 6.8 billion kyat ($US773,000) on healthcare, food and education for victims of the fighting.
But referring to assistance offered to the 150,000-odd who have fled Burma and now live in refugees camps along the Thai border, Kyaw Hsan said that “most of them are remnant insurgents and their families, expatriates and those who fled after committing crimes”.
A spokesperson for the Karen Refugee Committee said however that “there is no ground to support” those claims.
Saw Htun Htun, chairperson of Mae La camp, Thailand’s biggest refugee camp for Burmese, said that the 45,000-strong population there “are refugees who fled our homes due to persecution from the war”.
That claim was supported by Sally Thompson, deputy director of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), who said that domestic instability was the key reason behind the exodus of Karen to Thailand over the past two decades.
The conflict between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Burmese government is thought to be the world’s longest-running. More than half a million are displaced inside eastern Burma, largely due to the fighting, while hundreds of thousands have fled the country.
Kyaw Hsan’s comments follow claims made by the governor of Thailand’s Tak provice, which borders Karen state, that the Burmese were angry at Thailand for its perceived sheltering of Karen insurgents.
Samart Loifah said that Burma believed the border town of Mae Sot and the surrounding area had become a second home for the KNLA, which has a number of bases on the Burmese side of the porous frontier with Thailand, where cross-border movement is easy.