The Irrawaddy (10 February 2010) reports on the ongoing case of the expected forced repatriation of Karen refugees at Tha Song Yang camp in the country’s north.
The report states that, at a “forum involving various Thai government ministries and agencies, along with representatives of the military and international organizations, a Thai Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokesperson said that [the Karen ] …have expressed a willingness to return to Burma.” MOFA also claimed “that the area from which the refugees fled in June 2006 is clear of landmines, according to information received from the Burmese side of the border.” And, MOFA also claims that “there was no indication that the fighting between the junta-aligned Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) was going to resume anytime soon.”
MOFA’s statements were supported by a military representative who opined: “We speak the truth about recent events. We would never force people to go back.” He added: “although I wish I could give you more information about these issues, I have been busy with other matters recently.”
Of course the army doesn’t engage in forcible repatriation or other reprehensible behaviors! Those 150 Hmong with visas for third countries that they’d been waiting for months and years really did want to go back to Laos. And all those Rohinga boat people really wanted to be set adrift at sea last year.
Just a few days ago PPT heard a Democrat Party member claiming that the whole issue of sending back asylum seekers was against government policy and a plot by Thaksin people in the army to destabilize the government. Maybe it’s also a plot by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya to destabilize his own government.
Our cynicism is warranted when Guiseppe de Vicentis, the deputy regional representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says “there is ample evidence that there are landmines on the Burmese side.” He says the situation on the Burma side is not safe. The Thailand-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) “said that at least nine people have been injured or killed by landmines in the region since the refugees fled in June 2009.”
The TBBC also confirmed that the military lied when it claimed that international representatives participated in a process that saw three Karen families repatriated last week. TBBC said international agencies “were prevented from accessing the Karen refugee camps prior to the repatriation…”.
PPT knows the UNHCR and the TBBC has more credibility on these issues that Thai bureaucrats and the military.
Coming out of self-imposed hibernation and seemingly being ignorant of Burma’s political circumstances, National Human Rights Commission chair Amara Ponsapich “suggested that international mine-clearance experts be given access to the affected region inside Burma, to determine whether it was clear of mines or not. She asked if the Thai authorities would facilitate this operation as best they could from their side of the border.”
Thailand’s National Security Council “told the forum that Thai policy is first to ensure harmony and cooperation with its neighbors.” That seems far more accurate an assessment. Forget human rights and the lives of refugees as the Democrat Party-led government follows the well-worn Thai path to the natural resources and assumed wealth of Burma.