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Canada Asia Work. Group:4/6 Burma R

Subject: Canada Asia Work. Group:4/6 Burma REport

CAWG Brief on Burma (Part 4 of 6 parts)

Internal and External Refugees

Myanmar has become one of the major producers of both internal and
external refugees in Asia. SLORC's war on Myanmar's ethnic minorities,
its suppression of all political dissent and its displacements for
economic reasons have produced approximately four million
internally-displaced people within Myanmar and about one-half a
million Burmese refugees in neighbouring countries and abroad. UNICEF
also estimates that 30,000 Burmese women are held in bondage in
brothels in Bangkok.[41] As indicated above, the "four cuts" military
strategy deliberately creates internal refugees, both for military and
cultural reasons. However, internal refugees are also produced by
urban "beautification" programs in which whole neighbourhoods are
moved to "satellite towns" in rural areas with minimal resources.
(Over the years there have also been persistent rumours of
deliberately-set fires in densely-populated urban areas to accomplish
the same purpose.) As the SLORC military establishment becomes
increasingly involved in economic and business activities,
displacement of traditional owners of lands and resources will
continue and increase.

The external refugee situation is also quite serious. Hundreds of
thousands of persons from tribal and religious minority groups in
Myanmar have fled to virtually all the countries on Myanmar's borders.
The two largest groups are 240,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims from Arakan
State presently lodged in camps in Bangladesh and approximately 72,000
refugees from Karen, Mon and Karenni States lodged in camps in
Thailand.[42] (The actual number in Thailand is much greater as many
people quietly cross the border from Myanmar and integrate themselves
into Thai society as illegal labourers.) Burmese refugees have also
fled to Malaysia, India, the Middle East, Japan, Australia, North
America and Europe.

The Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh beginning in late 1991 after
widespread human rights abuses against them by the Myanmar military,
including rape, forced labour, summary execution and religious
persecution. SLORC's motives and methods were identical to those in
Karen and other border states in the east. The Myanmar government
initially denied the existence of these refugees, claiming that they
were not Myanmar citizens but illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The
refugees have been housed in camps near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh,
where they have brought social instability to southern Bangladesh.
There are now also well-documented reports of human rights abuses
committed by Bangladeshi authorities against the refugees.

Throughout 1992 and 1993, there were attempts to repatriate the
refugees back to Myanmar in consultation with the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Governments of Myanmar and
Bangladesh. However, the refugees continued to express concern about
their safety if they returned to Myanmar, a view endorsed by the
UNHCR. There were several riots by refugees who refused repatriation
and where repatriation did take place, it was often forced. There were
reports that refugees were not being returned to their original homes
but to new settlements without resources. The basic conditions which
originally produced the refugees have not changed and returning
refugees justly fear being reconscripted to forced labour and
continuing persecution.[43]. On 5 November 1993, the Myanmar
government and the UNHCR signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the
voluntary repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar which
opens the possibility of a UNHCR presence in Arakan State.

The situation is complex. The refugee camps are an enormous strain on
Bangladesh and the Bangladesh government would like the refugees to be
repatriated as soon as possible. The Myanmar government does not want
the refugees back, because they are Muslims, if for no other reason.
There have also been military incursions by Myanmar across the
Bangladesh border.[44] If the Myanmar government bows to international
pressure and accepts the refugees back, there is no assurance that the
refugees will return to their homes and land or that they will be free
from SLORC's violent persecution. Nor is it clear whether, even if
there is a UNHCR presence in Arakan State, the UNHCR will have full
access to the resettlement areas. Therefore, to discuss repatriation
without addressing the root causes in Myanmar that produce hundreds of
thousands of refugees from all Myanmar's borders risks futility.

The situation along the Thai border is similar though there is less
pressure from Thai authorities to repatriate the 72,000 Karen, Karenni
and Mon refugees in camps on the Thai side of the border. In most of
the camps, there are good relations with the Thai authorities.
However, because of friendly relations between the Thai military
establishment and SLORC, there is increasing pressure to repatriate
refugees to Myanmar where they would be in a much more vulnerable
situation in the face of SLORC military action. Karenni Camp No. 2 was
moved back to and partly across the border in August and there are
rumours that all Karenni camps will be moved back inside the Burma
border. The 8,000 refugees at the Mon camp at Loh Loe are in the
process of being moved back across the border. However, the Mon insist
that the new site is not safe as it is very near to SLORC troops. An
advance party of 139 Mon men sent to prepare the new site refused to
cross the border in early October. Thai authorities claim that the Mon
will be allowed back into Thailand if attacked by SLORC. However,
statements by Thai military officials supporting SLORC raise questions
about Thailand's true intentions in attempting to move the camps back
across the Myanmar border.[45] Karen, Karenni an Mon groups have
legitimate security concerns in any repatriation plan. There is also
the danger that Thailand will use the threat of repatriation to force
the ethnic groups to negotiate with SLORC on SLORC's terms. Any
attempts by the Thai military establishment to return Karen, Karenni
or Mon refugees to Myanmar need to be carefully monitored both in
terms of the security of the returning refugees and the relation of
any repatriations to the overall peace process between SLORC and the
tribal ethnic groups. However, as with the situation of the Rohingya
Muslim refugees in Bangladesh, the root causes in Myanmar that produce
refugees need to be effectively addressed before there can be any real
change in the refugee situation along the Thai border.

Burmese students who came across the border to Thailand as refugees in
1988 and the years following have not had an easy time. While the
ethnic tribal minority refugees have consented to go into camps along
the border, the students have resisted inclusion in "safe areas"
designated by the Thai government and have sought to continue their
political activities against SLORC in Thailand with maximum freedom.
SLORC has made many attempts, some successful, to infiltrate and
destabilize Burmese student groups in Thailand, provoking the students
to commit their own human rights abuses. The Thai government, seeking
to maintain peaceful relations with Myanmar, has harassed the students
on Myanmar's behalf. Repatriation to Myanmar is an absolute
impossibility as the students would clearly face imprisonment or death
unless, perhaps, they totally recanted their previous political
activities such as peacefully demonstrating against SLORC and its
predecessors in 1988. The students represent an important resource
pool for a post-SLORC Burma. Programs to provide them further
training, whether in Thailand or overseas, for eventual return to
Burma should be encouraged rather than permanent resettlement.[46]

Denial of the Right to Development

The vast majority of Myanmar's 43 million people are denied the basic
right to economic, political and social development. On the most basic
economic level, SLORC's incompetent and greedy manipulation of
Myanmar's economy has meant increasing poverty for the majority of
Myanmar's people. A report commissioned by the United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP), released in early 1993, noted the rapid
increase in the cost of basic food supplies and the enormous increase
in Myanmar's foreign debt since SLORC's take-over in 1988. The
government simply prints more money as needed (the average increase in
the country's money supply has been 53 per cent per year since 1988)
and maintains an utterly unreal official exchange rate for the Myanmar
kyat. There has been almost no real growth in domestic production
since 1988; instead, trade agreements with neighbouring countries
(especially China) have brought in a flood of cheap goods that have
undermined Myanmar's own manufacturing sector. A small SLORC-related
elite have made great profits while the vast majority of the
population suffer from hyper-inflation and are given no opportunity
for economic advancement. Even in rural areas, agricultural production
has declined because of rising fertilizer and pesticide prices and
farmers' lack of confidence in the currency and SLORC's marketing

The UNDP report recognizes that SLORC's military rule has basically
destroyed the economy of the country: "sweeping fundamental reforms
are needed. . . . the first step in bringing the economy back into
line is political stability. The military government must clarify, in
a manner understandable and acceptable to the people, the temporary
nature of its rule and also the process and schedule . . . leading to
a civilian government."[47]

SLORC's economic activities throughout 1993 give no indication that
the UNDP recommendations have been heeded. Through the
SLORC-controlled Union of Myanmar Holding Company Limited (MHC),
profits from domestic economic enterprises and international joint
ventures are channelled to SLORC. Capitalization for MHC came from the
state but its benefits go only to SLORC.[48] In broadest terms, SLORC
is exploiting the natural resources of the country (human labour,
timber, oil, fish, precious stones, opium) and foreign investment
(foreign capital gained in joint ventures, tourism) to maintain
control of the country through purchase of weapons, military
operations and development of infrastructure. The result of such
control is great wealth for the small number of SLORC elite and
increasing poverty for the vast majority of Myanmar's population. The
right to any kind of economic development for the people of Myanmar is
almost fully denied.

This report has already fully documented the Myanmar people's loss of
the right to political development that SLORC's rule has brought
about. Ostensibly democratic processes (for example, the National
Convention) are firmly controlled by SLORC. Press and other media are
strictly controlled. Political opposition to SLORC is also controlled
by a wide range of national security legislation and by several
military and civilian intelligence agencies, including the Military
Intelligence Services, the Special Branch of the Home Ministry and the
Press Scrutiny Board.[49]

Health, educational and other kinds of social development have also
been seriously curtailed by SLORC. Myanmar's resources go to the
purchase of weapons of war and luxury items for SLORC rather than to
health and educational services for the general population. Health
care is inadequate; drugs and medical supplies must be obtained from
the illegal market as they are not available in government hospitals.
Only the SLORC-related military hospitals are well-equipped. The
number of AIDS cases in the country is growing rapidly; SLORC has
inadequate will and facilities to deal with this development. Although
universities have recently re-opened, the curriculum has been
abbreviated and students and faculty are placed under extreme
restrictions. Burmese university training is now totally inadequate by
any international standards.