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The BurmaNet News:  December 11, 1996
Issue # 589


December 10, 1996

Bangkok's improved ties with Rangoon and the fear of the burden of unskilled
dependents are proving the dividing line between Thailand and the United
nations High Commissioner for Refugees on approaches to Burmese now en
camped along the western border.

Thailand insists the 100,000 Burmese living largely on non-governmental,
Thai and international aid are "illegal immigrants" under the terms of the
1979 Immigrations Act.

Thai authorities justify the use of the act on the grounds that the Burmese
entered the country after 1983 mainly, they claim, for economic reasons, not
as a result of war or threat of persecution.

Hence, Thai authorities are legally entitled to send the Burmese back across
the border whenever they consider the situation in Burma safe enough.

For the government in Bangkok, this stance has helped dispel suspicions
harbored by Burmese leaders that it is sheltering anti-Rangoon insurgents
in the guise of refugees.

During talks in Rangoon in September 1995, Burmese prime Minister Than Shwe,
who is concurrently chairman of the ruling State Law and Order Restoration
Council (Slorc) showed his concern over the issue when he urged then Defence
Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to solve "the border problem".

Now that Gen Chavalit is prime minister, and has publicly professed close
ties with Slorc leaders, Thailand has the chance to change its position.

"Thailand has always facilitated their return. There is no need to talk
about voluntary return because, if we did, nobody would volunteer," said
National Security Council Deputy Director-general Kachadpai Burusphat at a
recent seminar titled "Status of Thai Immigration Law in the post Cold War
period with Respect to Displaced Persons".

The UNHCR and non-governmental organisations have a different concept of
safety. They believe the Burmese will be punished by authorities if they are
pushed back.

The UNHCR can do virtually nothing to help because it is given access to the
border area only on a case by case basis. Moreover, Thailand is not a party
to the 1951 Convention on the protection of Refugees, which subjects
signatories to certain obligations.

"Yet, however they are perceived, those who would face serious persecution
or danger if forced to return home must be protected," UNHCR representative
to Thailand Amelia Bonifacio told the seminar organised by Chulalongkorn
University's Asian Research Centre for Migration and the UNHCR.

Thailand believes UN involvement will encourage more Burmese to flood across
the border, and the country might be confronted with a situation similar to
that of a decade ago when it played host to some 1.3 million refugees,
380,000 of them Cambodians in camps along the eastern border.

"If we allow the UNHCR to help them, many more Burmese will come," said
Lt-Gen Sanan Kajornklam of the Supreme Command, a veteran of the Cambodian
border problem.

The experience of the Indochinese refugee days has left Thai authorities
with the impression they will be left with a backlog of unskilled dependents
after the Western countries have taken the skilled and the educated for

Gary Risser, of the research centre, sees Thai policy on the Burmese as
being propelled by security and other interests as well as compassion
fatigue stemming from the experience with Indochinese refugees 20 years ago.

"Understandably, the Thai emphasis has been on ending the refugee situation
along its border," said Risser.

But Thailand is meeting with resistance from Rangoon, which refuses to take
back its refugees on the basis that they have no evidence to prove they are
Burmese citizens.

Lt-Gen Sanan said the problem would continue as long as there is not a
ceasefire agreement between Slorc and the Karen National Union, the last
minority group still fighting Rangoon.

But he was confident the two sides could reach a settlement within the next
few years.

Thailand could then start clearing the camps along the border and the UNHCR
could play a role in ensuring safe areas inside Burma as well as monitoring
the situation there, he said. 


   By Evelyn Leopold of Reuters
	   UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 Reuter - The UN General Assembly today 
rebuked Burma's military leaders for supressing opposition, with US 
ambassador Madeleine Albright saying the government did not meet 
minimum human rights standards.
	   The assembly's resolution, adopted by consensus without a vote 
and drafted by Sweden, accused Burma (also known as Myanmar) of 
using forced labour to build its economy, torturing prisoners, 
abusing women and conducting summary executions.
	   It called on the Burmese government, known as the State Law and 
Order Restoration Council, to release political prisoners and enter 
into a "substantive political dialogue" with Nobel Prize winner 
Aung San Suu Kyi.
	   Her National League for Democracy party was suppressed after it 
won a landslide victory in a 1990 election.
	   Albright, in her first public speech since she was nominated for 
secretary of state by President Bill Clinton, said Burma had 
subjected "democratic forces to a kind of rolling repression in 
which small steps forward alternate with crackdowns and episodes of 
intimidation and violence".
	   SLORC had "continued deny to their citizens the fundamental 
political feedoms of expression and assembly", she said. "And they 
have engaged in torture, forced labour, forced relocations and 
summary executions."
	   The United States, faced with opposition from Asian countries, 
has not pressed sanctions against Burma as some congressmen wanted. 
In Los Angeles today, police arrested 12 demonstrators protesting 
against UNOCAL Corp's construction of a pipeline through Burma.
	   Albright recalled the recent repression of non-political student 
demonstrations and the government's refusal to allow Suu Kyi to 
leave her home, the most severe restrictions since her 1995 release 
from house arrest.
	   "The Burmese authorities would like the world to believe that 
its harsh policies are necessary in light of Burma's turbulent 
history. But the world does not accept that excuse," she said.
	   "It is a stability maintained by fear, in which the human 
resources of a society are held back and beaten down."
	   The resolution was based on an October UN report by Rajsoomer 
Lallah, the former chief justice of Mauritius, which described the 
human rights abuses in chilling detail.
	   He said the practice of forced labour for development projects, 
usually run by the army, was widespread and included women, 
children and old people forced to help build roads, railways, 
bridges and gas pipelines. Some of the labour was done by 
prisoners, many of whom were systematically tortured.
	   REUTER wjf