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The Nation-Karen refugees moved to



Subject: The Nation-Karen refugees moved to avoid Burma raids

The Nation May 13, 1999.
Politics

Karen refugees moved to avoid Burma raids

SUAN PHUNG, Ratchaburi -- Thai authorities have moved nearly 100 Karen
refugees from Burma to a makeshift camp deeper inside Thai territory to
avoid possible attack by Burmese government soldiers who have stepped up
their offensive on the ethnic group in recent weeks.

The Karen refugees who fled attacks by two Burmese army battalions last
Friday had taken refuge at Ratchaburi's Ban Pulakam village until yesterday
when provincial authorities transported them to a temporary shelter in Suan
Phung district.

The refugees and Thai security officers said they were confused as to why
the government troops had launched such a heavy attack against their
village. There were no Karen rebel soldiers in the area to provoke the
government soldiers.

Aid workers, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and doctors
from Medicins Sans Frontiers, were on standby at the makeshift camp to
assist the refugees, most of whom are women and children.

According to Pongsathorn Srisakorn, Suan Phung's assistant district chief,
the refugees will be sheltered in the camp for about two weeks.

''Afterwards, if the security situation improves, they will be asked to
return to Burma. The army, provincial officers, and the refugees themselves
will be consulted before any decision is made,'' Phongsathorn said.

But according to security officials monitoring the situation in the area,
Burmese government troops are likely to step up their attacks on a nearby
Karen village in the coming weeks.

''We have to ask the Burmese to cease their attacks on the Karen villagers
as their (refugees) presence is becoming a burden for local government
agencies,'' said one officer who had negotiated with the Burmese troops.

''Their response was that they will cease their operation for the time being
but stated that a similar offensive will be launched on a nearby village
within this month,'' added the officer who sought anonymity.

According to local authorities, Burmese troops had crossed over into the
Thai side last Friday while chasing the Karen villagers.

A local defence volunteer lost a leg after stepping on a land-mine allegedly
laid by Burmese government troops last Friday during their retreat, district

officials said.

The trooper was on patrol near Ban Palukham, about two kilometres from the
border, when he stepped on the mine, they said.

It was reported last week that Thai army chief Gen Surayuth Julanont was
planning to lead a rally through the region to help promote tourism in Burma
and to survey a planned road from Thailand's Kanchanaburi province to
Burma's Tavoy coastal city. The planned road trip was cancelled last week
but no explanation was given.

The army officers said the attacks on Karen and other ethnic group is part
of on-going efforts by Burmese government troops to gain complete control of
the Thai-Burma border.

The Burmese military government has over the past years relocated minority
groups along its eastern border to an area under its direct control. The aim
is cut off all possible support to armed rebel groups.

BY DON PATHAN

The Nation