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Press and Refugees

Burmese Relief Center--Japan
DATE:May 13, 1995
Subject: A Free Thai Press and Internal Refugees in Burma

Bangkok Post, April 27, 1995
Reprinted in the Japan Times of May 5, 1995


Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai could not have been more
correct when he told an audience at the Foreign Corresponents'
Club of Thailand Wednesday that fairness and accuracy must
be the hallmark of journalism.  He also said journalists have an
important mission which entails great responsibility and,
through journalists, Thailand is, in part, presented to the world.

Fairness and accuracy are the basics of journalism and the
bible that every honest and professional journalist must follow. 

The April 22 incursion into Thai territory in Tak Province
reportedly by some 200-300 members of the Democratic Ka-
ren Buddhist Army to intimidate Karen refugees sheltering at a
refugee camp and the temporary holding of a Thai Army
officer by the intruders are not just facts, but a brazen act of
violation of Thailand's territorial sovereignty.  No responsible
newspaper which knew of such facts would just sit on or bury
them, just as no responsible army officers who were fully
aware of the facts would look the other way and pretend as
though the events had not happened.

The accusation made by the Office of the Army Secretariat
against this newspaper is, indeed, very serious.  The army
statement charged the Bangkok Post report with being
inaccurate and one which may cause damage to the army and
the country in a way that would cause the Thai people to lose
faith in the efficiency of the armed forces and also in a way
that would give a wrong impression of Thailand's national
security among foreign investors and thus discourage them
from investing in the country.  It also charged that this
newspaper had previously presented reports in a similar
manner and might harbor hidden ulterior motives.

This newspaper had not anticipated that straightforward
reporting about the border incursion would have annoyed the
army so much.  It had no intention whatsoever of being
provocative.  In fact, the sole intention was merely to tell the
truth to the world in a fair and accurate manner.

Honest professional journalists may not be overzealously
patriotic, fully subscribing to the "my nation, right or wrong"
ideal.  They are definitely not the type who will boast that they
are more patriotic than others.  Many war correspondents have
died alongside soldiers on the front line in efforts to obtain
timely and totally accurate information for their readers. 
Despite the high risks, those who survive are still willing to
take them knowing full well that if they get killed in action,
they will not even get their names inscribed on a statue or
plaque dedicated to fallen heroes.  But certainly, they can
judge what will benefit or damage the country.

Has this paper in any sense been dishonest?  We believe not,
but let the public make their judgment.  Truth can be hidden,
but cannot be eradicated.  Someday, somehow, it will emerge. 
The burning of Karen refugee camps on the night April 25
allegedly by the same faction of Karen Buddhists who made
the incursion on April 27 should serve as a grim reminder to
apathetic souls of the potential security threat just across the
western border.  It should also help enlighten those who still
harbor any suspicion of our motives and doubt our
professional integrity.

 = = = = = = = = 

Burmese Relief Centre Newsletter
April, 1995


"The soldiers said they were taking the sick workers to a
hospital, but then they would return without the labourers and
say they had died on the way... we knew that the soldiers had
killed them." Thein Myint was forced to work on the Ye-Tavoy railway for three
 months without pay.   He finally fled
to a Thai refugee camp just two months ago.

With the hard work, daily beatings by the armed SLORC
guards and lack of food, Thein Myint recounts that 18 of the
250 labourers in his work team died while at the construction
site in southern Burma.  "If I hadn't fled, I would surely have
died too".

Reports from all over Burma attest to a surge in forced labour
this year.  Millions of people are being forced to work as slaves
building roads, railways and tourist sites throughout Burma. 
Many try to escape.  

Thein Myint considers himself fortunate to have reached
Thailand.  Although in a foreign country, with no chance to
farm his own land, he can now receive enough food and
medical care to survive.

However, it is estimated that only 10-20% of the people
fleeing their homes in eastern Burma reach organized refugee
camps.  Most people escaping forced labour remain inside
Burma as internally displaced.  These people prefer to stay
near their farms and homes to wait for the chance to salvage
their crops or prevent others from claiming their land.  They
therefore flee to nearby dense jungle or to the areas controlled
by ethnic opposition armies where they feel safe.  Some
families are able to return to their homes in the monsoon
season, when there is less military activity and less risk of
being seized for forced labour, only to flee again in the next
dry season.

These internally displaced do not have access to regular food
supplies or medical care like refugees in
Thailand and suffer accordingly.

Two months ago, 30-year-old Naw Wah Wah took refuge in
the Mergui-Tavoy district, controlled by the Karen National
Union.  She and her husband, from a village south of Tavoy
had been forced to work on the Ye-Tavoy railway because
they could not afford to pay the bribe of four months' salary.

After working for six weeks, she had no strength to continue
and decided to escape with a cousin.
Their husbands sent them ahead with their children, and
planned to follow as soon as they had sold their possessions.
"But soon after we arrived here we got a message that they had
been killed by Burmese soldiers passing through our village,"
says Naw Wah Wah, with a sad resolute expression.

Most of the things around her in her small bamboo shelter have
been lent by local villagers, who also give them a little rice to
survive on.  She wants to grow her own rice, but she does not
know how she will cope.   Naw Wah Wah's five-year-old son
coughs badly throughout our meeting but she does not know
what is wrong.  "I don't have any money to buy medicines.  
What can I do?" she asks.

Now Wah Wah also worries about her children's education. 
They, like thousands of other internally displaced children,
have little chance to go to school as they are too poor, there are
few schools and their families must often move to find work or

Thousands of people from Burma become internally displaced
every month, but receive little international attention or
assistance.  Up to now only the local ethnic organizations have
managed to provide aid to some of them.  Unless more is done
to help these people hidden inside Burma's jungles, families
like Naw Wah Wah's may not survive.