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From the magazines
Burmese Relief Center--Japan
DATE:May 15, 1995
Subject:From the magazines
IT'S RANGOON, NOT REBELS
Burmese government behind camp attacks
By Bertil Lintner in Kamaw Lay Kho,
Far Eastern Economic Review
May 18, 1995
It was late at night when more than a hundred heavily
armed soldiers with guns at the ready came into Thailand's
Kamaw Lay Kho refugee camp, recounts Saw Kauk Cho,
pastor of the Baptist church in the camp 80 kilometres north of
Mae Sot, a town on the border with Burma. Within minutes,
the attackers doused the ethnic Karen camp with kerosene and
set it ablaze.
The story of April 25 is familiar-six such camps
housing 10,000 refugees have been burned since April 19.
Before that, Karen rebels lost the last of their strongholds at
Manerplaw and Kawmoora.
What's less known is that the attempts to drive the
refugees back into Burma are being carried out by the
Burmese army rather than by a breakaway Buddhist faction of
the Karen fighters themselves, as the Burmese Embassy in
Thailand says. Most observers along the frontier, from foreign
aid workers to Thai intelligence officers to refugees, offer
evidence that points at troops of the Burmese regime, the State
Law and Order Restoration Council.
"It's Burmese regulars, with a few ex-Karen National
Union defectors acting as guides, who are burning the refugee
camps," says a Western aid worker along the border. "But the
claim that it is the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army which is
carrying out the attacks makes it appear as if the present
imbroglio is an internal Karen conflict. For every DKBA
soldier, there are at least five to 10 guys from the Burmese
The Kamaw Lay Kho camp is a stone's throw from the
Moei river, which forms the border with Burma. The attackers
came from across the water, Saw Kauk Cho says. Then,
young privates poured kerosene on the bamboo huts in the
camp and lit them while older officers in the background di-
rected the action over walkie-talkies.
The pastor tells how mortars and rocket-propelled
grenades were fired into the dense maze of houses. Within
minutes, the refugee camp's 300 buildings became an inferno.
The attackers told the refugees they had to return across the
border, or face a worse fate in the next attack, the pastor says.
Rangoon and the Thai press say the attackers are from
the DKBA, a breakaway faction from the main KNU. The
Buddhist faction was set up on December 21, when some
Buddhist KNU soldiers mutinied against the predominantly
According to a border intelligence source: "Not more
than 200-300 KNU soldiers defected last December, and the
groups attacking the refugee camps are much more numerous
than the so-called DKBA has ever been." Sources along the
border also point out that all the refugee camps which have
been attacked are located immediately opposite major Bur-
mese army positions such as Mae Tha Waw, south of
Manerplaw. Soldiers at the Maw Pokay base could walk to
the Kamaw Lay Kho refugee camp in less than an hour, for
Refugees at the camp say they recognized a few of the
attackers as former KNU soldiers from a hill tribe whose men
shifted sides and joined forces with the Burmese army in
December. The rest were unknown to the refugees; they either
spoke Burmese or spoke Karen with an accent typical of the
Irrawaddy delta south of Rangoon and far away from the hills
bordering Thailand where the KNU operates. Many ethnic
Karens from the government-control-led delta have been
recruited into the Burmese army.
The evidence that the attackers weren't from the Karen
faction could explain the cautious response from the Thai side.
It's true that on May 5, Thai helicopter gun ships fired salvos
on a Karen Buddhist position inside Burma. Military and
civilian leaders in Bangkok have protested what they call the
Karen Buddhist incursion, and called on the Burmese army to
rein in its rebel allies. And in an effort that signals Thai
defence of its sovereignty, Bangkok has sent reinforcements
supported by field artillery to the border.
But in the refugee camps along the border, there are
few signs that the Thais have stepped up security. Thailand's
dilemma is obvious. The Thais do not want to confront regular
Burmese troops, even ones wearing the uniforms and insignia
of the Karen Buddhist army. Some observers argue the
Burmese motive for the camp attacks is to shake Thailand's
will to harbour the refugees.
Observers along the Thai-Burmese border say both the
Burmese and the Thai authorities want the refugees to return
to Burma. Shortly after the first cross-border raid, Thai army
commander Gen. Wimol Woniwanich said "it would take only
a week to push all refugees back to Burma," if he were
permitted to do so.
On May 2, Thai Interior Minister Sanan
Kachornprasart suggested that the 74,000-plus Karen
refugees in Thailand should be moved away from their 23
camps on the border and concentrated in two or three protected
camps. Refugee workers point out that in the new camps the
Karens would be more difficult to attack--and easier to push
back into Burma.
KNU leader Bo Mya has appealed to the United
Nations to protect the refugees. But involvement of the
international body would constrain the refugees' movement.
Presence of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees would
also attract international scrutiny, which the Thais clearly do
The answer to the problem may be found down at the
banks of the Moei at Mae Sot itself. The Thais began building
a new bridge across the river last October and hope to finish it
by 1996. Already, a concrete arch spans the Moei, and con-
struction workers cross the border as if there weren't any
conflict nearby. Markets and shops are springing up along the
Thai road leading down to the bridge, and all in all it appears
there's too much at stake for the Thais to risk war with the
Burmese over the refugee issue.
>From "Letters and Comments"
April 28, 1995
Mandela and Suu Kyi
I am a professional and a mother and housewife whose
husband is working in Indonesia. I have nothing to do with
politics but I am compelled to clear a misunderstanding against
my government, the government of Myanmar. It is incorrect to
compare our country with South Africa and its apartheid
policy and Mr. Nelson Mandela with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
as done in "Writing on the Wall" [EDITORIALS, Feb. 24].
White European migrants denied every right to, and
treated as nonhumans, the 70% black population in their own
ancestral lands. We have no such racial discrimination at all.
Yes, we still do not have political rights as in some Western
countries but we have other rights: to travel, come back, go
out, open dollar accounts and such like.
It has been a tremendous change from the past. The
farmers are doing very well and studious, conscientious people
have advanced in careers as in any other country. Many well-to-do and success
ful Burmese are returning home on their own,
starting businesses and doing well.
Mr. Mandela suffered every indignity for 27 years in
the worst island prison in the world. Treated as a criminal, he
was under conditions of rigorous imprisonment. He had to
work with criminals breaking stones in a quarry. Daw Suu
Kyi is restricted I repeat, restricted - to her own house with her
own servants. Her husband and sons visit her and can stay
with her as long as they wish. She lives in a mansion by a
beautiful lake together with some of her relatives who see her
on a daily basis.
She is not forced to be under these restrictions. Since
Dec. 19, 1990, which is before she was awarded the Nobel
Prize, she has been given the choice to be with her sons and
husband if she leaves the country and does not meddle in its
politics. As a mother I have sympathy for her being away from
her children but it is her own decision that she is there.
An honest approach is needed to understand the pol-
itics of Myanmar. I am aware of quite a number of the current
anti-government activists. A large number of them wasted
their years in college, ended up as clerks or unemployed,
joined the [Yangon demonstrations] in 1988 and are now
enjoying themselves with foreign funds they receive by
mouthing what is written for them.
That is the reason their ranks keep splitting. I wish
them well but they are hardly the material to build democracy
A Myanmar Professional
[name & address provided]
A Perspicacious Reply
May 19, 1995
SUU KYI'S ORDEAL
"A Myanmar Professional" from Jakarta is shedding
crocodile tears for Aung San Suu Kyi (LETTERS & COM-
MENT, April 28). Her statement that Aung San Suu Kyi's
"husband and sons visit her and can stay with her as long as
they wish" is no longer valid. On April 25, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Bo
utros-Ghali issued a statement condemning
the State Law and Order
Restoration Council's refusal to grant a visa to Michael Aris
(see "Back to the Hard Line," THE NATIONS, May 12).
This may be the final product of ASEAN's "constructive
(Myanmar) is a perfect example of what happens to a
country when the uneducated end up ruling it. Lt.-Gen. Myo
Nyunt, who is chairman of the National Convention
responsible for drafting the constitution, has a 4th Standard
education. For those who are not familiar with the (Myanmar)
educational system, Gen. Myo Nyunt did not attend middle or
high school. The only time he has been to college is to shoot
In Taiwan, President Lee Teng-hui and twelve mem-
bers of his cabinet hold Ph.Ds from American universities. In
(Myanmar), the majority of SLORC's cabinet ministers cannot
spell "dialogue" or "compromise," let alone understand them.
We can make a hotter case that "they are hardly the material to
build democracy in Myanmar."
The only person "mouthing what is written for them"
may be the "Myanmar Professional" in Jakarta.