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Rangoon Attack Camps, Not Rebels

>From tlandon@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Tue May 16 12:28:43 1995
Date: Tue, 16 May 1995 12:27:07 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Camp Attacks

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
Christian leadership.
     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
not want. 
     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.