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R.M.S. NEWS MAY/JUNE 1995.
/* Written June 20 1:00pm by DRUNOO@xxxxxxxxxxxx(DR U NE OO) in igc:reg.burma */
/* --------------------"RMS NEWS MAY/JUNE 1995"----------------- */
[Following report is from National Council of Churches in Australia
Refugee and Migrant Services May/June 1995. This newsletter is
available from the NCCA National office, Jodie Trimble,
Administration/Information, Private BAg 199, QVB Post Office,
Sydney 2000. Tel (02) 299 2215, Fax (02) 262 4514. I post this
without their knowledge, but sure the RMS wouldn't mind. U Ne Oo]
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES IN AUSTRALIA
REFUGEE AND MIGRANT SERVICES MAY/JUNE 1995
NCCA Calls for Government Action on Thai-Burma Border Crisis
Following recent attacks by SLORC and the Democratic Karen
Buddhist Army on Burmese refugee camps inside Thailand, the
National Council of Churches in Australia has called on the
Australian Government to take immediate steps to pressure the
Thai authorities to prevent any furthe rincursions and ensure
the protection and security of the refugees concerned.
Bands of up to 200 Junta and rebel Karen fighters were attacking
the camps and refugee sources report that camp inhabitants were
being forced to flee into nearby jungles to escape.
Presently there are 77,107 official ethnic minority refugees
from Burma in 20 refugee camps inside Thailand. Each camp has a
population of between 4,000 and 5,000 people many having fled
Burmese Army persecution in December, 1984.
The Coordinator of the National Council of Churches' Refugee and
Migrant Services, Hermine Partamian, said, "The NCCA is gravely
concerned that the present crisis is disrupting delivery of
vital assistance by partners and other non-government
Mrs Partamian also warns that the possibility of the Thai
military pusinng refugees back into Burma could lead to
These anxieties were not allayed by comments attributed to Thai
military General Wimol Wongwanich in the April 30 edition of the
Bangkok Post. According to the report, General Wimol said,"If we
were not afraid of being criticised by the world community on
humanitarian grounds and if it would not give the country
problems, then this army chief would take only one week to push
them all out, regardless of how many hunderds of thousands of
Karen were now in the country."
"I used to do this with over 40,000 Cambodian refugees. If we
were able to do the same with Karens, I would finish the task in
just one week."
BURMA AT A GLANCE (Burma named Mynamar by SLORC government.)
POLITICS: State Law and Order Restoration Council(SLORC)
military dictatorship. Democratically elected leader Aung San
Suu Kyi (National League for Democracy Party) under house arrest
HUMAN RIGHTS: Execution, torture, detention without trial,
forced labour on development projects, army porters and human
minesweepers. 40,000 women trafficked into sex industries in
ECONOMY: GNP per capita US$150 ($10 black market rate).
EXPORTS: Fish forest products, base metals, ores. Burma now
produces more heroine than any other country.
IMPORTS: Most are smuggled in and sold on the black market.
Thailand and China are major trading partners.
SLORC encourages foreign investment through state-based
joint ventures managed by its Department of Defence and would
like to secure foreign aid for priorities assisting the
maintenance of SLORC control.
POPULATION: 44 million
CULTURE: Most Burmans are Theravada Buddhist. Hindu, Christian
and Muslim minorities.
ETHNIC GROUPS: Chinese, Indians, Karens, Shan, Chins, Kachins,
Mons, Arakanese and Karenni.
REFUGEES: 250,000 fled to Bangladesh (5,000 repatriated to Burma
weekly). 93,600 in Thailand, 15,000 in China, 6,000 in India.
Half million people displaced within Burma.
(Source: Burma NGO forum)
Civil war has plagued Burma since 1948. At any one time there
have been up to twenty different groups fighting for increased
autonomy form the burmese military government. Many of these are
ethnic groups such as the Karen and Mon who live in mountainous
regions on the border of Burma and Thailand.
In 1962 the Burmese military over threw the democratically
elected government and has remained in control ever since. Under
military misrule what was once most prosperous country in Asia
has plunged into poverty and stagnation, the United Nations
recognising it as one of the world's "Least Developed Countries"
in 1987. Burma has one of the most repressive state sevurity
systems in the world.
In 1988 there were nationwide pro-democracy uprisings against
the military and it looked as if their twenty six years of
mismanagement and oppression was about to end. However the
military brutally suppressed the uprisings and declared a new
junta called the State Law and Order Restoration Council
(SLORC). Fllowing the military crackdown approximately 10,000
mostly young, democracy activists fled to the Thai/Burma border
where they joined ethnic independence gruups in the jungle. Some
joined a huge refugee population in Thailand of 70,000 Karen and
Mon families who had fled the Burmese military's annual
Despite an election in 1990 where the National League for
Democracy Party of opposition leader Daw Aung suu Kyi won 82% of
the people's vote, the SLORC continues to hole an iron grip. It
has discarded its socialist rhetoric for the free market
allowing foreign business to flow in benefiting the army
officers, their families and friends who have had three decades
to entrench themselves in the positions of economic dominance.
The picture for ethic and democratic opponenets of the Junta
remains bleak. In January 1995 the SLORC broke a two-year-old
ceasefire with one of the main ethnic opposition groups, the
Karen, storming the opposition headquarters of Manerplaw.
Thousands of villagers fled tthe violence, many with horrific
tales of abuse, being used as human mine sweepers and bearing
scars of forced labour.
The total humber of refugees on the border soared to over 90,000
people. The majority of these people are seeking refuge in
temporary shelters and are relying on NGOs for the provision of
food and basic medicines. As these people are not recognised as
refugees by the Thai government, they are living with the
constant fear of being pushed back across the border into SLORC
controlled areas. Conditions along the border have become much
more difficult with the latest influx of refugees. In crowede
camp conditions, disease can easily spread and there are only
limited medical supplies.
The All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) is also based in
border camps. ABSDF comprises of young, dissident students who
fled from Burma in 1988 with the aim of resisting the Burmese
military government. When the SLORC launched the recent attack
on Manerplaw, ABSDF headquarters was also attacked and the
student troops were forced to withdraw with no alternative but
to relocate on the Thai side of the border.
As a result of the SLORC's brutality and inability to keep their
own self-declared ceasefire, thousands of people have geen
forced to leave their homes and are now living with fear and
uncertainty for their future. they are now relying on the aid
agencies operating at the border but their safety is ultimately
dependent upon the cooperation and goodwill of the Thai
Government. As the Thai Government is not signatoru to the
United Nations Convention of Protocol ensuring protection to
refugees, the Burmese are considered "illegals".
In a recent report in the Bangkok Post, the ABSDF and the
opposition government to SLORC, the National Coalition
Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) expressed concern for
the safety of refugees on the Thai/Burma border following an
incident in late February when Burmese troops attacked Karen
refugee on Thai territory, leaving two Karen women (one of whom
was pregnant) and a Thai driver dead. Ten other people were
seriously wounded including four childern. The NCGUB urged the
Thai government to provide more security for the refugees "...
given the ease with which the armed SLORC troops can enter
refugee camps in thailand...". It appears that refugees are more
than justified in their fears for their security.
In a response to the situation, a programme was established by
the Australian Government for the resettlement of displaced
Burmese in Thailand who are subject to substantial
discrimination in Burma. For the 1993/4 period, 50 places were
made available and this number has been increased to 100 for the
Burma has had a low media profile and only now the Australian
public is aware of the Burmese refugee crisis. The participation
of church groups in needed to bring awareness of the human
rights violations, to pressure the Australian government to
address the situation in Burma and to be involved in the
resettlement of reufgees admitted to Australia under the Special
Assistance Category (SAC).
Your community can assist by direct sponsorship or by
contributing funds to a loans schemen established by the
National Council of Churches. For further information please
contact the RMS representative in your state - see back page for
Teresa O'Shannassy and Marc Purcell
Burma Support Group, Melbourne.
Hidden Behind the Human WAll
The following report is written by James Isbister, the Refugee
and Migrant Services' POlicy/Education officer. He recently
visited the Thai-Burma border on behalf of the National council
of churches to monitor aid programs providing basic needs to
refuges in camps along the border.
My recent visit to the Thai-Burma border followed the
well publicised attacks on the refugee camps along the border by
the rebel Karen group the DKBO (Democratic Karen Buddhist
Organization). The DKBO broke away from the main Karen army, the
KNU (Karen National Union), at the end of last year and have now
been shown to have close ties to SLORC. SLORC is believed to be
responsible for financing and arming the DKBO, and encouraging
them to attack the KNU in Burma and refugee camps along the
SLORC forged this split within the Karen movement so the
international community and the Burmese people would see the
fighting along the border as factional infighting amongst the
ethnic Karen. However, since the end of the Second World War
various Burmese regimes have been trying to crush the many
ethnic groups in Western Burma who have been struggling for
greater self determination.
These recent incursions and attacks by the DKBO on the refugee
camps inside Thailand, follow the heavy attacks by the DKBO and
SLORC on the KNU strongholds in Mannerplaw and Kawmoora last
December and February. These attacks forced a further ten
thousand refugees to flee into Thailand for protection.
Last month's DKBO attacks on refugee camps involved the
kidnapping and killing of many Buddhist and christian religious
leaders. A number of the camps were either partially or
completely burnt down, rice stores for the rainy season and
hundreds of houses were destroyed.
SLORC AND THE DKBO'S RATIONALE IS TO TRY AND FORCE THESE
REFUGEES BACK INTO BURMA THUS OVERCOMING THE BURMESE
JUNTA'S EMBARRASSING POLITICAL SITUATION WHERE THE
BORDER SITUATION IS A CONTINUAL REMINDER TO THE
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY OF THE HORRENDOUS HUMAN RIGHTS
ABUSES OCCURRING INSIDE BURMA.
While I was at the Thai-Burma border thousands of refugees were
being forced to move up to 50km to relocate their camps after
losing everything in the attacks. Along the road I saw thousands
of refugees carrying their rice provisions for the next few
weeks and necessary building materials such as bamboo and
thatch. In expressing to one women my horror of their present
situation she shocked me in responding "we are used to this, in
Burma we often have our villages attacked and burnt by SLORC".
The Burmese military often enters camps and forces many fo the
boy and men to act as porters for them, carrying their munitions
and proviwions. It is also common for the military to enter and
destroy villages they feel could be sympathising with ethnic or
other dissident groups in the area.
Hearing stories from the refugees and camp leaders and seeing
the evidence of human rights abuse by the Burmese military, only
further highlighted to me the immediate need for change to occur
within Burma. However desperate the situation on the border is ,
however urgent the need to provide security, shelter and
essential foods, the larger issue of the reason behind the
movement of refugees and the military's human rights abuses only
kilometres inside Burma must be the ongoing focus of the
international communities work.
This most recent refugee crises must not be left, as too often
happens due to the media portrayal, as another refugee crisis
where little more can be done than sending money and supporting
those organisations presently assisting on the bord4er. The
refugees themselves are asking the international community to
look behind their human wall stretching along the border. There
is evidence enough from this tragedy to emphasise to us the
urgency in finding a solution to the oppressive situation inside
There is no question that we must continue to assist and fund
agencies working on the border, nevertheless the medium to long
term focus and action for Australian churches and communities is
to work for a change in the political situation within Burma.
With the recent arrival in Australia of Burmese students
involved in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising it is a real
opportunity for many church and community groups to work with
Burmese effected by the regime on campaign calling for democracy
in Burma. There needs to be more lobbying of the Australian
Government and other international organisations, such the UN to
pressure SLORC to adhere to the results of the democratic
elections in 1991.
/* Endreport */