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Burmese government behind camp attacks
by Bertil Lintner in kamaw Law Kho, Thailand

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 kilometers  north
of  Mae  Sot, a town on the border with Burma. Within minutes, the atackers
doused the ethnic Karen camp with kerosens 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 righters 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

"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 army."

The Kanaw Lay Kho camp is a stone's throw from the Moei river, which formes
the  border  with Burma. The attackers came from across the water, Saw Kauk
Cho says. Then, young private poured kerosene on the  bamboo  huts  in  the
camp  and  lit  them  while  older  officers in the background directed the
action over walkie-talkies.

The pastor tells how mortars and rocket-propelled grenades were fired  into
the  dense  maze of house. Within minutes, the refugee camp's 300 buildings
became an inferno. The attackers told  the  refugees  thay  had  to  return
across  the  border,  or  face  a worse fate in the next attack, the pastor

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 wihch have  been
attacked are located immediately opposite major Burmese 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 example.

Refugees at the camp says 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-controlled 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 gunshipsfired salvos on a Karen  Buddhist  position  inside
Burma.  Military  and  civilian leaders in Bangkok have protested what they
called Karen Bhddhist incursions, 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 Bhddhist army. Some observers argue the Burmese
motive for the camp attacks is to shake  Thailand's  will  to  harbour  the

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 cammander Gen. Wimol Wongwanich said "it would
take  only  a week to push all refugees back to Burms."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 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 scritiny, which the Thai 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 finist it by 1996. Already, a concrete arch spans the
Moei, and construction 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.

Far Eastern Economic Review, May 18, 1995.