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FEER(18/5/95): DKBO/SLORC INCURSION
Subject: FEER(18/5/95): DKBO/SLORC INCURSIONS INTO THAILAND
FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW, MAY 18, 1995.
BURMA: IT'S RANGOON, NOT REBELS
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
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.