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FROM NY Times Fri.. 23 FEB 96, page A4
     by Seth Mydans
     MAE LA, Thailand, Feb. 17 - At the end of the school day, the refugee 
     children in a dirt-floor schoolroom here sing the anthem of a nation 
     they call Kawthoolei: "I love you. I will server you.  I will be true 
     to you.  I will even die for you."
     For most of them, the words can have little meaning.  Their only home 
     has been an archipelago of refugee villages just inside Thailand, 
     where their families, ethnic Karen, have fled growing pressure by teh 
     army of Myanmar, formerly Burma.
     For nearly half a century, the Karen and a dozen other ethnic groups 
     have maintained some of the world's longest-running insurgencies, 
     fighting for Kawthoolei and other homelands inside Burma.  Today, they 
     are closer than ever to defeat, with only the 4,000-soldier army of 
     the Karen National Union still refusing to agree to a cease-fire, in 
     effect surrender.
     Taking advantage of the shifting politics of this fast-modernizing 
     region, the army of Myanmar - Western experts say it has hearly 
     doubled in size since 1988, to as many as 400,000 - has bludgeoned, 
     bargained and manipulated its way to control of nearly the entire 
     1,000-mile border region. 
     This has meant new dislocations, but familiar fears, for hundreds of 
     thousands of people.
     "When I was a child, my parents told me how Burmese soldiers tortured 
     the Karen people," said Nita, a 56-year-old teacher at the camp's 
     Elementary School No. 2, who uses just one name.  "These things stayed 
     in my mind.  So I have always been afraid of Burmese soldiers."
     An ethnically distinct group that traces its origins to Mongolia and 
     now numbers perhaps four million in Myanmar, the Karen are known as 
     warriors, and came close to capturing Rangoon, now known as Yangon, in 
     They have struggled over the years with internal divisions among 
     highland and lowland groups, Buddhists and Christians, and even the 
     Karen-language meaning of Kawthoolei is in dispute: land of the 
     thoolei vegetable, or land of the thoolei insect or, more 
     romantically, land where there is no evil.
     A land without evil is as much a chimera in Myanmar today as the 
     notion of Kawthoolei itself, said a Karen refugee leader.
     Last month the Myanmar Government scored one of its most high-profile 
     coups when a flamboyant opium warlord, Khun Sa, bowed to the new 
     geopolitics of the mountainous borderland and struck a deal, 
     surrendering his mostly ethnic Shan army.
     Meanwhile the Karen army steadily retreated.  Many of the 5,000 
     student demonstrators who fled to join the insurgents after a military 
     crackdown in 1988 have now filtered back to the cities.
     Those who remain are frightened.  "My mother wrote to me saying the 
     schools had reopened, but she said the situation is not very safe," 
     said a former Rangoon University student named Saw Tender, who has 
     lived along the border since 1991.  "One of my friends decided to go 
     back and he was arrested and imprisoned for 20 years."  
     For people like Nita and Mr... Tender, it is hard to know where to 
     turn to seek safety.
     In the last year, the 70,000 Karen refugees scattered through two 
     dozen camps in Thailand have come unde new threat from a breakaway 
     faction called the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.
     With what Western and local experts say is the active support and 
     participation of the Myanmar Government, this faction has made a 
     series of raids into Thailand, killing and kidnapping refugees and 
     burning down several of their camps in an effort to frighten them back 
     into Myanmar.
     In recent weeks, foreign aid workers have stopped spending the night 
     in the camps, and the Thai military has increased its presence.
     In its single-minded rush to grow richer, as Southeast Asia hurtles 
     ahead in economic development, Thailand has been courting Myanmar for 
     its timber and its trade.
     Now the Thais find themselves facing a large, battle-hardened and 
     unpredictable army on their western frontier.
     Trapped by the pressures of opposing armies, political conflicts and 
     economic ambitions, unable to flee farther into Thailand or to return 
     to the dangers of the interior of Myanmar, the refugees in this barren 
     camp can only dream of Kawthoolei.
     Nita, who is married to a Khmer National Union soldier, really has no 
     homeland to return to.  She has spent nearly 30 years as a teacher 
     among the Karen in the jungles and refugee camps and has raised three 
     children of her own who have never seen a Burmese city.
     "This is not a good life for the children," she said.  "But it was 
     even worse in the villages when the soldiers kept attacking," Nita 
     "Even when they in school the children had to be alert to run.  Our 
     history is a history of running, village by village, year by year, 
     until we reached this place where we are not allowed to run anymore."
     "What I want to know is, does anybody have a plan for people like me," 
     she said, "because I want to stay in one place peacefully, growing my 
     garden and living without harm.  Is there any place like this?
     (Caption of map of Burma/Thailand, showing location of Mannerplaw and 
     Mae La,near Mae Sot) "Mae La is now a refuge for ethnic Karen driven 
     out by the Burmese.
     (Caption of photo of Nita, surrounded by 2 dozen schoolchildren) 
     "Nita, a 56-year old teacher at a refugee camp, says: "My parents told 
     me how Burmese soldiers tortured the Karen people.  These things 
     stayed in my mind.  So I have always been afraid of Burmese soldiers."