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Mon Repatriation, "Crossing the Bor



Subject: Mon Repatriation, "Crossing the Border"

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Diakonia #39 
April 1996

FYI:  Now Available . . . 
JRS - AP has available a new situation paper
entitled "Compassion and Collusion: The Mon
Repatriation and the Illusion of Choice" The
paper discusses recent events in the Burmese
refugee situation as well as current trends and
asylum policies.  The paper is available
through the JRS- AP office. (31 pages. US
$2.00 or Bt. 50)

Crossing the Border

Note: all names have been changed and in
some cases the names of villages have been
omitted. 

The pressured Mon repatriation just across the
Burmese border is a foreboding sign to the
remaining 90,000 Burmese refugees seeking
asylum in Thailand. 

The only place to find Pa Yaw refugee camp
now is in the historical record. At the end of
March the camp - recently emptied of its
refugee population - was burned to the ground
by ten uniformed men who swooped down in a
Thai government helicopter. 

The destruction of Pa Yaw is the culmination
of a number of events which unfolded over the
past few years, including a 1994 forced
repatriation to Burma of Mon refugees
sheltering in Thailand; a subsequent attack by
Burmese soldiers; the denial of asylum for the
victims by the Thai military; a cease fire made
under pressure between the Mon opposition
group and the Burmese State Law and Order
Restoration Council (SLORC); and the Thai
use of the cease fire to justify the repatriation
of all the Mon refugees on Thai soil by the end
of April, 1996. 

For these refugees now quietly living just
inside Burma, the destruction of Pa Yaw is a
clear message they are not welcome back to
Thailand. 

The Thai government, hungry for Burma's
resources, has embarked on a path of
renewed relations with the SLORC. 

This is a departure from the past, as the Thai
government historically has supported the
many ethnic opposition groups in their
struggles against the SLORC.  According to
one Thai official, in pursuit of economic
interests Thailand has "pushed away its
friends and invited the foes." The refugees
represent a political embarrassment for
SLORC. What's more, they occupy resource -
rich land, and are also a channel for damaging
human rights information to reach the
international community. 

Observers in the Mon repatriation, including
any of the former inhabitants of Pa Yaw, have
argued repatriation was neither voluntary nor
appropriate.  UNHCR, long marginalised in
Thailand in regards to the 90,000 Burmese
refugees living there, was able to offer little
assistance to the Mon. It initially called the
repatriation "spontaneous", turning the Mon
return into an issue of semantics rather than
human rights.  Now that the Mon are out of
Thailand, UNHCR has no authority to support
them. 

This means the Mon now lack even the most
fundamental safeguards that their return will
bring lasting stability. UNHCR requests to
monitor the returnees were ignored by the
SLORC, no other international agencies work
in the repatriation areas; the human rights
conditions inside Burma have worsened; and
the delivery of assistance to the new villages
has been so impeded by local Thai authorities
that the Mon currently have rice to last only
until June. As these sites become
inaccessible with the coming rains, the outlook
for returnees is bleak. 
New arrivals continued to enter the camp daily
until it was emptied, and continue even now to
arrive at the resettlement camps inside
Burma, one of which is a mere 20 - minute
drive from the nearest SLORC military post. 

New arrivals continue to flee harassment by
the Burmese government in the form of forced
labor and portering, arbitrary and excessive
taxation, and other violent human rights
violations that include beatings, arbitrary
detention, rape and torture. 

Ironically, the cease fire (which has never
been followed - up by peace negotiations), has
in some areas made the situation worse.
Whereas Mon soldiers once provided a
measure of security for villagers, in many
areas SLORC troops now move freely,
demanding money and food with impunity.  
(to be continued)

(Why people flee)

Name: U Aung Than Htun 
56 years old 
Burmese Tavoyan 
Pa Lein Zin village Yephyu township 

He arrived together with nine of his ten family
members around 7. 3 . 96.  He came to the
refugee camp because there is so much
forced labor.   Furthermore. he does not have
enough food for his family and it is very hard
to survive. Everyone over 16 has to go to work
on the Ye - Tavoy railway. They have to move
10 "kyin" of earth each. People were taken
around harvest time (October 1995). so they
have a hard time getting in their rice harvest.
Furthermore, they have to share the rice
harvest with those who have to go work on the
railway. 

Six members of his family had to go work.
They had to go work for about 10 days each
time, or until the designated work was
finished.  They had to work at Ye Boke as well. 
There were soldiers guarding them and
inspecting their work while they were working. 
When the allocated work was finished, the
soldiers gave the workers travel documents
and then they could go home. The soldiers did
not beat people but some people died of
sickness. In one week three people died. 

People did not actually stay at the army camp
but along the work site in encampments
divided according to village. The name of the
village was written on a sign in front of each
section of the encampment. At 9:00 pm a
whistle was blown and after that no more
talking was allowed. Furthermore, in the
evening people from different villages couldn't
go to visit each other. A whistle was blown
again at 6:00 am to signal the start of work.
They were allowed a break for cooking and
eating at 11:00 am.  Over 90 people from his
village had to go to work. There are 90
households in his village. 

Additionally SLORC took six porters from his
village on their movement towards the KNU
4th Brigade area in December 1995. But the
village paid. 76,000 kyats so that the people
did not have to go to work. His village regularly
has to give 4 people to serve as porters or on
security duty in the gas pipeline area,
particularly since October 1995. In addition to
porters and forced labor, the SLORC is always
taking goods from the village, particularly food
stuffs such as rice, pork, beef,  even young
chickens. 

Originally there were 90 households in his
village, now there are only 50.  When people
go, the villagers destroy their house, otherwise
they will have to pay the taxes for the absent
family.   The SLORC soldiers always takes
things from the villagers. He and his family are
tired of all the demands of the SLORC, that is
why they have come to the refugee camp. 

Name: Nai Hla Mon. 
Over 60 years old 
Mon farmer 
Ye Township 

Arrived in the camp on 16 . 3 . 96, together
with his son and daughter - in - law. They had
to walk for three days to reach the camp. They
left very quickly in order to escape forced labor
on the Ye - Tavoy railway. They had to leave
his grand - daughter behind with some
relatives in another village. They knew
SLORC was going to come to their village
soon to demand labor for the railway. They
have no money to pay labor fees, instead of
going to work, so they decided to leave. 

They thought for a long time about coming to
the refugee camp. Some people from their
village are in the refugee camp, others are in
Halockani. He had lived in the refugee camps
previously and had gone back three years
Ago, however he has returned because he
found life impossible inside Burma. He is a
farmer. His village has about 500 households.
Many other households want to come to the
refugee camp. But some have large farms and
gardens and don 't want to lose them. They try
to pay fees to avoid forced labor instead of
coming to the refugee camp. They did not
have trouble coming to the refugee camp
because they went around the SLORC
checkpoints. Some other families have
already left his village. 

Since the cease - fire SLORC is collecting
more porter fees and taxes than before.
Before cease -fire the villagers had to give 3
baskets of padi to the SLORC each harvest
and now they have to give 10. He said the
average harvest is about 30 baskets. Before
cease - fire, MNLA (Mon National Liberation
Army) stayed near village, and acted as a
deterrent to SLORC.  But now after the cease
- fire the SLORC soldiers can come and go
with impunity' When the SLORC soldiers
come to the village they demand to be fed. 

Sometimes the SLORC soldiers go and sleep
in women's houses, if their husbands are
away.  They don't ask permission of' their
officers to do this. The village leaders can't do
anything about it because they are afraid.
SLORC has informers in some villages but not
others. 

Sometimes the SLORC makes as if they are
going to arrest people but the villagers know
this is a fraud and that the SLORC is simply 
taking someone away in order to persuade
them to become an informer. 

Jesuit Refugee Service / Asia Pacific
24/1 Soi Aree 4 (South)
Phaholyothin Rd. 7
Bangkok 10400, Thailand


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