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IPS: THAILAND: EU Increases Aid To

Subject: IPS: THAILAND: EU Increases Aid To Karen Refugees From Burma

> [Image]
> [Image]
>               [Image] THAILAND: EU Increases Aid To Karen Refugees
>        BACK  [Image]  From Burma
> [Image]
> By Niccolo Sarno
> BRUSSELS, Apr 11 (IPS) -- The European Union has approved
> humanitarian aid worth 897,000 dollars for Karen refugees from Burma
> on the Thai border.
> The special funds were assigned by the European Community
> Humanitarian Office (ECHO), in charge of crisis aid at the EU's
> executive Commission, and goes to the Paris-based NGO International
> Medical Aid (AMI). AMI has worked to help the Karen refugees in
> Thailand ever since they first started fleeing across the border to
> escape persecution in their country in the late 1980s.
> Grichat Lepointe, AMI's Thailand desk officer, told IPS that ECHO's
> grant, approved Thursday, will go towards medical aid and basic
> sanitation facilities, and also towards training of Karen staff and
> preventive health programmes.
> ''AMI has been training Karens in medical activities since its
> arrival in Thailand two years ago, and the personnel there is now
> made of more than fifty Karens, in addition our staff of nine.
> ''The grant, which should give support to AMI activities for six
> months, will help our team training Karens to help themselves, in
> sight of the time when aid agencies will have to leave. Our staff
> will train additional Karens in medical activities, such as
> treatment activities and preventive programmmes''.
> Lepointe said that ECHO's grant will also be used for additional
> preventive programmes, including vaccinations against diseases such
> as tuberculosis and malaria. The programme also includes assistance
> for midwives. AMI operates in three camps in two crowded areas,
> assisting some 25,000 refugees.
> ''Two camps serve about 20,000 Karens presently camped in ditches
> along the road from the Burma border to the Thai town of Umphang,''
> Lepointe said. ''The third camp is located in the surroundings of
> the Thai town of Maesariang, in a zone where some 5,000 more are in
> the same conditions.''
> But a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official told IPS
> that their agency staff has been unable to visit the large number of
> other camps present in the area as often as they would like.
> ''We are concerned with the situation along the border, especially
> with sanitation. Thai authorities allow us only some visits but not
> a permanent presence there, claiming that the Karens are
> 'temporarily displaced persons', not 'refugees', and that there are
> already many NGOs on the field,'' said the UNHCR official.
> At the beginning of last March, about a thousand refugees, out of
> the 100,000 believed to have found refuge along the 1,800 kilometre
> long Burmese-Thai border, were forced back into Burma, according to
> representatives of several humanitarian organisations.
> The European Commission stated on Mar. 6 that it was ''prepared to
> examine the possibility of financing additional costs which might
> arise from the arrival of more refugees, as well as the evacuation
> and relocation of Burmese refugees inside Thailand''. Thai
> diplomatic sources in Brussels told IPS that Thailand has not asked
> financial assistance to the Commission so far.
> The Karen ethnic group, which amounts to seven percent of the
> Burmese population, is the second largest minority in this country
> after the Shan (nine percent).
> Last February, the Burmese army began an assault against the armed
> rebels of the Karen National Union (KNU), the largest of the ethnic
> insurgencies along Burma's border. Some 80,000 refugees were already
> in Thailand before the latest assault, which KNU officials said is
> the biggest since 1995, when they lost their headquarters in teh
> small border town of Mannerplaw.
> Burma's State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), a military
> junta, assumed power on Sep. 18, 1988, has targeted the Karen
> minority ever since, human rights organisations say.
> The International Confederation of Free Trade Union (ICFTU) reported
> last month that ''the SLORC is systematically suppressing human
> rights, especially using forced labour... and it has become an
> essential element of the country's infrastructure policy.
> ''These practices include forced civilian portering to assist
> military offensives... and military labour,'' according to the
> unions. At the end of March the European Union suspended trade
> privileges offered to Burma in protest at the abuses.
> Tension is rising in the country. A mail bomb sent to the Rangoon
> residence of a leading member of the Junta, Lt-General Tin Oo last
> Monday, killed his daughter, sparkling fears of renewed unrest and
> fresh crackdowns.
> Meanwhile, in Brussels, European development NGOs meeting in
> conclave Saturday are expected to produce a resolution which calls
> on EU institutions and member states to press the junta to
> immediately initiate a dialogue with the leaders of the ethnic
> groups and ease internal conflicts. (END/IPS/NS/RJ/97)