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The following is a brief summary of information just to hand from reliable
confidential sources regarding immediate conditions for recent arrivals in
Umphang district, Tak province, Thailand, 30 October 1997.
Approximately 2,000 new arrivals from Burma have crossed into Thailand in
the last month in Umphang, Tak province. The new arrivals are mainly from
Kaw Ka Reik and Kyarin Seik Kyi township, and along the Thai-Burma border
adjacent to Umphang district (KNU 6th Brigade area). Thai authorities have
denied these people entry into Noh Pho camp in Umphang district, but have
temporarily allowed these people to camp in the surrounding jungle area and
receive aid from the Burma Border Consortium (the BBC) as well as other
quasi-formal assistance. However, it has been reported by the Noh Pho camp
leader that soldiers from the Thai Army visited these people yesterday, and
told them to return to Burma as Thailand is not willing to continue granting
sanctuary. Thailand has not announced an official policy of repatriation,
but there have been instances on the ground of temporary shelter being
allowed to new arrivals followed by swift refoulement before attention can
be focused on them. Their isolation/inaccessibility has been exacerbated by
lack of access due to the rainy season road conditions, and a policy of
denying access to independent third party monitors.
The latest arrivals fled oppression suffered under newly stationed Burma
Army units who arrived in these areas during June this year as part of the
latest anti-KNU offensive. They tell a litany of human rights abuses
endured - forced labour, forced portering, extortion of porter fees,
extrajudicial executions, deliberate strategies to incite religious tension,
and forced relocations.
In the last week of September, many villagers began making their way to the
Thai-Burma border. People hid during the day, moving at night in an attempt
to cross into Thailand. The Burma Army has now closed access to the border,
and approximately 100 families are unable to cross.
On September 30, Burma Army officials crossed the border and met with the
Thai village head of Lay Taw Kho, two religious representatives of the new
arrivals, and the regional Thai Border Patrol police unit, and again during
the first week of October. The Burma Army spokesman demanded the new
arrivals return to Burma. The new arrivals refused as their request for the
army to promise not to use force once returned was rejected. Apparently the
second in command of the battalion said words to the effect that "we are the
army and we do not listen to civilian demands." The new arrivals have been
very concerned about their security as they are vulnerable to attack in
Thailand, since access to Noh Pho camp has been denied and they are located
close to the border.
On October 29, soldiers of one Thai Army division arrived at two villages
around Noh Pho camp where the new arrivals have been taking shelter - Kwe Le
Taw and Htee Saw Shee - and told them through a refugee interpreter that
they could no longer stay in Thailand, and must return to Burma. They
apparently said the order comes from their superior officer.
If this group of new arrivals are repatriated it will consitute an act of
refoulement, as these arrivals have sought sanctuary in Thailand on account
of a well-founded fear of persecution by the Burma Army sanctioned by the
government. The Burma Army battalion in the area has refused to promise
that force will not be used upon the return of the arrivals to their
villages. The Thai authorities policy of denying access to refugee camps
combined with other pressures on them to return, is alarming. Equally
alarming is that these new arrivals may be refouled without the knowledge of
the international community.