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Thailand-Burma 'it's good to be bac
- Subject: Thailand-Burma 'it's good to be bac
- From: thawma@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 10 Nov 1997 15:46:00
THAILAND-BURMA/ETHNIC THAIS FROM BURMA TO BE GIVEN CITIZENSHIP
Like many other ethnic Thais born in the southern Burmese
province of Mergui, Na Wongthong decided to return to the
land of his forefathers rather than continue an insecure
existence in Burma.
"Living in Burma was like living with a stepfather because
they maltreated us. Coming back to Thailand, to our King
and Queen, is like coming back to our true parents which made
us proud and happy," he told the Bangkok Post.
Now 55, Na fled Burma and settled down in Ranong
in 1968.He has adopted the southern accent and intends to spend
the rest of his life in Thailand.
He is among the thousands of ethnic Thais whose
ancestors suddenly found themselves under Burmese rule in 1868,
when Thailand, under an agreement with Burma's then British
rulers,ceded two provinces to the country. The province of
Mergui,where Na was born, is known in Thai as Marid, while
Tanao Sri,or Tenasserim in Burmese, was the other province
Thailand had to cede.
Na was among the first descendants of ethnic Thais
to begin the journey back to Thailand. It was triggered by isolationist
and socialist policies of Gen Ne Win which
impoverished Burma after he seized power in 1962.
More than three decades later, in May this year, the
cabinet of former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh decided
to give Thai citizenship to descendants of natives of Tanao Sri
and Marid affected by the Anglo-Thai agreement.
Under the May 27 cabinet resolution, 7,849 ethnic
Thais from Burma who took refuge along the Thai-Burmese border
before March 1976 are entitled to Thai citizenship.
Of this number, about 3,034 people are believed to be
living in Ranong, the rest in Tak, Prachuap Khiri Khan, and
But a survey conducted in August found that only 5,736
people from the four provinces had applied for Thai citizenship.
This included 1,241 in Ranong.
According to Na, it was not until September that
authorities told him about the citizenship offer. Na is well
qualified as he meets the requirements: applicants should look Thai,
speak Thai, and respect Thai institutions. He also holds a special
ID card, issued in 1991, which describes him as an ethnic Thai of
"unknown" nationality. For 21 years, he and his family were
"Getting Thai citizenship amounts to recognition of our
existence and rights. That is what we are very pleased and proud of," Na
From the start of their return to Thailand, a major
difficulty for these ethnic Thais was education, officials said.
Because they are denied house registration papers, their children
cannot be admitted to local schools, driving some girls into
prostitution, they added.
Otherwise, said Santi Khana-nurak, Kra Buri district chief,
their presence has not affected national security. They are like any
other Thais who lead a simple life and have relatives here.
However, they do pose a health risk, notably
elephantiasis,because they regularly cross the border into Burma
for jobs.According to villagers, ethnic Thais who own land and rice
fields in Burma are still abused and suffer hardships.
Prasert Vichienrat, 33, from Burma's Mah Lang township,
said Burmese soldiers forced him and hundreds of other Thais into
manual labour, making them build military camps in preparation
for the recent attack on Karen National Union bases.
In Burmese-controlled Maliwan village, some 300 Thais were
forced to build roads and those who didn't comply had to pay at
a rate of 300 kyats per head to Burmese soldiers, villagers said.
"It is even hard to live on our own farms as the soldiers
take away almost half our profits from the crops we plant. They steal
our cattle and chicken," said Khieu Lim-sila, 80, who left Maliwan
three years ago and now lives in Tambon Bang Kaew of Ranong's La-un
The village is about an hour's ride by boat along Kra Buri
River from Bang Kaew. Mr Santi was of the view that the government's
plan to give citizenship to displaced Thais will help solve their
problems. Thai authorities cannot protect people living
in Burmese territory even though they may be ethnic Thais, he pointed
The citizenship will entitle them to land ownership rights
and the freedom to work and live anywhere in the country, opening up
more opportunities, he said.
Currently, Thais from Tenasserim and Mergui cannot live
outside designated towns, cannot own land, or work in 27 professions
reserved for Thai nationals which include farming and hairdressing.
Officials at the Interior Ministry expressed confidence
that the process of granting citizenship to these ethnic Thais will
be accomplished within two years, and that the applicants will enjoy
full citizenship rights after the announcement to the effect in the
For the past few years the problem of education for their
children has been partly solved, with local authorities allowing
them to enrol in state-run primary and secondary schools, Mr Santi
said, but hurdles remain for those seeking higher education.
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