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Tourism lure may backfire on campaign
'Human zoo tramples on their basic rights'

Cheewin Sattha 
Mae Hong Son

The parading of Long-neck Karens for the benefit of tourists could
jeopardise the Amazing Thailand tourism campaign as the international
community may see the display as a violation of human rights, an official
warned yesterday.

Poonsak Sunthornpanitkit, Mae Hong Son provincial chamber of commerce
president, said the use of Long-neck Karens as the star attraction to
lure tourists in for money was tantamount to human rights violation.

He also urged the authorities to investigate the disappearence of over 46
Long-neck Karens from the Patong tribe from Ban Nai Soy refugee camp in
Mae Hong Son last May.

These Karens were reportedly led away by a man who took them to a tourist
spot in Ban Tha Thon, in Mae Ai district, Chiang Mai for an exhibition.

Mr Poonsak said that the Karens inhabit a "human zoo" and said their
rights are abused by enterprising opportunists who use the tribal
villagers to cash in on tourism.

"Selfish operators are abusing the rights of Long-neck Karens. They treat
them like animals to lure tourists who want to view their unusual long
necks. I want authorities to investigate how these people were taken from
the refugee camp," said Mr Poonsak.

The hilltribe people in question are migrants from Burma living in a
refugee camp at Ban Nai Soy for the past five years. 

By tradition, girls aged 10 years begin by putting one or two brass rings
around their necks, arms and below the knees. More rings are added each
year until the number reaches 20-25. It is their unusual necks which are
a curiosity for outsiders. 

Tourists reportedly paid between 250-300 baht each to view the Long-neck

Natteera Khachornsereelikhitkul, director of the Tourism Authority of
Thailand (TAT), Northern Office, said the TAT would not use Long-neck
Karens in its current campaign years to draw tourists to the northern

A unnamed senior military officer called on governors of the two
provinces to play a mediating role in solving the problem.

He said: "Provincial authorities should seriously look into the
exploitation of hilltribe people. They should put a stop on the abuse of
human rights. If the problem still remains unresolved, our tourist
business will be badly hit.

Enterprising opportunists who display the Karens before the public for a
fee should understand the lifestyle of these tribespeople. They should
treat them like human beings, not animals," added the officer.

Registration of immigrant workers, including Long-neck Karens, was made
mandatory by a June 25 cabinet resolution which allowed these workers in
43 provinces to work for a two-year period after which they would be
deported and barred from returning.

Many Long-neck Karens were registered by their employers to work in the
agricultural sector, but in practice they were used in tourism displays.

While conflicts of interests among business groups over the control of
Long-neck Karens continue, the seven families of a Patong tribe who were
lured to a tourist spot in Chiang Mai have sought help from authorities
and their relatives to rescue them from the human zoo.

Letters and recorded cassettes narrating their hardships while staying in
the detention tourist spot were sent through visitors to their relatives
in the Kayah State of Burma and Mae Hong Son's Ban Nai Soy refugee camp.

The letters said tribes people were not allowed to go anywhere and forced
to work hard in exchange for monthly wages of only 200 baht.

Satuk, 60, travelled from a border Burmese village in Kayah State to Mae
Hong Son by foot to search for his missing son and daughter-in-law who
were reportedly taken from the refugee camp to entertain tourists in
Chiang Mai.

"I will take my children back home. Their mother is seriously ill and
wants to see them. I won't return home if I don't meet my son and
daughter-in-law," said the 60-year-old Satuk.

Mr Satuk's son, Lakia, 21, and his 16-year-old young wife Buba were
persuaded by a Thai guide who visited their village a few years ago to
work in a Thai village near Ban Nai Soi refugee camp. The couple were
later taken to Chiang Mai and haven't been seen since.

"My neighbour told me that my son and his wife were used as star
attractions to lure tourists. They receive little money and live in poor
conditions. I want my children to return home," said Mr Satuk, who spoke
in the Kayah dialect.

Mrs Manang, 43, a Long-neck tribes woman living in Ban Nai Soy camp,
talked about the hardships of her relatives who were taken for show in
Chiang Mai.

"My sister-in-law and my relative died while staying in Chiang Mai. They
were forced to work hard, but nobody cared about their health and living
conditions. I would like the Thai authorities to help rescue my relatives
and friends. Don't try to part us," said Mrs Manang, a familiar face on

The seven Long-neck Karen families have been taken from the Ban Nai Soy
refugee camp to stay at Ban San Tontu in Tambon Tha Ton, Mae Ai district
of Chiang Mai since May last year.

Sotae, Karen leader of Ban Nai Soy camp, who received letters from his
fellow Karens from a tourist identified only as Mr Robert, said his
villagers lived in poor conditions with a meagre income.

They have no freedom to go anywhere, the letters said, and their confined
area was guarded by armed men hired by the owner of the tourist spot.

Those who were caught escaping the area were physically assaulted.

Mr Laeta, a leading Long-neck tribesman who was taken to Tambon Tha Thon
in Chiang Mai, wrote about the hardship that he and other Karens suffered
and about the poor treatment from their employer who simply wanted to
exploit them.

He called on his relatives and authorities to help bail him out from the
"hellish place."

Khoo Orlae, a Karen official in Ban Nai Soi camp, said he and five other
camp officials went to the tourist spot in Tambon Tha Thon on October 6-7
to visit their Karen colleagues after receiving their letters. However,
they were barred from entering the spot.

A tourist who used to view Long-neck Karens in Tambon Tha Thon condemmed
the confinement of Karens, saying it was a shameful practice to abuse the
rights of the tribes people.

He called on the authorities to take tough action against selfish
operators who exploit the Long-neck Karens.