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Long-neck refugees sold into 'human

South China Morning Post
Saturday  November 22  1997


Long-neck refugees sold into 'human zoo' 

ANDREW DRUMMOND in Thaton, northern Thailand 
Villagers of a remote Burmese hill tribe who fled to Thailand to escape
their nation's military junta have been found in a "human zoo".

So far three have died, it is claimed, after being deprived of medical

The villagers, from Kayah state, went missing a year ago. They were
kidnapped by Thai businessmen and placed on land controlled by the Thai

Tourists, who have been paying 250 baht (HK$50) each to look at the women
at the Pakphongchai camp in Thaton are told by guides that the families
are living free under the care of the Thai military, which has generously
given them the land to live on.

But the families say they have been sold into slavery. They are paid only
HK$36 a month per family to look their best for tourists at the behest of
an "influential" Thai businessman with connections to the Thai military.

The businessmen sell them make-up, which they insist the women wear.

The discovery of the labour camp comes as Thailand promotes the women of
the tribe, known for their long necks, as a tourist attraction for an
internationally publicised "Amazing Thailand Year".

The women told The Times they had been beaten regularly and their
husbands had been forced to work for the Thai Army.

The group from the Padaung tribe, originally 34 in strength, fled Burma
for a village run by the Karenni Refugee Committee.

But only a few kilometres short of their destination, the group was put
on minibuses and driven away.

Karenni intelligence sources later learned that their guide had sold the
villagers to the Thai businessmen.

"We sent our troops after him but they got the news six hours too late,"
said Aung Myat, deputy chairman of the refugee committee.

Committee officials realised the group's plight when a tourist delivered
a tape on behalf of the refugees.

The tape started with the sound of women singing, then one pleading for

"Please come now. Things cannot be any worse," she said.

"We would rather die than live here."

For 30 minutes a succession of men and women poured out complaints in
their native Padaung.

"We are beaten when they see us writing or trying to talk to tourists
secretly," said one.

Another complained: "They won't let us leave. They guard us with guns."

Zaw Thet, a member of the committee, was sent to investigate. "When I got
there, there were 40 armed men at the gates", he said.

"They had M16s, and machine-guns. They pointed their guns at me and
refused me entrance."

Despite the pleas by refugee officials, and the Mae Hong Son Chamber of
Commerce, the only action taken by the authorities in Chiang Mai province
was to arrest some of the Padaung women and charge them with working

A Thai businessman, Thana Nakluang, was charged with using illegal

Nakluang posted bail on the spot and sent the women back to work.