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Bangkok Post News (8/11/98)

Tour firms angry at bid to move long-necked Karens

A planned evacuation of Karen refugees, including long-necked tribes
people, to two refugee camps near the border has sparked protests from many
tourism protest from many tourism operators and hoteliers who have claimed
the move will affect tourism.
Poolsak Sunthornpanit, chairman of Mae Hong Son provincial chamber of
commerce, said the presence of the Karens from the Padaung tribe helped
boost tourism in this northern province.
He said: "All tourism-related businesses such as hotels, restaurants and
transportation srevices would be badly hit by the evacuation.
"Long-necked Karens are the star attraction to draw tourists to visiting
our province." He added.
Earlier, the Thai-Burmese border committee resolved in September to move
over 4,000 Karen refugees, of which 100  are long-necked Karens, from Ban
Mai Nan Soi camp in Maung district to Ban Pang Khwai and Pang Tractor
temporary shelters for better control and security reasons.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will finance the
evacuation, which will cost about six million baht.
Sources said tourism operators and long-necked Karens would unite in
protesting against the planned evacuation.
The Karens also fear their lives will be in danger if they are moved to the
new sites. Which are vulnerable to border attack.
Manany,43, a long-necked Karen woman a Ban Mai Nan soi camp, said many
Karens strongly opposed the planned evacuation.
" We have lived in this camp for more than 10 years. We don't want to move
to the new place," said Mrs. Manang.
Mada, 17, a Karen girl, has appealed to Thai authorities not to move them
" The new sites are very close to border. If we are evacuated there, we may
soon become victims of border attacks," said Miss Mada.
Despite protests from tourism operators and Karens, provincial authorities
insisted that they would go ahead with the evacuation.
" The move is made for the sake of the national security. Our province is
rich with natural tourism attractions, arts and culture.
"I see it unnecessary to use the long-necked Karens as a selling point to
draw tourists. If the tourists want to view the trines people, they are
allowed to see them in the new camps," said Mr Amornphan.
The long-necked Karens are among 30,000 Burmese refugees who fled fighting
inside Burma about 11 years ago. They are now living in Ban Nam Phiangdin
camp in Pai district, Ban Huay Seuthao camp in Muang district and Ban Mai
Nan Soi capm in Pang Moo district.
By tradition, tribal girls aged 10 years begin by putting one or two brass
rings aroung their necks, arms and below the knees. More rings are added
each year until the number reaches 20-25.
It is their unusual long necks which are a curiosity for outsiders.
Tourists reportedly pay between 250-300 baht each to view the long-necked
Karens in the three camps.
There are about 50-100 tourists visiting the camps a day. During the
tourism reason, the number of visitors rises sharply to about 200-250 a day.
The display of the Karens yields about 12,500-25,000 baht a day or
50,000-75,000 baht during the tourism season.
A tour operator the income from this business was shared among tour
operators, local officials and the Karens.
" To share the income, tour operators will deduct 750 baht from 2,500 baht
fees received from 10 tourists. The remaining 1,750 baht will go to those
who organise the display. The organisers will pay monthly fees to local
immigration, district, police and military authorities," said the tour
operator, who declined to be named.
The presence of the long-necked Karens has also benefited other
tourism-related businesses. 
The Reunban Huaydeu Boat operators' Clup, which operates boat services
along the Pai river, earns 24,000-30,000 baht a day from taking tourists to
Ban Nam Phaingdin camp. Restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops also enjoy
huge incomes.