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Mizzima: Hard-bitten Burmese dissid

Hard-bitten Burmese dissidents in Thailand?

By: Win Htein
Bangkok, April 12, 2000

When the Thai authorities arrested Moe Thee Zun, a prominent student
leader, in Bangkok airport last month, Burmese dissidents in Thailand
were shocked and worried for their security. Moe Thee Zun is vice
chairman of All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF), a dissident
group fighting against the military junta in Burma. He is also a senior
member of National Council of the Union of Burma, an umbrella of Burma
dissident groups.

Having based in Thailand, Moe Thee Zun and many of his comrades have
been traveling to other countries outside Thailand to promote their
cause for the restoration of democracy in Burma for the past twelve
years. But, why did the Thai authorities arrest him this time? Is he
truly arrested for holding ?fake? passport? According to media reports,
Moe Thee has already got visa from the US Embassy in Bangkok.

"He had already passed the passport counter and almost in the departure
room. Then, two uniform officers came and arrested him. I am sure
Burmese junta?s intelligent network reported to Thai authorities," said
U Aung Saw Oo, another dissident leader who accompanied to Moe Thee to
the airport on that fateful day. However, two of Moe Thee's comrades who
were travelling along with him to the United States in the same flight
were lucky. They arrived their destination on time for a 'Free Burma'
seminar to be held in the United States.

In the past twelve years, hundreds of thousands of Burma student
activists fled to Thai-Burma border after the Burmese army killed nearly
3,000 of their comrades in Rangoon alone. Since then, they have allied
with ethnic armies, such as Karen, Mon and Karenni in the border and
have been fighting against the Burmese government troops.

After twice hostage drama by Burmese dissidents on its soil, the Thai
authorities had apparently decided to change their policy on those
Burmese activists who have been taking shelter in Thailand since 1988.
(In October last year, five Burmese armed students led by Johnny seized
the Burmese embassy in Bangkok and February of this year another 10-
armed dissidents seized a hospital in Ratchaburi district in Thailand.)

"I don't understand why the Thai authorities do not want us to stay in
their country while our alliance ethnic groups have been living here for
more than 50 years?" asked an ABSDF leader.

There may have some strong reasons for the Thai authorities. First, the
student activists often travel to other countries in promoting their
campaigns in international fora while the ethnic armies stay silent in
the jungles of Thai-Burma border. Second, many dissident students are
registered with the UNHCR's Bangkok office to go to ?third country? for
further studies and resettlement programs while ethnic minorities are
living in the border refugee camps. Third, the students stormed the
embassy and hospital for their political objectives while the minority
armies don?t.

According to Burma Border Consortium, a non-governmental organization
providing food relief to the refugees along the Thai-Burma border, there
are 118,419 Burmese displaced persons currently living in the 15-camps
at the border while 1,764 Burmese students are staying at the Maneeloy
holding center in Ratchaburi district.

Since the embassy crisis in October last year, the media spotlight has
raised questions among the Thai general public of what should be done
with the Burmese students in Thailand. Obvious enough, there are
different responses to this.  Academics and NGO workers suggest that
government should grant scholarships to the dissident students in Thai
colleges and universities, while government officials have stated that
there is only one solution ?i.e. urgent resettlement in "third country".

"I think if the Chuan government had an education plan for them, Johnny
and his friends would not have acted like this," commented Mr Somchai
Homlaor, General Secretary of Forum-Asia, a regional human rights NGO
based in Bangkok.

Many academics agree with him. "I support his idea and if the government
allows us, we are ready to teach them here", said Dr Mark Thamthai, a
lecturer at Chulalongkon University.

Currently, there are eight Burmese students (from the Maneeloy holding
center) studying Business Administration at Blackford with scholarship
program of US-based Open Society Institute (OSI). In fact, Thai
authorities granted them permission a few days ago only to travel from
the refugee camp to Bangkok for the study. "We want to study here
because we have no right to study in our own country." Said Ko Cho Too,
31-year old former student from Rangoon University. He is now studying
at Blackford with other seven students.

Moreover, there are five students studying at ABAC University and four
students in Mahidol University in Bangkok. Almost 2,000 students have
been resettled in third countries such as the United States, Canada and
Australia since the Maneeloy refugee camp was set up in 1992.

However, students say that they don?t want to go to any third country if
the Thai government allows them to stay here. ?This is because they left
their home, dears and nears to fight democracy in Burma. They want to
stay here, the nearest place to their own country,? said a Burmese
dissident leader.

"Thailand is a democratic country. We are fighting for democracy. So why
can't we stay here," questioned another student who is now working for a
human right NGO in Thailand.

There are about six Burma student organizations functioning in Thailand.
These are: the ABSDF, the All Burma Federation of Students Union (ABFSU)
and the Vigorous Burmese Students Warriors (VBSW) in the border areas
while some others in the Maneeloy and Bangkok such as Burmese Students
Association (BSA), Oversea National Students Organization of Burma
(ONSOB) and All Burma Basis Education Students Union (ABBESU).

When the Thai authorities deported some students to Myawaddy (Burma?s
border town with Thailand) from Mae Sod in March this year, many student
activists went into hiding. Recently, the Thai police raided the ABSDF's
offices in Bangkok, Hua Hin and Mae Saring. Some students were arrested.
The police also took away some of the office equipment such as
computers, Fax machine, and files.

"We might have to change our strategy to underground movement if the
Thai authorities keep going on pressurizing us. We want to cooperate
with the Thai authorities. If we are underground, it will be more
difficult for the Thai to solve the problem, " said Dr Naing Aung,
chairman of the ABSDF.

On the other hand, many observers feel that Thai government has no
policy on Burma at the moment. ?Deportation and pressure is not policy,
it is just reaction. If the Thai government keeps more pressure on the
dissidents, it will reflect in a situation like a dog being beaten in
the corner without a way out,? warned a Burma observer.

The question is which policy is the best for Thailand as a leading
democratic government in the ASEAN? To promote Burmese democratic
organizations? Or to cooperate with the military junta in Rangoon?

(Win Htein is a correspondent for Democratic Voice of Burma and
contributed this article to Mizzima News Group.)