Burma Demands Thais Crack Down on Burmese Refugees

Burmese authorities asked Thailand to crackdown on Burmese dissidents based in the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot, according to Samart Loifah, the governor of Thailand’s northern Tak Province.

Loifa told reporters that the Thai authorities will tackle dissidents “planting bombs” and leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU)—the largest rebel group fighting for ethnic autonomy and respect for human rights.

“No one knows what’s going to happen,” a Chiang Mai-based source told Asia Sentinel.. “Western embassies, particularly the United States, will monitor on this but I doubt anything dramatic will happen because there will be an international outcry. But we never know – the Tak governor's remarks are quite disturbing.”

The Burmese exile movement’s strongholds are based in Mae Sot and Chiang Mai. During bilateral meetings to negotiate reopening the Thai-Burmese friendship bridge over the Moei River linking the two countries near the town of Mae Sot, Burmese representatives asked their Thai counterparts to remove refugee camps, which they complain are home to ethnic armed groups. Burmese officials also complained about KNU leaders living in Thailand,the Tak governor said.

According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, nearly 100,000 of Thailand’s 130,000 registered refugees from Burma are housed in the camps.

Whether the incoming government headed by Yingluck Shinawatra will heed the Burmese request is unclear. When her brother Thaksin became Prime Minister, many exiled offices were shut before intervention from Washington, DC.

“The Burmese government has put pressure on their Thai counterparts to take action on these issues. And the closure of the Myawaddy-Mae Sot bridge is related to these issues,” Samart Loifah told The Irrawaddy.

“If we act on these issues, we hope the Burmese government could reopen the bridge,” he added. The structure has been closed since July 2010 when heavy rains swelled the river. Since that time, the only across is by makeshift rafts made of inner tubes.

Responding to the allegations, KNU Joint-Secretary Saw Hla Ngwe said that their leaders are based in their mobilized territory [within Burma] and not in Mae Sot. KNU leaders said that democratic nation don’t force back refugees to unstable and conflict-ridden areas, and that he did not think the Thai authorities would send refugees home.

Mae Sot businessmen expected the border crossing would resume soon after the Burma elections in November, but there has been no change so far. Border trading in recent years was estimated at 140 billion baht (US $4.3 billion) until the bridge closure. The crossing boasted 60 percent of bilateral trading along the 1,800 km Burmese-Thai border.

Bo Kyi, joint-secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the situation in Mae Sot remains normal.

(Asia Sentinel has a content-sharing agreement with The Irrawaddy, in which is originally appeared.)