ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
The other border-Myanmar refugees
By David Swartzentruber
Thailand has provided shelter for about 142,000 Burmese refugees in Tak, Mae Hong Son, Kanchanaburi and Ratchaburi provinces. Many have been in the camps for 20 years but some are more recent as violence erupted in Myanmar after the recent elections. The refugees escape to Thailand from their villages due to conflict between ethnic groups and the Myanmar army.
The Thai decision is based on the recent election in Myanmar that has seen the military junta government replaced by a constitutionally elected government. Although, most observers would say that it is merely a case of the Myanmar military swapping their military uniforms for civilian togs.
The Thai government has started discussions with the Myanmar government to shut the camps and return the refugees to Myanmar.
However, groups monitoring the situation express their reservations.
A spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency in Bangkok, Kitty McKinsey, said it was too soon for the refugees to return home.
"We have been working very well with the Thai government and we do understand that they don't want the refugees to stay here forever." But the solution is not forcing people to go back to a country that is still dangerous. What we would really like to see is that the returns are done in safety and dignity, and they absolutely have to be voluntary," she said.
The voluntary condition may be hard to achieve as although there has been a change in the form of Myanmar government, there have been no reports that the “new” Myanmar government has initiated reconciliation talks with the many ethnic groups in Myanmar that wish to maintain their autonomy within that country.
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