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Asean Affairs   12 April 2011

The other border-Myanmar refugees

By  David Swartzentruber

AseanAffairs     12 April 2011

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Much of the recent news coming from Thailand in recent months has been about the ongoing and still unresolved border dispute with neighboring Cambodia. However, there is a more vexing issue on the other side of Thailand and that is the more than 100,000 Burmese refugees held in refugee camps during the last 20 years.

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.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More


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