Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nine hundred Karen refugees “return” to Burma

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Over 900 Karen refugees from a camp on the Thai- Burma border returned to Burma since early February after Thai authorities proposed to repatriate  Karen refugees from border camps.

Those that have returned are from Oo Thu Hta temporary refugee camp in Thasaungyan Township, Tak Province on the Thai-Burma border.

Plans were in place by Thai authorities to repatriate the Karen refugees from Oo Thu Hta and Noe Boe refugee camps early this month. However, protests from rights groups, forced it to stall the operation.

But the Thai Army clamped down and tightened camp regulations in Oo Thu Hta and pressurized the refugees to return home to Burma. They went back in ones and twos.

"They told us this is not your country and there are no more clashes in your villages. The refugees in the camp are not even being allowed to find wild vegetables nearby. Over 40 security men are deployed in the camp," a refugee told Mizzima.

There were 304 refugee households and 1998 refugees in Oo Thu Hta refugee camp but as on February 12, only 1070 refugees remain.

On 8 February, 29 families left the camp.  Most were from Wawmeekalar, Taookayhtay, Pophawlay, Panwepu in Pa-an District. Over 400 refugees from Wameekalar village alone returned home.

Thai authorities of Tak province, UNHCR officials, NGOs, Karen National Union (KNU) and Democratic Karen Buddhist Association (DKBA) officers, met at the Noe Boe camp on January 26 and discussed repatriation of Karen refugees sheltered in Tharsaung Yang Township.

At the meeting, KNU and DKBA officials expressed concern over landmines planted in the villages to which the refugees belong.

"We told them we and the KNU have planted landmines in the area for securing our territory. We cannot see and locate where the landmines are laid," an officer from the 7th Battalion, 999th Brigade of the DKBA told Mizzima today. 

The Karen refugees from Mae Lar Ar Khee, Mae Lar Ah Htar, Waw Mee Kalar, Htee Ka Haw villages in Hlaing Bwe Township, Pa-an district and Pai Kyone under the control of KNU 7th Brigade fled to the Thai-Burma border in June last year following joint operations by Burmese Army troops and DKBA in their villages.

They are now sheltered  in temporary refugee camps in Mae Tharee, Tha Lay Htaw, Oo Thu Hta and Noe Boe in Thar Saung Yan Township.