MYANMAR will soon be ready to take back over 100,000 refugees from nine shelters in Thailand, as the country moves towards democracy, an informed source claimed yesterday.
Details were revealed during the launch of a "World Refugee Day" event at Ban Umpiem Mai shelter in Phop Phra district in Tak province, which currently houses about 20,000 refugees.
Shutaro Omura, the political affairs representative at the Japanese Embassy in Thailand, presided over the launch, which was also witnessed by Phop Phra district chief Prasong La-on and local Thai officials, plus representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and staff from non-government groups.
The source said a team from UNHCR had earlier visited the city of Hpa-An in Myanmar to negotiate with authorities there for repatriation of the refugees.
However, the head of The Border Consortium (TBC), the group that funds food and support for the border camps, said yesterday it was unlikely that refugees in camps in Thailand were about to be repatriated to Myanmar.
TBC executive director Sally Thompson said: "Our understanding is that no policy on refugee return has been outlined by the NLD [government] as yet.
"To date, the message from all sides is the [new] Myanmar government has said it's not yet ready for refugee return. And Thailand has said they're waiting for the Myanmar government to say they're ready.
Close watch on Panglong II talks
"Refugee return is not a priority issue in Myanmar at present," Thompson said.
The NLD government, headed by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Htin Kyaw, is said to be focused on a major meeting between the government, military and ethnic groups at Panglong II forum- to try to thrash out big issues such as demilitarisation and political |participation that could lead to a more meaningful peace agreement than the deal brokered with eight ethnic groups by the Thein Sein government just prior to the election late last year.
Panglong II refers to the ambition of many ethnic groups to reconvene the Panglong conference held in the Shan State township in 1947 between some ethnic groups and national hero General Aung San to talk about their |political future after Myanmar became independent.
The outcome of those talks will be closely watched by Myanmar people both in and outside the country. If there is significant progress toward peace in various areas, a policy on refugee repatriation of the 100,000-plus refugees on the Thai border may then be considered, many sources have said.
Suu Kyi is due to visit Tham Hin camp in Ratchaburi on Saturday morning, as part of her three-day visit to Thailand, which starts on Thursday.