Shan community groups: Don’t push refugees back into active war zone
Shan community groups are gravely concerned about imminent repatriation of over 500 refugees from a camp on the northern Thai border into an area of active conflict.
Today, the Norwegian Refugee Council, contracted under the Norwegian-led “Myanmar Peace Support Initiative,” will begin house-to-house surveys of refugees in Koung Jor camp, northern Chiang Mai province, about their willingness to return to Mong Hta, about 20 kms across the border. This almost deserted village has been designated as a resettlement site for refugees during ceasefire negotiations between the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and the Burmese government.
Since the SSA-S signed a ceasefire in December 2011, there have been ongoing skirmishes, including in Mong Hta, between Shan troops and the Burma Army, which has not pulled back from conflict areas and has reneged on territorial agreements. Burmese Railway Minister Aung Min had promised the sub-townships of Ho Mong and Mong Hta, bordering Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai provinces, to the SSA-S, but there are still over 40 Burmese military camps in these areas.
The refugees in Koung Jor told Norwegian representatives in July they did not want to go back to Mong Hta due to fear of the Burma Army and other pro-government militias in the area, which is littered with land-mines. Most of the refugees are not from Mong Hta, but from Central Shan State.
The survey starting today in the camp is spreading panic among the refugees, who fear they will shortly be pushed back. The Norwegian Refugee Council has programs inside Burma, but has never before worked with Shan refugees.
“The refugees must not be used as guinea-pigs to test out the peace process,” said Sai Khur Hseng, of the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organisation “Instead of putting pressure on the refugees, international donors should pressure the Burmese government to negotiate a just and lasting peace.”
Shan community groups released a statement in June 2012 calling on foreign governments and donors supporting the peace process in Burma to be neutral and not to push ethnic groups under the Burmese government’s pro-military 2008 constitution.
Sai Khur Hseng: 0816722031, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ying Harn Fah, 0892627848
Moan Kaein, 0819921121
Charm Tong: 0816036655
Shan community groups: Shan Human Rights Foundation, Shan Sapawa Environmental Organisation, Shan Women’s Action Network, Shan Youth Power, Shan Youth Network Group
Background of Koung Jor Refugee Camp
Koung Jor camp is situated about 500 meters from the Shan border, in Wiang Haeng district of Chiang Mai province. The refugees in the camp fled to Thailand in May 2002 from fighting between the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and the Burma Army.
Most of the refugees are from Central Shan State. They had been forced from their homes during the mass forced relocation by the Burma Army in 1996-1998, and moved to stay in villages close to the Thai border, south of Mong Hta, opposite Wiang Haeng. At that time, the border crossing point was open, and villagers were able to make a living from trading.
The area of Mong Hta, formerly under Shan resistance control, had been taken over by the Burma Army in 1996, when Khun Sa’s Mong Tai Army surrendered. During 1999-2000, the Burma Army allowed United Wa State Army (UWSA) to move troops and families from northern Shan State into the area. In May 2002, the SSA-S attacked the Burma Army and UWSA bases around Mong Hta, causing villagers in the area to flee to Thailand for safety. Some villagers who were left behind were tortured and killed by the Burma Army.
Over 600 refugees were given shelter in temples on the Thai side, where they lived in cramped conditions for one year. In mid-2003 they were allowed to set up a camp in the grounds of Wat Fah Wiang Inn Temple, close to the border crossing of Lak Teng.
The refugees live in simple bamboo shelters and receive food, medical and education support from humanitarian aid agencies, but have never been able to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Koung Jor is the only camp for Shan refugees in Thailand