Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Always looking for an excuse to get rid of refugees

Editorial Desk
The Nation (Thailand)
Publication Date : 13-04-2011

Something is seriously out of tune here. Thailand's National Security Council (NSC) is calling for the repatriation of refugees along the Thai-Burma border, but the Shan community, in its latest report, denounced the ongoing Burmese offensive against civilians, including the shelling of Buddhist temples, gang-rape and using women as cannon fodder.
At least 65 battles have taken place over three weeks in the central region of Burma's Shan State, where a 22-year-old ceasefire agreement between the Burmese regime and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) ended last month when the Burmese military mobilised some 3,500 troops from twenty battalions to attack the ethnic army.
"Over 100,000 civilians in the conflict zone now fear for their lives. The Burmese army has deployed mortars throughout the area and shelled indiscriminately at populated villages. The initial attack on March 13 involved the shelling of a Buddhist temple at Wan Nam Lao, killing four novices and injuring two villagers," the Shan report said.
"Villagers are being tortured and killed on suspicion of supporting the Shan resistance, and women are targeted for sexual violence. Three women were gang-raped in separate incidents in Wan Nam Lao, including a 30-year-old woman who had given birth only one month earlier, and died after being raped by numerous troops," the report said.
The latest wave of assaults has displaced an additional 3,000 villagers from their homes. Although the Burmese government rarely grants visas to journalists, many reporters and aid workers have sneaked across the border to get eye-witness accounts of these incidents. Western governments back these reports by human rights groups as credible.
In the case of "License to Rape", a report compiled by the Shan Human Rights Foundation and the Shan Women's Action Network, the US State Department in 2002 dispatched a team to verify such claims and came up with the same horrific conclusion about the use of rape as a military weapon by the Burmese junta.
Report after report, in a multitude of languages, spells out the appalling conditions in Burma, and the best the Thai government can do is to look for a convenient excuse to send these people back to uncertainty, fear, harassment and the high possibility of death. All the millions of baht spent on educating our officials and diplomats domestically and internationally, and this is the best we can come up with?
NSC Secretary-General Tawin Pleansri told reporters after his meeting with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, foreign minister Kasit Piromya, the armed forces chiefs and other security agencies at Government House on Monday (April 11) that the 100,000-plus refugees in Thailand should return to Burma because Burma has just concluded its general election and a new government is in place.
Never mind the validity of the junta's sham election, does the NSC chief and the rest of the Thai security establishment think that such a bogus poll is a cure-all remedy?
Burma's military government officially dissolved the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and inaugurated General Thein Sein as the country's new president in Naypyidaw on March 30. It's ironic - or sad, to be more accurate - how we forget the good times we had with Thein Sein when he was leading the "Triangle Command" out of Kengtung between 1997 and 2001. Scores of Burmese raids and the shelling of refugee camps well within the Thai side of the border were carried out during his watch.
If he didn't give a hoot about Thailand's sovereignty back when he was commanding his troops to shell and attack camps inside Thailand, does anyone think he will give a damn about the ethnic people Thailand plans to repatriate back to Burma?
Perhaps this is just something this administration can conveniently point to so it can send the refugees back: technically they are "displaced people" and the places they reside in are not "refugee camps" but "temporary shelters". So let's send them back to the war zone they fled from. We come up with such terminology - displaced people and temporary shelters - so we can distance ourselves when atrocities happen. Do the authorities honestly think the conflict will stop just because of the election? If that's the thinking and logic of the country's top security chief, perhaps he needs to find another job.
But then again, when was the last time the NSC gave the government an independent assessment of anything? If it is going to pay lip service to the government's wishes, perhaps the NSC itself is just a big waste of money. Any Mickey Mouse agency could do that.