Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


On December 28th, a humanitarian team from the Karen Action Group finished a tour of three refugee camps on the Thai/Burma border south of Mae Sot. They were hoping to spread a little Christmas cheer. The party consisted of some thirty-five people, from England, Australia and Thailand, including fourteen children. The children brought toys, purchased with money they themselves had raised, to give to the children in the camps. The goal was a child-to-child exchange, and cultural interaction, to foster goodwill and peace towards all.

Following their stay at the last refugee camp, No Po, near the town of Umphang, the Christmas cheer came to an end. As they were leaving the camp the party was stopped by the Thai military and then detained. They were forced to drive one and a half hours to an army base and then held for an additional three and a half hours. During this time they were not given food or water – the children were very hungry – and they were restricted from going to the toilet. The Thai soldiers kept them under armed guard, even pointed their guns at the children – the youngest was two years old – and treated them like criminals.

The party was detained by soldiers under the command of Capt. Pahphom, acting on direct orders from Colonel Chirasak of Mae Sot HQ. The Thai army was responding to a complaint from the Burmese dictators.

This is the extent to which the Thai government has yielded Thai sovereignty to Burma. Apparently, children with Christmas presents constitute a security threat to the generals in Rangoon.

The party was finally released after the adults explained that the Karen are not enemies of Thailand (many Karen are Thai), and that they actually assist the nation in many ways including to preserve forests and to stem the flow of narcotics.

This incident is the latest example of Prime Minister Thaksin’s policy to appease Rangoon in exchange for economic gain. The border crackdown against humanitarian groups thus far has included detainments and deportations in Sangkhlaburi, Mae Sot and Mae Hong Song. One wonders – fears – what will happen next.

The incident also highlights the suffering of the refugees, although this label does not properly describe their situation. They cannot leave their camps, or receive visitors other than from a very few government-approved organizations. Even prison inmates in Thailand can receive visitors. Their condition more accurately comprises that of a concentration camp.

These camps are not remote. Simply fly to Thailand, as many tourists do, and then instead of heading south for the islands travel west and north to the border. There you will find a string of camps, one after another, for hundreds of kilometers, with a total inmate population now approaching 150,000. These camps should be completely open, so the entire world can see the suffering they contain, and so any providers of assistance, including tourists, may help. They should not be guarded by soldiers and hidden from sight, so the world is ignorant of the refugees’ plight, so business between Bangkok and Rangoon may proceed without distraction.

This is the only photo the party was able to take of their detainment. It shows two of their vehicles with soldiers in the back, following an army truck. This photo was taken in great haste, from another truck that also had a Thai soldier as a guard, when he was not looking. They were too frightened to try to take any other photos.