Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


11 January, 2003

This week the Burmese dictatorship, the SPDC, launched a dry season offensive against the Karen people, in villages on Burma’s side of the border south of the Thai town of Mae Sot. Approximately four hundred villagers from Ler Kaw and Oo Po Hta had to run for their lives. They had so little time they were forced to leave their belongings behind.

The Burmese army attacked in the early hours of January 8th, with a battalion of some three hundred troops. The soldiers stole or destroyed the villagers’ possessions. In the process they killed one man and injured two other people. Normally in these cases, after the soldiers loot the villages they burn them to the ground.

The SPDC’s intention was to capture villagers and force them to work as porters. The Karen believe the Burmese want to stockpile food at the border so they can control it for a year.

This is what Thai appeasement of Burma yields. The generals of the SPDC take this appeasement as a sign that they can increase military action against hill groups such as the Karen. The result is that villagers flee across the border (along with stray ordnance), thereby creating new problems for the Thais. The stated goal of Prime Minister Thaksin’s foreign policy, his policy of subservience towards Rangoon, is to reduce problems for Thailand. This policy has backfired.

There is another possibility, though, that the Thai leader does not care about the consequences of his policy, indeed, that they are premeditated. Just as North Korea likely followed China’s prompting to instigate the current nuclear crisis, so it can be supposed that the Thai government is fulfilling the SPDC’s demands, thus precipitating a new refugee crisis. What we are witnessing is a stage-managed assault, and not only on the Karen in Burma. On the Thai side, the government is repressing human rights groups, and threatening large-scale deportation of refugees.

The mutual goal of Thaksin and the SPDC seems clear: to sanitize the border. All human rights groups must be shut down. All refugees must be deported. All ethnic groups that continue to struggle for their freedom must be defeated.

If the offensive is successful, the last remaining armed resistance to the Burmese dictatorship will end. This cannot help but reduce the SPDC’s willingness (or lack thereof) to negotiate with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. As for Thaksin, he and other Thai businessmen will be free to ink new deals with Rangoon.

Thailand is supposed to be a democracy. Thaksin’s actions, though, demonstrate that his view is: where there is money to be made, the principles of democracy, beginning with our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, can be ignored.

Note: The following photos are of some of the Karen villagers that were forced to flee. It should be noted that they do not want to become refugees in Thailand. Their only wish is to return home, but they cannot do so until it is safe.

Photo Source: Karen Action Group

The villagers are now sheltering at a monastery.

There is nothing to do but sit and wait.

These are wonderful conditions for a child.

How long will it be before this woman and her newborn child are able to return home?
Does she still have a home to return to?

February 2003 update: Most of the refugees have returned to their villages and homes, although it is uncertain if they - the villages and homes - are still standing. Certainly, at a minimum, they have been robbed of their crops and farm animals. They are also now subject to renewed repression, at a moment's notice, from the Burmese Army.