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Thailand wants to close Myanmar refugee camps

11 april 2011, 17:07
0
Mae La refugee camp ©AFP
Mae La refugee camp ©AFP
Thailand plans to close its border camps and send more than 100,000 refugees back to Myanmar following the recent handover of power to a new military-backed government, an official said Monday, AFP reports.

"They have been in Thailand for more than 20 years and it became our burden to take care of them," National Security Council chief Tawin Pleansri said.

"I cannot say when we will close down the camps but we intend to do it," he added, speaking after a meeting of the government security body chaired by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"We are now in the process of discussion with the Myanmar government."

He said Thailand was in contact with the UN refugee agency about returning the camp residents to Myanmar, also known as Burma, where a November election won by an army-backed party was marred by complaints of intimidation and fraud.

According to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, a group of international non-governmental organisations operating along the border, about 142,000 refugees were living in the camps as of January.

Most came from strife-torn villages in eastern Myanmar, which has been plagued by a decades-old conflict between the military and ethnic minority rebels seeking greater autonomy.

Vast numbers fled to escape the junta's counter-insurgency campaign, which rights groups say has deliberately targeted civilians, driving them from their homes, destroying villages and forcing them to work for the army.

Cases of rape, torture and execution by the military have also been documented by rights campaigners.

Myanmar has been ruled by the military for almost five decades and the armed forces continue to dominate the impoverished nation.

The new president, former premier Thein Sein, is one of several generals who shed their military uniforms to contest the November election.

Thailand drew global criticism in 2009 when it used troops to forcibly repatriate about 4,500 ethnic Hmong back to Laos, despite fears of persecution on their return for their hill tribe's US alliance during the Vietnam War.

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