Burmese troops torch border island

Nov 16, 2009 (DVB), Burmese troops have razed huts and infrastructure belonging to illegal Burmese settlers on an island on the Thaung Yin (or Moei) river, which separates Burma's eastern Karen state from Thailand.

The controversial island has long been the subject of a dispute over ownership between the Thai and Burmese governments.

Lying between Mae Sot in Thailand and Burma's Myawaddy town, the island is inhabited predominantly by drugs smugglers and blackmarket traders.

According to witnesses, Burmese army troops, police officials and firemen arrived on the island early on Saturday morning and set fire to huts belonging to the island dwellers.

Following the incident, the chairman of the Burmese government's border committee met with a senior Thai army colonel.

"We are to form a committee on both sides for joint cooperation regarding this," said Colonel Padung Yingpaiboonsuk, adding that "a head-on confrontation could bring unnecessary problems so it is better that we discuss this."

The torching has become an almost yearly event as Burma looks to secure its porous border with Thailand. The Thai government has significantly tightened its side of the border in recent years as it looks to stem the flow of drugs, particularly methamphetamine, into the country.

A Myawaddy resident told DVB last year said that island residents were given no prior warning before their huts were torched. An estimated 70 percent of the population of Mae Sot is thought to be made up of Burmese migrants.

The two main border crossing points, at Myawaddy and further north at Tachilek, have frequently this year been the site of major drugs seizures.

In June, Burmese police in Tachilek seized a haul of methamphetamine tablets, or 'yaba', and heroin estimated to worth around $US7.5 million. A lorry had been attempting to carry the drugs into Thailand.

Reporting by Min Lwin

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