Karen refugees told to leave Thai camps

Nov 12, 2009 (DVB), Refugees who fled to Thailand in June after fighting broke out in eastern Burma's Karen state have been told by Thai authorities to leave the makeshift camps they had been living in.

Up to 5,000 Karen civilians are thought to have crossed into Thailand, where many found shelter in makeshift camps along the border. The exodus began as Burmese troops launched an offensive against the Karen National Union (KNU).

An official at one of the settlements near to Nu Po village in Thailand's western Tak province said that Thai authorities had asked the refugees to leave their makeshift settlements.

"The Thai authorities have given a deadline for the refugees to move to Mae La refugee camp within 15 days," he said. "They said that those who didn't want to move to the new refugee camp may go back home [to Burma]."

Many of the refugees that left Burma spoke of repeated instances of forced recruitment by the Burmese army's proxy militia, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA).

The official said only four of the 29 families have gone back to Burma while the rest remained in Thailand at the houses of Thai-Karen sympathizers.

"Also the [Thai officials] claimed that some people among the refugees had links with the KNU and that they would be arrested," he said, adding however that no arrests had yet been made.

The official said that a school that had opened for 200 children in the settlement was also ordered to close by Thai authorities.

Around 150,000 Burmese refugees live in camps along the Thai-Burma border. The Thai government has voiced concern about an increase in refugees fleeing heavy fighting in the run-up to elections in Burma next year.

A Karen man living in the camp near to Nu Po said that it was unlikely he would stay there for much longer.

"We are only temporarily staying here because we are afraid to stay in our village [in Burma]," he said. "We have no choice but to seek shelter here, but are also facing threats from the Thai authorities. I want to leave here too but I don't know where to go."

Reporting by Naw Noreen

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