More Karen refugees flee to Thailand

Aug 6, 2009 (DVB), Around 200 Karen refugees have fled across the border to Thailand's refugee camps in recent weeks with many reporting continued forced recruitment into the Burmese army and militias.

According to a refugee who recently arrived in Thailand's Nu Poh camp, villagers were given the choice of either paying 150,000 kyat ($US150) or joining the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) militia, who have been fighting alongside Burmese troops.

"We have been already struggling for food and we can't afford to pay them," said the refugee. "And we couldn't go out to work for food as there are landmines surrounding our villages."

A spokesperson from the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP) said that 200 more refugees have recently arrived at three camps located in Thailand's Tha Song Yang district, in Tak province.

"Some said there was forced recruitment and labouring as well as extortion of money [from the villagers]," he said.

Some of the newly arrived refugees said the DKBA's Battalion 999 has been recruiting villagers in Karen state's Nabu township, citing security for the villages as the reason.

An official from Battalion 999 said that new recruits are essential, although it is done on a voluntary basis.

"During the 15-year-long standing of our group, we have had our people injured or dying, and in order to replace those soldiers, we have to find new recruits," he said. "We are not forcing them to join; we are only asking for their help, for their own people."

"Since we are short on troop numbers, they can help us fight for at least three years, and then they can resign if they are not happy with us.

"Those who have money can pay us to hire mercenaries but we are not collecting money from anyone as we have our orders not to."

Many of the refugees who have entered Thailand had fled from the Ler Per Har camp for internally displaced people in eastern Karen state, which became a focal point of the fighting and has now been overrun by the DKBA.

Last month the Bangkok-based Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) said that while fighting had eased, reports of the forced labour, portering and exortion of money, food and livestock from villagers by the DKBA continued.

Reports have surfaced today that the DKBA is preparing to attack the KNU Brigade 6 base, following their loss of the strategically important Brigade 7 base in June.

Reporting by Naw Noreen

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