Thailand faces 'wave of Burmese refugees'

Oct 2, 2009 (DVB), The Burmese refugee situation in Thailand may deteriorate as Burma's ruling junta prepares for elections next year, an international refugee group has warned.

A report released on Wednesday by Refugees International said that the Burmese army's campaign to transform ethnic rebel groups, who populate the country's border areas, into border patrol forces could spark fighting.

The campaign "has resulted in new tensions throughout regions of the country already under de facto control of the ethnic armies and affiliated political groups", the report said.

"If the Burmese government pursues this border force policy aggressively, Thailand could face more waves of refugees entering multiple regions of the country."

The report cited fighting in Burma's eastern Karen state in June between the junta-backed Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Union (KNU), which forced some 4,000 refugees into Thailand.

Groups have warned that this could be an indication of what is to come if the Burmese regime continues to pressure armed ethnic groups.

"[The refugee situation] is largely going to depend on how the regime proceeds and what their next step is going to be," said an official from the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), adding that "our expectations are all over the place".

"It could be anything, starting from the repatriation of people from [Thailand] back to Burma to another extreme, which is tens of thousands of new refugees fleeing, into Thailand."

The official said however that the situation "remains fluid" and that all possible outcomes of the border force campaign are being considered.

Reporting by Matt Cunningham

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