A coalition of Shan community groups have voiced concern about the repatriation of over 500 refugees from a camp on the northern Thai border into an area of conflict.
On August 27th, the Norwegian Refugee Council, part of the Norwegian-led “Myanmar Peace Support Initiative,” began house-to-house surveys of refugees in Koung Jor camp, northern Chiang Mai province, asking about their willingness to return to Mong Hta, about 20kms across the border, a press statement by Shan community groups including the Shan Human Rights Foundation, the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organisation, Shan Women’s Action Network, Shan Youth Power, and Shan Youth Network Group, said.
“The refugees live in simple bamboo shelters and receive food, medical and education support from humanitarian aid agencies, but have never been able to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Koung Jor is the only camp for Shan refugees in Thailand,” the statement added.
According to the statement, Koung Jor camp is situated about 500 metres from the Shan border, in Wiang Haeng district of Chiang Mai province – The refugees in the camp fled to Thailand in May 2002 from fighting between the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and the Burma Army.
The groups added that Mong Hta is an “almost deserted village” which has been designated as a resettlement site for refugees during ceasefire negotiations between the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and the Burmese government. “The survey is spreading panic in the camp among the refugees, who fear they will shortly be pushed back,” the groups said.
Most of the refugees are not from Mong Hta, but from central Shan State. The groups noted that although the Norwegian Refugee Council has programs inside Burma, it has never before worked with Shan refugees.
The groups also maintained that the refugees in Koung Jor told Norwegian representatives in July they did not want to go back to Mong Hta due to fear of the Burma Army and other pro-government militias in the area, which is littered with land-mines.
Armed clashes continue between the SSA-S and the Burma Army despite a ceasefire agreement established in December last year. The Shan community groups accuse the Burma Army of not pulling back from conflict areas and reneging on territorial agreements.
“Burmese Railway Minister Aung Min had promised the sub-townships of Ho Mong and Mong Hta, bordering Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai provinces to the SSA-S, but there are still over 40 Burmese military camps in these areas,” the Shan community groups said in the press statement.