Business before democracy
The United Nations and organisations working along the Thai-Burma border providing relief for refugees from Burma’s grinding civil conflict have been ordered not to support forces fighting for democracy.
At a meeting between Thai provincial governors, the UNHCR and non-governmental organisations, provincial authorities made it clear that any support for the democracy movement would upset bilateral relations with Burma’s ruling generals.
They said this could not be tolerated.
The Thai politicians alleged some aid organisations were providing food for ethnic soldiers fighting against Burma’s ruling military junta.
They also suggested the organisations were taking a substantive risk by travelling to border areas, particularly at night, in a bid to provide aid to those most at risk from the conflict.
The politicians suggested the proper process to manage visits to border areas was to contact the provincial administration for the area concerned and request access.
Tak Deputy Provincial Governor Samat Loifah went as far as to say he was not worried about aid workers dying or being arrested in dangerous areas, because the relationship between Thailand and Burma took precedence over any individual.
He also took aim at Mae Tao Clinic mobile backpack teams, who have been travelling in conflict areas in the midst of heavy fighting, saying they should cease and desist, because they were harming Thailand’s reputation with the junta.
Samat said NGOs working in the border areas should not overstep their authority or “imagine” that the Thai authorities were blocking aid.
But this is at odds with reality on the ground.
In fact Thai soldiers are turning back refugees fleeing across the border at gunpoint and police officers are demanding aid be left with them, rather than being taken to refugees.
A Thai special forces soldier attending the meeting with provincial governors said the Thais had “befriended” the Burmese Army and also had no problems with ethnic fighters.
Thai authorities are desperate to have the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge re-opened, which has been closed since June 20 last year.
Local businesses in Mae Sot are smarting from the closure.
Observers believe if the Burma Army manages to quell resistance fighters in the area then the bridge may be allowed to reopen and that Thailand is assisting the junta’s troops in its mission by closing down cross-border supply lines.
In late January two combat journalists, John Sanlin and Pascal Schatteman, were arrested by border authorities and detained for four days after having repeatedly crossed the border to record fighting between ethnic Karen fighters and the Burma Army.
The arrests indicated just how lightly the Thai authorities are treading with the Burmese.
Interestingly though, the journalists had informed Thai military intelligence of their intentions, as requested, and were still arrested.
Thai military intelligence officers have since warned all foreigners they will be stopped should they try to cross the border and will be arrested if detected returning from Burma.
Last night at 6.30pm, Karen National Liberation Army Colonel Nerdah Mya said the border had become “very strict”.
“They are not allowing KNU vehicles to move along the border,” he said.
Article by Daniel Pedersen