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THE NATION: UNHCR's new role may i


      UNHCR's new role may irk

      The UN High Commissioner for Refugees'
      role in camps for Burmese refugees may
      send a wrong signal to Rangoon that
      Thailand, the Karen and the UN had joined
      hands against it, a seminar was told

      Even though the UNHCR's work is
      considered humanitarian and non-political,
      Burma may become unhappy because the
      agency's elements are those of the western
      community which it has repeatedly

      Therefore, Bangkok and the UNHCR
      should make the process transparent so
      that Rangoon does not misunderstand the
      move, speakers at the seminar ''Burmese
      Refugees: Status and Solution'' said. The
      seminar was organised by Chulalongkorn
      University's Asian Research Centre for
      Migration and Forum Asia. 

      Burma's political problems, in which the
      government has attempted to abolish ethnic
      minorities by means of military
      confrontation, should be solved as soon as
      possible so that Burmese refugees could
      return home at the earliest, the seminar was

      The seminar also referred to the change in
      Thailand's stance on the UNHCR's
      involvement with border camps which are in
      the process of reaching an agreement on to
      what extent the agency would be allowed to
      help refugees. 

      Most of the Burmese in 19 camps located
      along the northern border of Thailand are
      Karen of the Karen National Union (KNU)
      who escaped Burmese government
      suppression. The KNU, which has long
      fought for independence from Rangoon, is
      the last minority group capable of resisting
      the Burmese government. 

      A speaker at the seminar, Lt Gen Sanan
      Kajornklam of the Office of the Supreme
      Command Special Adviser said, more
      people may be attracted to leave Burma
      expecting assistance from UNHCR. 

      The general said that having the UNHCR
      take care of camps and moving them away
      from the border would not prevent
      pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist
      Army (DKBA) troops from attacking Karen

      ''However once the UNHCR steps in, there
      would be a time-frame for when the
      assistance starts and ends. With this we
      will be able to know roughly how long the
      Burmese would be in Thailand'' Sanan

      The root of the problem of thousands of
      Burmese refugees, as was determined
      during the seminar, was Burma's attempt to
      abolish minorities. Speakers also urged
      Asean to take a more leading role in
      negotiations with Burma about the
      problems so that peace could be restored
      both along the border and the region as a

      Although, the presence of the UNHCR in
      the shelters would mean that refugees are
      eligible to go to a third country or return to
      their homeland, the seminar agreed, that
      the Burmese should be repatriated when
      the situation is guaranteed safe. 

      The 19 Burmese camps should not be
      merged into one, speakers at the seminar
      suggested, as it would require a lot of
      money and comprehensive administration. 

      Another speaker, Col Pongsakorn
      Rodchompu, Office of the Army Secretary,
      assured the seminar that once the Burmese
      camps are moved deeper, the army would
      be able to fully protect the Karen from
      DKBA attacks. 

      Pongsakorn admitted that the repeated
      cross-border attacks by the DKBA on the
      camps reflected the inefficiency of Thai
      security forces involved. 

      Meanwhile Deputy Foreign Minister
      Sukhumbhand Paribatra said, during his
      border inspection in Tak province
      yesterday, refugees taking shelter in the
      camps believed moving away would be
      better to protect them from DKBA attacks. 

      The minister visited refugee camps at Baan
      Huay Kalok and Mae La and some
      disputed spots along the Moei River. 


      The Nation