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Thailand to Relocate Burmese Refugees


The government of Thailand plans to relocate 1,500 Burmese political refugees from Bangkok to the border. The move is a controversial one.

Under an agreement between the Thai government and the United Nations, Burmese dissidents in Bangkok are to be moved to a new refugee facility near the Thai-Burmese border.

The decision was made Wednesday after sharp disagreement between the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the Thai government. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has said the refugees run around unchecked. Thai officials accused some of the refugees of planning an attack on the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok.

The UNHCR has declared the dissidents "persons of concern" meaning they would face political persecution if they return to Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Thai government spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow says the refugees are a security threat and the government needs to better regulate illegal immigration.

"We have also been concerned with this recent arrest of some of the illegal immigrants from Myanmar," he said. "We heard that they were planning some kind of activities that could affect our national security. And plus, nowadays I'm sure everyone is concerned, you know, with the threat of terrorism."

Critics charge, however, that the government is trying to curb the dissidents and pacify the Rangoon government. Protests in Thailand have increased since the May 30 arrest of Burma's most prominent democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the Thai Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, accuses the government of overreacting. He says the government is kowtowing to Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC.

"It sends a message that it is collaborating with the SPDC, instead of being sympathetic to the process of national reconciliation and democratization of Burma," said Mr. Choonhavan.

Government spokesman Sihasak says that is nonsense. He points out that the Thaksin government has called for Aung San Suu Kyi's release, and has pushed fellow Southeast Asian governments to do so.

"What more do they expect us to do? We're a neighboring country of Myanmar, so we're concerned with what's happening," he said. "But definitely we cannot cut off our ties with Myanmar. We have to deal with Myanmar, we have to deal with the situation as it is. The United States would do the same thing if it's next door to Myanmar. So I don't think that we're kowtowing any way."

Mr. Sihasak emphasizes that the refugees will not be deported to Burma, and that they will not be forcibly rounded up.

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