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Thailand Criticizes UNHCR for Burmese Repatriation Delay - 2001-08-19

Thailand's National Security Council is criticizing the U.N. refugee agency for seeking to delay the repatriation of up to 5,000 ethnic Burmese from camps in Thailand. Thai officials say they want to begin sending home the more than 100,000 ethnic Burmese in camps along the Thai border.

Thailand's National Security Council and the U.N. refugee agency have clashed over the Thai government's moves to quickly repatriate up to 5,000 ethnic-Burmese.

Thai National Security Council chief Khajadpai Buruspatana criticized the U.N. High Commission for Refugees for attempting to delay sending the asylum seekers back to Burma. He said allowing the immigrants to stay would only prolong Thailand's refugee crisis and attract new waves of asylum seekers.

General Khajadpai told local reporters the U.N. agency wants to look after the group even though, he says, the war between the military government and ethnic minorities in Burma is over.

There are more than 100,000 ethnic-Burmese refugees in camps in Thailand, many have been living there for almost two decades.

Several of the Burmese ethnic minorities have signed cease-fire agreements with the Rangoon military government. But the largest ethnic group in the border camps, the Karen, say they are still fighting for increased autonomy, despite military setbacks in recent years.

A UNHCR official in Bangkok said Thai authorities want to send back more than 5,000 mostly Karen refugees seeking to stay at the Mae La camp near the border with Burma.

General Khajadpai says the government's policy is to close the camps and send the people back home.

But non-government border relief agencies say they do not want to send the Burmese back, citing the country's uncertain political and economic outlook, and reports of clashes and violence by pro-Burmese government groups opposing greater Karen autonomy.