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UNHCR: Dissidents in Thai Refugee Camps Will Not Be Returned to Burma - 2001-12-14

The Thai Government is closing a Burmese student refugee camp, from which more than 2,000 political dissidents have been resettled overseas.

But the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is reassuring the 100 remaining camp residents they will not be sent back to Burma.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees says Burmese dissidents at a refugee camp in Thailand will not be forced to return to Burma when the camp closes.

The Maneeloy holding center in western Thailand is closing, under a Thai government policy of eventually sending more than 100,000 Burmese refugees back to Burma.

The center has been a resettlement post for 2,200 of the Burmese student refugees - most of whom have resettled in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

The head of Thailand's National Security Council, Kachadpai Burusapat, earlier threatened to return to Burma any students who failed to qualify for resettlement.

But the UNHCR's regional representative, Johanshah Assadi, says the remaining students will be moved to border camps, and not returned to Burma.

The holding center was set up to house students who fled Burma's military government after it came to power in 1988 and cracked down on pro-democracy activists.

Thai authorities began planning to close the camp after a hostage drama at the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok in 1999. Some of the attackers were suspected to have been from the Maneeloy center. Officials at private agencies helping the Burmese refugees say moving the students into general camps could trigger problems.

They say many of the Burmese refugees living in the other camps are from rural areas, with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds than the students. That could give rise to conflicts in the camps.