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Rights Groups Criticize Access Restrictions to Refugee Camps Near Burma - 2002-07-17

Aid agencies in Thailand are attacking new government efforts to keep reporters and charities from visiting refugee camps near Burma. The move comes amid the latest reports of human rights abuses in Burma.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development said the restrictions raise fears that more human rights abuses may occur if journalists and aid workers can not keep an eye on the refugee camps.

"To prohibit the media from entering the border area it means that it will prohibit the people from access to information," said Somchai Homlaor is the forum's spokesman. "And we are afraid that the people along the border will become the victim of human-rights violations."

Earlier this week, the Thai government imposed new restrictions on foreign reporters and political activists going to the camps, which house about 100,000 refugees from Burma. The new limits do not entirely rule out access, but visitors will require clearance from the government.

The new rules are being imposed during a period of strained relations between Thailand and Burma.

Rangoon accuses Bangkok of supporting ethnic groups rebelling against Burma's military government. Thailand denies the charges, saying it is merely providing humanitarian assistance to refugee groups.

One diplomat in Bangkok said Thai authorities are discriminating between those carrying out humanitarian work, who still can go to the camps, and political activists. He said no activist groups have complained to the embassy over the restrictions.

Charity groups have said Thailand's tougher stance is part of a policy of appeasing Burma's government.

Before the dispute arose a few months ago, the Thai government had tried to engage its isolated neighbor, and draw Burma's government into greater openness.

Human rights group Amnesty International accused Burma of using forced labor, extortion, and land confiscation to harass minority groups along the border. The U.S. government recently charged that Burma's military used rape and sexual abuse to frighten and control minority groups.

But Rangoon denies the charges, saying the Amnesty report was based on disinformation from anti-government minority groups.