Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Shan refugees don’t want to return to villages

Tuesday, 28 August 2012 16:02 Mizzima News

Shan community groups are concerned about the imminent repatriation of 500 refugees from a camp on the northern Thai border into a resettlement area of active conflict.

Norwegian Refugee Council, contracted under the Norwegian-led “Myanmar Peace Support Initiative,” will begin a house-to-house survey of refugees in the Koung Jor camp in northern Chiang Mai province about their willingness to return to Mong Hta, about 20 kilometres across the border, said a Shan press release on Tuesday.

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The nearly deserted village has been designated as a resettlement site for refugees during cease-fire negotiations between the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) and the Burmese government, it said.

Since the SSA-S signed a cease-fire in December 2011, there have been ongoing skirmishes, including in Mong Hta, between Shan troops and the Burma Army, which has not pulled back from conflict areas and has reneged on territorial agreements, said the statement.

Burmese Railway Minister Aung Min had promised the sub-townships of Ho Mong and Mong Hta, bordering Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai provinces, to the SSA-S, but there are still over 40 Burmese military camps in these areas, it said.

Refugees in Koung Jor told Norwegian representatives in July they did not want to go back to Mong Hta due to fear of the Burmese Army and other pro-government militias in the area, which is littered with landmines. Most of the refugees are not from Mong Hta, but from central Shan State. 

Refugees fear they will shortly be pushed back.  The Norwegian Refugee Council has programs inside Burma, but has never before worked with Shan refugees.

“The refugees must not be used as guinea-pigs to test out the peace process,” said Sai Khur Hseng, of the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organisation “Instead of putting pressure on the refugees, international donors should pressure the Burmese government to negotiate a just and lasting peace.”

Shan community groups released a statement in June 2012 calling on foreign governments and donors supporting the peace process in Burma to be neutral and not to push ethnic groups under the Burmese government’s pro-military 2008 constitution.

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