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Burma Enjoys an Uneasy Peace: Time to Close Thailand's Refugee Camps?

December 15, 2014 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Trees give way to primitive wooden homes in the rolling hills approaching Mae La refugee camp on Thailand’s border with Burma. Access is controlled by the Thai army. The largest camp in Thailand, Mae La, holds 50,000 refugees. Some residents have spent their entire lives within Mae La’s confines.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, has been at war most of its history. A British colony occupied by Japan during World War II, Burma gained its independence shortly after that conflict ended. But the new government refused to grant the autonomy promised the nation’s many ethnic groups. War erupted.

Although the bloodiest and most tragic aspect of Burma’s history, the fragmented civil war has been overshadowed by the democracy struggle centered in Rangoon. In 1962 the superstitious Gen. Ne Win overthrew his country’s young democracy. The junta changed shape over the years, with his eventual ouster, but the generals refused to relax their bloody grip.

Democracy protests were brutally suppressed in 1988; two years later the junta foolishly held an election, decisively won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. The regime refused to recognize the results and reinforced its repressive rule, placing Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, under long-term house arrest. But three years ago the generals moved into the background and yielded authority to a new nominally civilian leadership. The reform process has since slowed if not stalled.

A return would be an improvement for countless thousands with no future.”

As the regime was liberalizing politically it initiated a series of ceasefires with the various ethnic groups. Today 14 agreements are in force; only the Kachin and Palaung remain formally at war with the central government, now based in Naypyitaw.

The resulting peace is real but imperfect—besides fighting with the Kachin there recently has been some combat in the Shan State. (Violence also has erupted against the Islamic Rohingya, but the conflict is mostly civilian and sectarian.) The process of reaching a nation-wide ceasefire is only slowly moving forward. In August the central government’s Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) met with the 16 ethnic groups’ National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) to discuss such issues as location of military forces, creation of a joint peacekeeping personnel, and refugee resettlement. While the Thein Sein government appears genuinely committed to peace, the Burmese military’s support seems less complete.

Addressing the status of those displaced by the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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