Monday, June 15, 2009

Junta Dismisses EU Concerns over Karen Refugees

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON (AP) — Burma dismissed European Union concerns about military operations against Karen rebels as political meddling Sunday, even after thousands of ethnic minorities fled the country to escape the fierce fighting.

A counterinsurgency offensive in eastern Burma has forced more than 4,000 ethnic Karen to abandon their villages and cross into Thailand this month, according to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, the key aid provider to border refugees.

The EU last week expressed "serious concern" over the mounting offensive in the military-ruled nation and the exodus of refugees, and called for an immediate truce.

A Foreign Ministry statement carried in state-run newspapers Sunday said the EU's criticism was "unwarranted," ''politically motivated" and based on "inaccurate information originating from the insurgent groups and biased media reports."

The ministry characterized the ongoing fighting as "scuffles" that it blamed on Thailand-based Karen rebels trying to prevent one Karen faction from laying down its arms and joining the government side.

The Karen National Union has been fighting for more than 60 years for greater autonomy from Burma's central government. It is the country's largest ethnic rebel group and the only major one that has yet to sign a cease-fire with the junta.

The Karen refugees have taken shelter at several points about 62 miles (100 kilometers) north of Mae Sot, a Thai border town that lies about 240 miles (380 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Bangkok.

Aid agencies have been providing the refugees with emergency food, shelter and other basics.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees office said Friday that many of the refugees were Karen villagers who fled in fear of conscription or forced labor as porters for the Burma army.

Some 100,000 mostly ethnic Karen refugees already shelter in camps in Thailand after fleeing counterinsurgency operations, while aid agencies say nearly half a million others are internally displaced inside eastern Burma.

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