Friday, August 21, 2009

30 More Karens Flee Hlinebwe

The Irrawaddy News

Some 30 Karen people from Hlinebwe District in Pa-an Township have fled to the Thai-Burmese border recently to escape forced recruitment and other abuses by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), according to the refugee camp leader in Nu Po on the Thai side of the border.

Camp leader Saw Ta Su Mya told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the 30 new arrivals makes a total of 517 Karens that have fled from that area in the last two months and are now sheltering at Mae Salit, a village near Nu Po.

“Sometimes two or three people arrive a day. Other times, the women and children flee first and are followed by their male relatives later,” he said. “They are careful to keep out of sight of the DKBA on the way,” he added.

The DKBA has reportedly been forcing Karen villagers to work as porters and on other duties since a joint force of its troops and the Burmese army attacked and subsequently took over the rebel Karen National Liberation Army headquarters (Brigade 7) in June.

The pro-junta Karen army ordered headmen in local villages to conscript workers and threatened them if they didn’t comply, according to a source close to the DKBA.

The source said that the group extorts money—often more than 50,000 kyat (US $50)—from anyone who refuses to comply.

According to the sources, the Thai border authorities have been reluctant to allow the displaced Karens to stay in Mae Salit and are encouraging them to return home.

In the meantime, several relief teams from Mae Sot are providing emergency aid to the new arrivals, Saw Ta Su Mya said. “But they [the 517 Karens] may be pressured to return to Karen State soon,” he added.

Since the attacks by the Burmese army and the DKBA on the KNLA in June, some 4,000 villagers from northern Karen state have fled to the Thai-Burmese border.

Many people are worried that the joint force will resume its offensive in northern Karen State in September after the rainy season.

The Karen sources said they believed that if another offensive breaks out, thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in northern Karen State and the more than 4,000 Karen refugees in Ei Tu Hta, a temporary camp on the Salween River, will be forced to flee to Thai soil.

Meanwhile, Karen monks in Thaton Township in Mon State have sent an open letter to the monk who formed the DKBA, U Thuzana, calling on him to instruct the Buddhist Karen army to cease fighting their Karen brothers, the KNLA, as the refugee crisis is escalating.

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