Wednesday, 20 February 2013

UN Expert Visits Refugee Camps

The special rapporteur on human rights travels to Burma to investigate camps for the displaced in Rakhine and Kachin states.
U.N. Human Rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana talks to journalists at the Rangoon international airport, Aug. 4, 2012
A U.N. human rights envoy on Monday visited refugee camps in Burma’s restive Rakhine state, where nearly 200 people were killed in communal violence last year, as part of a fact-finding mission on ethnic conflict in the country.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, who is on his seventh trip to Burma as the U.N. Special Rapporteur monitoring the rights situation in Burma, spent time speaking with refugees at camps in Myay Pone township near the state capital Sittwe.

He was accompanied by U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burma Ashok Nigam.

Thousands remain homeless in the region following clashes between ethnic Buddhist Rakhines and Rohingya communities in June and October last year which left 180 people dead. Refugees are now living in makeshift camps, many of which lack access to adequate health care, clean water, and basic provisions.

Quintana and Nigam held talks with Rakhine State Chief Minister Maung Tin early on Monday before meeting with several families in camps occupied by both Rakhine and Rohingya refugees.

Aung Win, a member of parliament from Myay Pone township, said Quintana interviewed the refugees about their situation in the camps and whether they felt that the two ethnic groups could live together peacefully as they had done before last year’s violence.

“He questioned three to four refugee families about whether they believed refugees from both sides could coexist peacefully if the government arranged for them to live together in the same area,” the Rakhine lawmaker told RFA’s Burmese Service.

“We ethnic Rakhines replied, ‘We don’t want to live together with [the Rohingyas]. If we lived together in the same area, we would constantly worry about the possibility of another conflict’,” he said.

“We don’t think they want to live together either.”

Quintana and Nigam later traveled to Pauktaw township to meet with additional refugees there.

They also planned to meet with Tun Aung, a former U.N. staffer who was imprisoned in Sittwe for his alleged involvement in the ethnic conflict last year.

Fact-finding mission

Quintana’s six-day trip to Burma is his first visit since August last year, when he highlighted June violence in Rakhine state and called on the Burmese government to review its 1982 Citizenship Law, which limits citizenship to those who can prove their ancestors lived in the country.

The law bars citizenship rights to many of Burma’s 800,000 Rohingyas, who have been long viewed by the authorities and by many Burmese as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh even though many have lived in the country for generations.

The U.N. considers the Rohingyas to be one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

Ahead of a landmark visit by U.S. President to Burma at the end of last year, Burmese President Thein Sein assured the international community that his government will consider resolving contentious rights issues facing the Rohingya, including the possibility of providing them citizenship.

During his visit, Quintana will also gather data on the conflicts in northern Burma’s Kachin state, where tens of thousands of people have fled fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese military since June 2011 when a 17-year cease-fire agreement was shattered.

Last week, after more than a month of particularly fierce fighting, officials from the Burmese government and the KIA met for talks brokered by Beijing and agreed to hold another round of talks by the third week of February with the aim of reaching a "strong cease-fire."

Shortly after last week’s talks, the U.N.’s special adviser on Burma Vijay Nambiar visited refugee camps in Kachin state that had previously been closed to international aid groups, pledging to work with the Burmese government to deliver aid to those displaced by the recent clashes.

In addition to investigating Burma’s ongoing ethnic conflicts, Quintana will meet with government officials to discuss the release of the country’s remaining political prisoners, estimated to number in the hundreds.

Burma announced last week that it would establish a presidential steering committee to “grant liberty” to those imprisoned for voicing political dissent, in the government’s first public acknowledgement that it is holding political prisoners in the country’s jails.

Quintana is expected to meet with members of parliament, the judiciary, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission and civil society organizations in Naypyitaw and Rangoon.

The special rapporteur will present his report on the human rights situation in Burma to the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council on March 11.

Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes. 

Govt Forces Detain, Torture Kachin Civilians: Rights Group

Ethnic Kachin sit in the doorways of shelters at a temporary camp for people displaced outside the Kachin State capital Myitkyina, which is under government control. (Photo: Reuters)

Burma’s military and police are using a repressive colonial-era law to arbitrarily detain civilians in Kachin State and torture them into confessing to membership of the Kachin rebels, a human rights group alleged on Tuesday.
The Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC) said it examined 36 cases in 2012, in which police and military detained civilians under the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act on accusations of having contact with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

ALRC said authorities were aware that most of the accused in the cases were not in contact with the rebels, but they use the draconian law to arrest and interrogate them. “The system is organized to deliberately capture, torture and imprison innocent persons,” the researchers said.
“Sometimes they detain them because the accused have failed to pay money; sometimes on orders from above; sometimes it is because an incident has occurred and they need to act to hold someone to account,” the group said.

ALRC said Burmese police and military in government-controlled parts of Kachin State were using the colonial-era law to detain Kachin civilians, as the act allows for accusing people of being “politically dangerous to the state by virtue of their identities.”
Burma’s central government and the KIA have been involved in an ongoing, bloody conflict since June 2011, as ethnic rebels demand greater political autonomy for their state.
Once people are accused of being enemies of the state there is a rationale for using violence against detainees, ALRC said. “Torture here is the extension of the violence of warfare into the internal space of the interrogation,” it added.

The report uses the testimony of the Kachin wives or mothers of the victims to highlight examples of torture by police and the military.
Burmese police came to Bawk La’s house on Nov. 15, 2011 and said they needed to bring her son to the station “to ask him something.” After numerous visits and requests, she was finally able to see him again on Nov. 27.
“As soon as I met him, I was shocked and I cried,” Bawk La told ALRC. “He lost his hearing after his temple had been struck for three days… I felt like my heart and my bones had been taken out and crushed.”

ALRC said President Thein Sein’s reformist government should revoke the repressive Unlawful Associations Act and review all current pending cases under the act.
It noted that attempts by lawmakers in 2012 to revoke the law “failed due to the heavy concentration of army personnel, former army personnel and people connected with the army in the Parliament.”
President Thein Sein’s spokesman Ye Htut said in a reaction thatALRC’s allegations against Burmese government security forces in Kachin State were unfounded. “The Tatmadaw [army] does not practice the arbitrary arrest of the local civilians,” he wrote in an email. “If the ground forces commit such crimes, the civilians can complain to the local commander together with the evidence. They can also submit a complaint to the military commander-in-chief and the Myanmar Human Rights Commission,” he added.

Asked whether the government would revoke the colonial-era law that is being used to detain Kachin villagers, Ye Htut said, “I do not want to comment on the lifting or amending of the Act including the Unlawful Association Act because this falls under the authority of the Union Parliament.”
In a separate statement released on Monday, ALRC also stressed the need to reform of Burma police force, as it relies on the “systemic” practice of “extreme” torture of people held on criminal charges.
ALRC said confessions gained through torture were commonly used by police so that they could present offenders in their criminal investigations. It added that senior police officers, the courts and administrative officials are all “aware of its occurrence, are involved actively or are complicit.”
ALRC said in order to eliminate torture in criminal cases in the long term, Burma’s police force should undergo drastic reforms, while the judiciary should be independent and strengthened.
In an example of 2010 torture case that ALRC documented, two men, San Win and a monk U Thubodha, were framed for the murder and rape of a village girl—a crime they did not commit.
“One of the accused the police hung by his tip-toes with a noose, and they forced needles through his tongue, causing him to swallow blood and have a sensation of death,” ALRC researchers said, adding that the victim could not tolerate the pain and confessed.

At the trial, the accused complained of being torture and retracted their confessions. Despite their pleas and lack of conclusive evidence, the judge sentenced the men for rape and murder. They are currently held in Mandalay Central Prison.
This story was updated on 20 Feb, 2013

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Putao Protestors Demand Food, Security

A mother and child walk at Hpun Lum Yang IDP camp, ten kilometers southeast of Laiza. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON—Around 300 Putao residents protested on Tuesday calling for an end to the ongoing Kachin conflict, which has cut off the transport of supplies and people to their town in northern Kachin State. Residents said they are becoming desperate due to increasing food shortages.
The crowd marched for about one hour from Hokho quarter to Myoma market in Putao Township to demand that the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese government install a ceasefire, restore security and lower food prices.

Since June 2011, when a long-standing ceasefire collapsed, the KIA and the government army have clashed in areas around Putao town and the important road connection to Kachin State’s capital Myitkyina was closed off.

People and goods have only been able to enter to the town by air, but flights are infrequent and passenger tickets expensive. To make matters worse, the wider Putao District was hit by a poor rice harvest last year. Household rice stocks have since been depleted and food prices have skyrocketed.
Some 120,000 people live in Putao District and in the town several thousand residents are completely depended on external food supplies flown in by the government and religious and social charities.
Residents said the protest was a call for help as they were anxious about food shortages and the fact that most could not arrange a flight out of Putao.

“It is to show our difficulty with the transportation situation,” protester Ti Ti San said by telephone. “We have a large crowd of people waiting to travel to Myitkyina from Putao.”
The air tickets cost around $70 but there is a 45-day waiting list, Ti Ti San said. “We can buy ticket on the black market for 200,000 kyat [$235], but this is not possible for every traveler,” she added.
Another protester, who preferred not to be named, said residents were concerned that food supplies would run out completely unless new supplies arrived soon.

“The [last] support arrived two weeks ago. When the food support does not arrive, we have nothing, we even do not have salt,” he said, adding that food prices had increased to almost $5 per pint of rice grains—a high price for the impoverished residents.

Complaints about Putao’s food shortages have occurred since August and there have been reports that residents are becoming undernourished and have taken to eating bamboo shoots and banana plants instead of rice.
Le Paw Ye, a Kachin State parliamentarian from Putao District, who was travelling to Myitkyina from Putao, claimed that townspeople were angered only about KIA attacks in the area.
“The Putao residents protest to call on the KIA to stop violent acts in the area, such as destroying bridges,” said the MP, who has links to the government.

Myawaddy, the military’s propaganda outlet, claimed the KIA had launched more than 15 guerilla attacks on public vehicles on Myitkyina-Putao road between December 28, 2012 to January 22, 20
The government says it has asked the KIA to abandon its attacks on the road in October last year, but failed to receive a response.

Yet, the Burmese government has turned down repeated requests for access by the UN, which seeks to provide humanitarian aid to the tens of thousands of affected civilians in northern Kachin State.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Burmese army continues to target rebel positions near Laiza

Published: 22 January 201


A Kachin Independence Army soldier fighting near the frontlines in Kachin state, Burma. (DVB)

 Fierce fighting continues to rage in northern Burma’s Kachin state despite President Thein Sein’s announcement on Sunday that the government has no plan to capture the rebel
 stronghold in Laiza.

A resident in Laiza told DVB that government forces were still attacking the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)’s outpost on Hkaya Bum Hill yesterday, which is about five miles from Laiza.

“There was shooting at Hkaya Bum around 6am this morning [21 Jan] – we heard gunshots. There is a [KIA] outpost providing security for [Laiza],” said the resident.
According to another source on the ground, government forces fired off sporadic artillery and mortar fire targeting Hkaya Bum Hill yesterday before later repositioning around the outpost to initiate a ground assault to cut the road from Hkaya to Laiza.
Colonel Yaw Hton, a KIA spokesperson, confirmed that fighting was taking place near Hkaya Bum Hill yesterday morning.

“There is a fight taking place in Hkaya Bum – about six kilometres away from Lajayang. We also heard that [government forces] captured our brigade 6 [territory] in Hpakant,” said Yaw Hton.
As of yesterday, government forces were unable to take the hill outpost that is “one of the last lines of defense of Laiza”, reported the Free Burma Rangers (FBR).

According to a report published by FBR today, the Burmese military also torched houses in a village 9km west of Lajayang.
“The Burma Army began burning houses in Na Long, a village of approximately 100 houses,” read the report, which was published on the organisation’s website.
“It is unknown whether any of Na Long’s residents were still in the village.”
Hkon Ja from the Rangoon-based Kachin Peace Network said despite Thein Sein’s announcement, government forces continued to push for Laiza on Monday, while deploying more troops to the area.
“U Thein Sein in his meeting with civil society groups, including two Kachins, said the government won’t capture Laiza although it is capable of doing so because they want peace,” said Hkon Ja.
“But that doesn’t seem like the case here – they’ve been attacking Hkaya Bum fiercely and also surrounding areas as of 10:30am [Monday] morning with heavy artillery.”
Meanwhile, locals in Mansi, Shwegu, Hpakant and Pangwa districts have also reported that skirmishes are taking place between government forces and the KIA.

Local NGOs have expressed concerned over the 20,000 residents and refugees trapped in Laiza, which reportedly lacks a sufficient number of bomb shelters for its remaining inhabitants. Residents have also said Chinese authorities are turning back refugees who are trying to cross the border.
The government on 18 January announced that the military would unilaterally stop fighting in the KIA’s Lajayang territory; however, reports of ground offensives and artillery strikes targeting rebel positions continued to surface over the weekend.

There have been no confirmed reports if the Burmese military had reconvened their attacks on KIA positions today.
On 19 January, the government’s Peace Making Work Committee invited the KIA to resume peace talks, but the rebel army rejected the request and demanded that the government negotiators speak to to the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) – an umbrella organization made up of 11 ethnic militias including the KIA.

Earlier this month, the UNFC released a statement notifying the government that the group would be the ‘sole negotiation body’ to represent their members during future ceasefire or peace talks.
Government troops and the KIA have been locked in bitter fighting for the past year and a half after a 17-year ceasefire crumbled in June 2011. After several holding rounds of talks between the KIA and the government, no deal has surfaced to end the fighting as the rebels continue to insist on a government guarantee to address the political issues that have led to the conflict

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Three teenage boys died after being buried alive in a bunker

( From Kachinland News)

  Three teenage boys were buried alive when a bunker collapsed in Pa Kahtawng IDP camp in Maija-yang on Jan 15 at 1 pm. The teenage boys were playing inside the bunker when the soil surrounding the bunker collapsed and fell on them.

The three IDP children killed in this terrible incident are Labya Gam (age 13), Kareng Tu (age 11) and Lahpai Tu (age 12). Since the beginning of Burmese army’s aerial bombardments in mid December, IDP families living in various camps under KIO-controlled areas have been instructed to build their own bunkers by camp officials. IDP families built bunkers around their temporary makeshift tents to protect them from aerial and artillery bombings.

On Jan 14, Burmese army’s artillery shells fell on Hka Chyang block in Laiza town killing three civilians including a deacon and a ninth grade student and wounded 4 others including an eight-year-old girl at around 8 am. Another round of artillery shells fired by Burmese army’s Dawhpum-yang-based artillery unit fell on the same civilian block in Laiza in the evening. No casualties have been reported as local residents have already moved to safer areas.

Fierce fighting raged between KIA’s 23rd Battalion under 5th Brigade and a combined force of Burmese army infantry units near Hkaya post on Jan 15 at 7:30 am. Local source says Burmese army made an offensive operation to seize KIA’s Hkaya post located on a strategic hill. Two government’s fighter jets came to aid ground troops firing KIA positions for two rounds at 2:30 pm and 3:40 pm during the battle.

Two artillery shells fired by Burmese army fell on Chinese soil. One mortar shell fell near Nabang-Yinjiang road on Chinese soil and another shell fell near a village at China-Burma border on Jan 15.
Burmese army continues indiscriminate shelling on civilians areas in Kachin and northern Shan state despite calls from other ethnic nationalities and international community to halt offensive and restraint violence against civilians.

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Britain speaks out as Burma’s ‘biggest war’ escalates 
 (By FRANCIS WADE)  Published: 15 January 2013 
 British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt spoke out against the recent shelling of the Kachin rebel stronghold in Lazia in the UK parliament yesterday.

Britain has warned of the “increasingly serious” situation unfolding in Kachin state after fresh shelling hit the town of Laiza on Monday night, following the deaths of three civilians by artillery fire earlier in the day.
Responding to an urgent question raised in the UK parliament yesterday, Foreign

Office Minister Alistair Burt said the fighting “could present a threat to … wider reforms” and called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities”.

La Rip, head of the Laiza-based Relief Action Network for IDP and Refugee, told DVB last night that another shell landed in the backyard of a house in Laiza at 10:26pm, although there were no injuries. Fighter jets have been flying low over the town today.

“People are really terrified,” said La Rip. “They’re shocked to see shells land in the heart of Laiza. Since middle of December, the shelling [around Laiza] has been continuous.” He added that internally displaced persons (IDPs) had been among those killed by helicopter gunship attacks in December, stoking fear among the area’s swelling refugee population.

The three that were killed by an artillery attack on Monday morning included a 15-year-old boy and a man who had recently fled to Laiza after fighting broke out near his village. A two-year-old boy received face wounds, while his mother was also hospitalised.

As fighting moves close to the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), calls to evacuate the town have arisen. The KIA has dug trenches and foxholes around nearby IDP camps, although people are already beginning to leave.

“There are no plans to evacuate [Laiza], but if they want to find a safer place they will have to cross into China,” said La Rip, adding that people had begun making their way to the border on 14 December when the Burmese army launched its first wave of air strikes on Kachin positions.
According to Chinese state media, authorities across the border from Kachin state have already begun preparing camps to accommodate up to 10,000 refugees. La Rip said however that he is worried the Chinese government will turn them back, as they did in August last year when around 7,000 who had sought shelter in Yunnan province were repatriated. “If they reject refugees that might cause mass killings and slaughtering if the government tries to capture Laiza.”

A Burmese military analyst based in China, Aung Kyaw Zaw, said yesterday that the Kachin conflict was the “biggest in Burma’s recent history” and the “most expensive”. The only comparable battle was the final assault on Manerplaw, the former headquarters of the Karen National Union, in 1995, when the military used air strikes.

“This time there are more ground forces than were at Manerplaw,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw. “I think there are around 130 battalions now in Kachin state – that is 20 percent of all Burmese troops.”
Burma Campaign UK yesterday called on the British and US governments to “adopt a much more robust approach with the government of Burma”. Both countries are eyeing business interests in the country, with the UK recently sending a high-level trade mission focusing on energy to Burma. This conflict of interest may have dampened their responses to the crisis in Burma’s north.

There is also criticism that the international community is not responding as vociferously as they could because of the geographical remove of Kachin state. “If Burmese Army was killing civilians with mortarbombs in Rangoon instead of Kachin State would UK still be taking trade missions to #Burma?” tweeted BCUK’s director, Mark Farmaner.

Matthew Smith, Burma researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that despite the group having documented “serious violations of the laws of war” committed by the Burmese army, “it’s clear the international community hasn’t done enough” to respond.

“Attacks on civilians have continued, no one has been held accountable for abuses, and the government is still blocking humanitarian aid for tens of thousands of Kachin, all while reaping praise for reforming,” he said. “Just a couple years ago the level of abuse that we’ve seen in Kachin state would have been met with serious repercussions internationally.”

The extent of President Thein Sein’s control over the army is again being questioned. He has twice called on the military to cease attacks on Kachin, but state media last week quoted him as praising the military for its “sacrifices in blood and sweat”, and claiming it had done everything possible “to make positive contributions to the peace process”.

The army’s push on Laiza has surprised some analysts who thought they might use the town as the Kachin army’s final bargaining chip. “They want to see the Kachin kneel down at the peace table prepared by Thein Sein and others,” one observer said.

The two sides have held several rounds of talks since fighting first began in June 2011, but to no avail. The Kachin say they will not sign a truce until the government pledges not to recommence aggressive development of the resource-rich state. As it stands, however, the proposal put forward by Thein Sein’s negotiating team calls for economic development before cementing a political solution to the protracted conflict.

During the ceasefire period between 1994 and 2011, Kachin state saw heavy investment in the mining, timber and hydropower sectors, much of it fuelled by China’s energy needs. The loosening of international sanctions has been criticized for being too premature, in light of the absence of any binding regulations in Burma’s foreign investment law that would stem the human and environmental costs of development.

During the UK parliamentary session yesterday, Burt said that sanctions could potentially be reimposed. “I do not doubt for a moment that the Burmese government are well aware of the conditions that are likely to attach to any further progress in relation to sanctions,” he said.
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Karenni Refugees Want to Go Home But ‘Don’t Trust the Government’

Ban Mai Nai Soi, in Thailand’s northwestern province of Mae Hong Son, is the biggest refugee camp in Thailand. (Photo: Echo Hui / The Irrawaddy)
Ban Mai Nai Soi, in Thailand’s northwestern province of Mae Hong Son, is the biggest refugee camp in Thailand. (Photo: Echo Hui / The Irrawaddy)

MAE HONG SON, Thailand—As support groups increasingly donate money to the democratic movement inside Burma, funds are drying up for Karenni refugee camps over the border in Thailand.
Ten months have passed since the Burmese government signed a ceasefire with the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP). But as a civil war in Kachin State escalates, most Karenni refugees in Thailand say they still don’t feel safe to return home.
“We want to go back to our motherland, but we don’t trust the government,” said Elizabeth Mimar, coordinator of the Karenni Community College at Ban Mai Nai Soi, the biggest Karenni refugee camp in Thailand.

“Based on our experiences and the reality of the present situation, we have very low expectations [for the government].” Nearly a year after the ceasefire, refugees are still waiting for a more permanent peace agreement.
“At this point we still haven’t started peace talks with the government; we’ve only had ceasefire talks,” KNPP secretary Khu Oo Reh told The Irrawaddy last Wednesday, adding that a detailed peace agreement “will take years.”
Until then, as the world turns its attention to reforms in Naypyidaw, refugees in Thailand worry their lives will become more difficult.
“Donors are more interested in giving money to projects inside Burma now,” said Mar Saw, chairman of the Karenni Refugee Community. “And we can’t slow down that problem directly.”

Unstable ceasefire

At Ban Mai Nai Soi, life has changed little since the second ceasefire last year.
“People come and go,” said 18-year-old Come Zee, who lives in the camp, in the northwestern Thai province of Mae Hong Son. “We’re constantly getting new neighbors.”
Admission to refugee camps in Thailand is governed by the country’s Provincial Admissions Board (PAB) mechanism.
 But as clashes continue to break out sporadically in southeastern Burma, the unregistered population in camps has grown to an estimated 54,000 people, with a steady flow of new entrants, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
 Come Zee was born in 1994, one year before the Karenni ethnic armed group and the government signed their first ceasefire, which dissolved within three months.
 “After the first ceasefire agreement broke down, it [life for Karenni people] became even worse,” said Mimar, Come Zee’s teacher at Karenni Community College. “That’s why people are afraid to go back to Burma. They’re not sure if the ceasefire will break again.”
 Both Come Zee and Mimar have lived for years in Ban Mai Nai Soi, where it is common for up to 10 family members to stay together in a single one-storey hut, measuring about 150 square feet.
The population of Burmese refugees in Thailand reached 90,790 this month, according to UNHCR.
And while that number is hardly decreasing, the food supply is. The Karenni Refugee Community says donors started focusing on projects inside Burma after President Thein Sein came to power in March 2011 and embarked on a platform of reform that drew attention from the international community.

“Before 2011 we had 15 kilograms of rice per person per month, but now we only have 12 kilograms,” said Mi Reh, a 20-year-old Karenni who was born in Ban Mai Nai Soi.
Doctors are also in short supply.

“The clinics are always crowded,” she said. There are only two clinics in the camp for 9,000 people.
Priority is given to expecting mothers and children.
“For pregnant women and newborns, we give vaccinations and provide eggs, yellow beans and oil,” said Mar Saw, the refugee community’s chairman.
Facing tough conditions inside the camp, more Karennis are sneaking out and searching for work in nearby towns.
Mark, a 27-year-old Karenni who came to the camp when he was 19, went looking for a day job five years ago in Dot Kit Ta village, about an hour and half’s walk from Ban Mai Nai Soi. He found a long-term position and now lives there, illegally.
Refugees living outside the camps are regarded as illegal migrants under Thailand’s immigration law and are subject to arrest, detention and deportation.
“It is very easy [to sneak out],” Mark said. “The hard part is maybe the work itself, since many of the jobs require long hours and are indeed hard work.”
Mark remembers waking up at 3 am to start his 6 am shift in the village.
“Working about 10 hours a day, you can get about 120 to 150 Thai baht [US $4-5],” he said.
Because he was born in Burma, Mark would have an easier time returning to the country as a Burmese citizen. But he says he doesn’t want to go back.
“Even though [Karenni refugees in the camps] are starting to talk about the peace agreement, almost nobody is actually moving back to Burma,” Mar Saw said. “Especially when they hear from their relatives or listen to news on the radio about Kachin State.”
The conflict between ethnic Kachin armed groups and the government has escalated recently after the government army began using air strikes late last month.

Far from peace talks

On March 7 last year, the KNPP signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in the presence of international observers from the UNHCR, the British Council and the US Embassy. They started rounds of negotiations with the government in Loikaw, the capital of Karenni State.
However, Khu Oo Reh, one of the party secretaries, said both sides were still far from a peace agreement. “Until we stop the fighting, we can’t move ahead to peace talks or start talking about politics,” he said.
The secretary said it was challenging to reach a peace agreement because it was difficult to understand the true colors of Burma’s government. “There are two different factions within the government,” he said. “We feel the entire government hasn’t been included in the talks.”
The widely condemned 2008 Constitution, which guarantees 25 percent of Parliament seats for the military, also concerns him.
“The 2008 Constitution gave so much power to the military, which really isn’t going to agree on military matters with the ethnic armed groups,” he said. “Whenever we talk about the position of the army and the movement of troops, they can’t easily agree with us.”

The promise

On Jan. 5, the President’s Office said on its website that Thein Sein was “committed to bringing about lasting peace during his term” after a meeting with the new Karen National Union (KNU) leadership.
“He has said things like this many times before, be he never keeps true to his promises,” said Khu Oo Reh. “He’s just trying to save face.”
Thaw Reh, a spokesperson for the Karenni Civil Societies Network, said the government had failed to keep various agreements it signed with the network in March and June last year, including promises to inform the KNPP of its troop movement through Karenni territory.
The government, Thaw Reh said, has pushed forward with the construction of a controversial military training ground in Pruso Township, while blocking civil society from monitoring mega-development projects in the state.
“If the government isn’t even keeping its initial agreements in Karenni State, how can we trust them to build lasting peace in Burma?” said Thaw Reh.
In a recent meeting with the rebel KNPP leaders in Mae Hong Son, the government’s leading peace negotiator, Minister Aung Min of the President’s Office, said Naypyidaw wanted to begin the resettlement of Karenni refugees by the rainy season this year, presumably in June.
Come Zee said she had not made up her mind about returning. “The government should at least clear up all the landmines around the border, so we are safe to go home,” she said.
According to the nonprofit Karenni Development and Research Group, there are more than 100,000 landmines in Karenni State, a number equal to one-third of the state’s population.
“I’m still waiting,” Come Zee said.
“As I told you before, I don’t have a definite plan for the future, but I want to go to where people need me.”

Speech of General Aung San