Karen deportations put on hold

Karen deportations put on hold

* Published: 6/02/2010 at 12:00 AM
* Newspaper section: News

The planned deportation of about 1,700 Karen refugees back to Burma yesterday has been shelved temporarily because of mounting domestic and international pressure.

Activists, led by the Friends of Burma and the Karen Women's Organisation (KWO), yesterday submitted a letter of appeal to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva following an earlier call seeking suspension of the deportation which failed.

They had asked the National Security Council and the ministries of interior and foreign affairs to stop the plan to send the refugees back to Burma.

The 3rd Army had initially said the deportation would take place yesterday. But the plan has been halted for the time being as opposition to the policy has been increasing.

The Karen refugees fled to Thailand last year following a summer military offensive by the military junta.

The KWO said the repatriated refugees could be subject to horrific human rights abuses, including rape, torture and even execution if they were sent home.

Thai human rights activists also said landmines are buried across the border and a return on foot would be too dangerous for the refugees.

The NGOs said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) may need to play a role in ensuring the safe return of the refugees in keeping with international standards.

US Congressman Joseph Crowley called on Thailand to halt the deportation of the Karen to the dangerous conflict zone in eastern Burma.

"If this decision isn't reversed, thousands of Burmese refugees will be forced to live in grave danger," said Mr Crowley who joined 26 fellow congressmen in conveying their concern to Mr Abhisit in a letter dated Feb 4. They warned the deportation would tarnish Thailand's reputation for helping resettle refugees.

Noppadol Watcharajitbovorn, commander of the 35th Ranger Regiment's task force, yesterday led representatives from the UNHCR, the Thailand Burma Border Consortium and the American embassy to witness the repatriation of 16 Karen refugees who returned home on a voluntary basis.

Col Noppadol said the Defence Ministry has told his task force to suspend all further repatriation.

"We have been asked by Bangkok after a request by the US seeking a temporary suspension. We are also re-evaluating the situation after rights groups voiced concerns," he said.


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