Thai/Burma Border Region

The conflict in Burma (or Myanmar) is one of the world’s longest-running civil wars and began after the country’s independence in 1948. Fighting between armed resistance groups and the Burmese military is ongoing in many areas, including the eastern Karen state, now only second to Afghanistan for land mines.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been driven from their homes during decades of war, living in camps on the Thai side of the border. The district of Sangkhlaburi in Northern Thailand has a population of 47,000 of which half are from ethnic groups including those displaced from the neighbouring Karen state.

The Burmese army has a history of widespread summary executions, looting, torture, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, forced labor, recruitment of child soldiers, and the displacement and demolition of entire villages as part of military operations against ethnic minorities. Civilians bear the brunt of this ongoing conflict.

The Karen People

With a population of over 7 million the Karen are more than a national minority, they have all the essential qualities of a nation, including their own history, language, culture, land and economic system. By nature the Karen are simple, cooperative, honest, unassuming and peace loving.

There are about 140,000 Karen refugees living in camps in Thailand. About 50,000 Karen refugees have been resettled in America, Canada, Australia, and Europe. The Thai government have made several attempts to repatriate Karen refugees living inside the Thai border to Burma. These attempts have been criticised worldwide and have so far not been successful.

The Karen Revolution is more than just a struggle for survival against oppression, exploitation and domination by the Burmese regime. It aims for a genuine Federal Union of all states. Since 1976 the Karen have called for peace above an independent Karen State.

Military

Burma has the highest per capita ratio of soldiers to civilians in the world, with an army of 400,000 and a population around 52 million. Violations of human rights by the Burmese military have been acute in the Karen state.

Government

The Burmese regime spends over 40% of its national budget on arms, and only 0.4% and 0.5% of its GDP on health and education. The Burmese regime has refused to honour the national elections of 1990, won in a landslide victory by the National League for Democracy.

Health and Mortality

Average life expectancy of Burmese is 56. Karen is estimated to be far lower due to their extremely poor living standards. The infant mortality rate of Eastern Burma (Karen) is 15%. 1 in 5 Karen children die before their 5th birthday. HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria are at epidemic proportions in Eastern Burma.

Land Mines

Eastern Burma is the second highest land mine contaminated area in the world. Burma is afflicted with the third highest number of land mine victims in the world.

52
Million civillians
400
Thousand armed forces
65
Years of civil war
140
Thousand Karen refugees

Land Mines in Burma

The Burmese government will not take action and will also not allow any outside assistance to deal with the contamination. The last recorded figures of land mine victims in 2007, was 400 casualties and 122 deaths. Humanitarian organisation Geneva Call conducted a report in 2011 estimating that 5.2 million people live in areas contaminated by land mines in Burma.

Fighting between armed resistance groups and the Burmese military is on-going. It is simply not safe to return because of land mines and continuing violence from the Burmese Army and forced labour by the Burmese government.

The Karen Crisis

The Thai government have made several attempts to repatriate Karen refugees. Due to worldwide criticism these attempts have not been successful. The National Council for Peace and Order stated in July 2014 that they will try to repatriate 140,000 refugees living inside the Thai border to Burma. This plan is indicative of what the future holds for the Karen people living in Thailand refugee camps.

Hundreds of Karen villages have been forcibly displaced and destroyed for hydro-electricity damming projects. The Burmese regime earns over US$400 million a year from selling the country’s natural gas to foreign investors. Now it plans to sell hydro-power to further strengthen its military forces.

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