MON REFUGEES PUSHED BACK INTO BURMA BY THE THAI ARMY
This short interview was conducted by David Arnott with Nai Htin Aung, the Chairman of the Mon National Relief Committee [MNRC] following a visit made to a group of Mon people who had been moved by the Thai army (9th Division) from Thailand into Burma in the first week of April 1993. They had moved to an area about 20 minutes walk away from their former settlement of Ha Loek Hani. We were told that they numbered 700-1000 people. We saw about 200 people, including a high proportion of women and children, and a dozen or so temporary huts, and were told that the rest of the group were living along the banks of a small stream to a distance of 2-hours walk. The main activities we saw were domestic, and the preparation of thatch for roofs. We saw two substantial huts which had been built. We saw a hillside of several acres where the vegetation had been recently burnt in preparation for planting rice at the onset of the rainy season. We took photographs of the new and old houses -- their former houses were very well built, and appeared to have been a well-organised village. The nearest Burmese army outpost was said to be at Three Pagodas Pass, about 15 kilometres north-east, across thick jungle. A protective force of Mon soldiers were said to be on guard further into the jungle, but we did not see any. A Mon monk who is a central figure in the villagers' life continues to live in a temple at the end of the motor road from San Khlaburi, about 10 minutes walk to the recently emptied village, and half an hour from the present location of the community. It was in his temple that we saw a boy of about 6 years who appeared to be dying from malaria. He was taken down to a Christian hospital while we were there. Further information is contained in the interview, below, or can be obtained from Nai Htin Aung, Tel/fax (66-34) 595 080.
DA Yesterday we met these people who had been displaced from Thailand into Burma -- about 1000 people. First of all, what is the name of the village from which they had been moved across the border from Thailand into Burma?
NHA The name of the village is Ha Loek Hani.
DA What is its history? When did the people originally come from Burma, and how did they settle there?
NHA These people came to Thai side a long time ago. In fact because of the civil war in Burma they could not stay in Burma. That's why they moved to Thai side slowly, and came group by group. And afterwards they formed a community there, and settled in that place. But these people were not regarded as refugees by the Thai government. That is why, during last week, they were instructed to move to Burma side.
DA And we're speaking about the 4th or 5th of April?
NHA Yes, in the first week of April 1993.
DA When you say they have been here a long time, that means 3 or 4 years?
NHA Some people stay here longer than that. Some [came] 3 or 4 years ago. At first there was a camp named as Plek Noh [phonetic spelling] , supported by the BBC [Burma Border Consortium, made up of relief agencies based in Thailand]. But this camp was ordered to close by the Thai authorities in April 1992. MNRC took responsibility for closing this camp, and we moved all the people around there to the new camp which is called Loe Loh camp. But even though we moved some people from there, there were still some people left outside the camp, and some who joined from nearby and they formed a community there. That is called Ha Loek Hani.
DA Now there are more than 700 people and possibly there might be as many as 1000, we heard yesterday. Now what in your view are their basic needs? The rainy season will be with us in a few weeks' time, and at the moment they have very little in the way of housing -- they are building shelters at the moment, we saw, but what are their basic food and medical and other needs over the next few months, particularly over the rainy season?
NHA Their basic needs are mainly rice, fish paste, salt, and chilli, and they have no shelter as yet, so they need to build small huts for living there; but the difficulty for them at the moment is to collect thatch. They have no thatch at all at this time. It is a big problem for us to supply them with thatch which they need for roofing. [At another time he spoke about the need for mosquito nets. In a few weeks many cases of malaria are expected] And medicines, especially connected with malaria and dysentery [and pulmonary diseases like pneumonia, we were told by the Mon doctor supervising this and other camps and settlements. There was also a medic living in the settlement who had received one and a half years' training, plus a two-months' refresher course]; these are urgently needed in that place.
DA I spoke to the doctor yesterday, and he said that most of the children are malnourished, but about 100 in his view were severely malnourished, and needed milk and oil and sugar as dietary supplements. [The doctor also said that he was expecting the onset of diaohrrea within ten days, partly on account of the lack of adequate sanitation and fresh water] Is this a particular need which you might be able to fill in the next few weeks?
NHA These are really needed in the camps, because most of the diseases occurring in the camps are connected with malnutrition, so if we can supply protein foods, something like milk and sugar, especially for the children and the old-aged, then some diseases can be controlled, so we think that the supply of these kinds of things is very useful for the children there.
DA So the actual cost of providing for all the needs of these people over the next, say, 6 months through to the end of the rainy season would be quite considerable -- the calculation was, I think, for that period, one sack per person of rice would be what was needed, and a sack of rice, the cheapest, broken rice, would cost, with transport, about 600 baht, which is about US$24. So this means that if there are 1000 people, it would need a total of $24,000 simply for rice. Could you make a rough calculation of what the other expenses would amount to for that same period? Perhaps you would have to sit down and do some calculations, but do you have a rough idea?
NHA The assistance support to our refugee camps under the control of MNRC is mainly done by the Burma Border Consortium. They buy these materials, and these materials are then transferred to us. So I think the best way is to consult with the BBC organisation, especially with Mr Jack Dunford, then you can know in detail -- I want to suggest like this.
DA Is there anything else you would like to say about this particular situation, and perhaps other situations on this border?
NHA What I want to say on behalf of the Mon National Relief Committee is that even though we have 4 camps under the control of the MNRC, this Ha Loek Hani community is out of the control of the MNRC. So there is no security for them. They could not go back to Burma side; and, as well, they are not allowed to come into Thai side. So for these over 700 people they are in great trouble now. So I want to suggest you to help them for their security, health and education in that place, as much as possible.
David Arnott San Klabhuri, Thailand. 11 April 1993