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House Subcommittee Hears Refugee Pr

Subject:       House Subcommittee Hears Refugee Problem

Organization:   NCGUB
Reply-to:       ncgub@xxxxxxxxxxx


The Subcommittee on International Operations and Human 
Rights chaired by Congressmand Christopher Smith held a 
hearing on the situation of the "Burmese Refugees in 
Thailand" at the Rayburn House Office Building on April 16, 

Testifying before the subcommittee, which is under the House 
Committee on International Relations, were Mr. Gary Lane, 
senior correspondent of the Christian Broadcasting Network; 
Mr. Stephen Dun (Saw Thay Ler), a Karen refugee studying in 
the United States; Soe Pyne, director of the Prime 
Minister's Office, the National Coalition Government of the 
Union of Burma; and Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J. National 
Director, Jesuit Refugee Service.

The witnesses explained the precarious situation of the 
Karen and other refugees at the Thai-Burma border; the food, 
shelter and health problems and the threat of repatriation 
faced by the refugees; the assistance that NGOs and the 
UNHCR can provide; Thai policy toward refugees from Burma; 
and the role the United States and the international 
community can play to alleviate and resolve the refugee 

The testimony provided by Soe Pyne on behalf of the National 
Coalition Government of the Union of Burma follows:

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Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee on International 
Operations and Human Rights:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify on the 
situation of Burmese Refugees in Thailand.  I am Soe Pyne, 
director of the Prime Minister's Office, the National 
Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB).  The 
NCGUB is a cabinet made up of elected representatives from 
the National League for Democracy and other democratic 
parties that won the elections in 1990.  The NCGUB has a 
keen interest in the affairs of the Karen and other ethnic 
nationalities because it is a firm believer in Daw Aung San 
Suu Kyi's call for a tripartite dialogue between the leaders 
of the democracy movement, the ethnic nationalities and the 
military to achieve peace and national reconciliation in 

A major offensive was launched by the Burmese military junta 
against the Karen people in early February.  Even though the 
exact figure of refugees fleeing the fighting is difficult 
to know, different sources visiting the sites along the 
border, including Thai and international journalists, have 
put the number of refugees at tens of thousands.

The situation should be of utmost concern to all of us not 
just because a large number of people have lost their 
relatives, their homes and property and become refugees but 
also because of the brutality of the goal behind the 

The Karen National Union, which has been fighting for 
equality and self- determination, has had four rounds of 
cease-fire talks with the ruling military junta, also known 
as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). The 
talks have failed because the SLORC only wants the KNU to 
surrender on its terms.  The KNU refused to give in to the 
demands, but it was expecting another round of talks to take 
place. SLORC, however, unilaterally broke off the talks and 
launched a brutal assault without warning.

It was obvious from the very start that the objective of the 
latest offensive is not just the KNU.   It was the Karen 
people, whom SLORC accuses of being the support base for the 
KNU. This is reflected in the January 28 attacks on the 
three Karen refugee camps at Huai Kalok Wangkha, Huai Bok 
(Don Pakiang) and Mae La. Altogether the camps housed 36,000 
refugees inside the Thai territory.  Left undefended by the 
Thai security forces, thousands of Karen refugees were left 
homeless and destitute as SLORC and its puppet forces 
torched the camps.

Also, during the latest offensive, there have been reports 
of extra-judicial killings, rape, looting and plunder at 
many Karen villages inside Burma and along the way to the 
Thai-Burma border. Many villages were also burned and 
destroyed by the SLORC troops.  The offensive is intended to 
be a warning to the other ethnic nationalities, who have 
entered into cease-fire arrangements with the SLORC but are 
expressing their dissatisfaction with the outcome of these 

In other words, the growth in the number of Karen refugees 
at the Thai-Burma border is not accidental. It is the result 
of a brutal but well thought out plan of destruction by the 

Another problem that the Karen refugees are facing is the 
Thai authorities. The Thai authorities are refusing to 
acknowledge the refugee status of the Karens or to let the 
UNHCR to help them.

Depending on the Army commander in charge of the region 
concerned, there were reports about Karen refugees, 
particularly males of fighting age, being forced back into 
war zones inside Burma. The refugees were also prevented 
from building any shelter out of wood or bamboo which are 
considered by the Thai authorities to be permanent 
structures. There have been instances of NGOs and other 
official teams being denied access to the sites where the 
refugees are staying.  

The Thai government has denied that refugees were turned 
back.  Earlier in March, however, many sources, including 
press reports, on different occasions confirmed that the 
Karen refugees were indeed pushed back into Burma.

Thailand is well known for its humanitarian policy.  It has 
always sheltered refugees, from Indochina to Burma. The 
National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma urges 
the United States to request Thailand to continue that 
humane policy toward the Karen refugees and allow NGOs and 
the UNHCR to assist these refugees.

The refugee issue in Burma is the result of political 
problems. Without the will to resolve the existing political 
issues, there can never be a long-term solution to the 
refugee problem.  The KNU and the Burmese democracy movement 
have on many occasions offered to hold talks with the SLORC 
for national reconciliation. The solution to achieve peace 
and harmony is already there.

The United States and the international community must step 
up their efforts aimed at pressuring the SLORC to enter into 
dialogue with the democracy movement and the ethnic 
nationalities. That process will resolve the refugee problem 
and ensure peace and harmony in Burma and the region.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing and for 
showing an interest in Burma's affairs.

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