Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Brief History of Thailand Burma Border Situation (2007)

(This article is from TBBC - Thailand Burma Border Consortium - website.)

The following maps illustrate how the situation on the Thai/Burmese border has developed since 1984.

1984: The First Refugees

Tachileik/Maesai, Myawaddy/Maesot, Kawthaung/Ranong.
In 1984 the border was predominately under the control of the indigenous ethnic nationalities. The Burmese Government / Army had only three main access points at Tachileik in the North, Myawaddy in the Centre, and Kawthaung in the South.

The dark-shaded border areas had never been under the direct control of the Burmese Government or occupied by the Burmese Army. These areas were controlled by the ethnic nationalities themselves, predominantly Shan, Kareni, Karen, and Mon, who had established de facto autonomous states.

The ethnic nationality resistance had influence and access over a much wider area represented diagrammatically in the pale shade. They raised taxes on substantial black market trade between Thailand and Burma and used these taxes to pay for their governing systems, their armies, and some social services.

The Karen national Union (KNU) had been in rebellion for 35 years and since the mid 1970s had been increasingly being pushed back towards the Thai border. For several years dry season offensives had sent refugees temporarily into Thailand only to return in the rainy season when the Burmese Army withdrew.

But in 1984 the Burmese launched a major offensive, which broke through the Karen front lines opposite Tak Province, sending about 10,000 refugees into Thailand. This time the Burmese Army was able to maintain its front-line positions and did not withdraw in the rainy season. The refugees remained in Thailand.

1984 to 1994: The Border under Attack

Over the next ten years the Burmese Army launched annual dry season offensives, taking control of new areas, building supply routes and establishing new bases. As territory was lost new refugees fled to Thailand, increasing to about 80,000 by 1994.

1988 and 1990: Democracy Movement

In 1988 the people of Burma rose up against the military regime with millions taking part in mass demonstrations. Students and monks played prominent roles and Aung San Su Kyi emerged as their charismatic leader.

The uprising was crushed by the army on 18th September with thousands killed on the streets. Around 10,000 student activists fled to the Thailand/Burma border and the first alliances were made between ethnic and pro-democracy movements. Offices were established at the KNU headquarters at Manerplaw and over 30 small ‘student’ camps were established along the border, although the number of ‘students’ declined to around 3,000 by 1989.

In 1990 the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) conducted a General Election which was overwhelmingly won by Aung San Su Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD was not allowed to take power and elected MPs were imprisoned or intimidated. Some fled to the border to form a Government in exile, further strengthening the ethnic/democratic opposition alliances at Manerplaw.

January 1995: The Fall of Manerplaw

In January 1995, with the assistance of the breakaway Democratic Karen Buddhist Association (DKBA), the Burmese Army attacked and overran Manerplaw, a major blow for both the KNU and all the democratic and ethnic alliances.

1995 to 1997: The Buffer falls

As the KNU attempted to re-group, the Burmese Army overran all their other bases along the Moei River, taking control of this important central section of the border.

In 1995 SLORC broke a short-lived cease-fire agreement with the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and in 1996 similarly overran all of their bases.

And in the same year, Khun Sa, leader of the Shan Resistance made a deal with SLORC which paralysed the Shan resistance and effectively allowed the Burmese Army access to the border opposite Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces.

Finally, in 1997, the Burmese Army launched a huge dry season offensive, over-running the remainder of Karen controlled territory all the way south to Prachuap Khirri Kan.

In three short years the Burmese Army had effectively overrun the entire border, which, for the first time in history, they now had tenuous access to and control over. The ethnic nationalities no longer controlled any significant territory and the number of refugees had increased to around 115,000.

The remaining ‘student’ camps had by now all been forced to move into Thailand and most of their numbers were integrated into the ethnic refugee camps.

Forced Village Relocations Since 1996

Once the Burmese Army began taking control of former ethnic territory it launched a massive village relocation plan aimed at bringing the population under military control and eliminating the ethnic resistance.

The map shows vast areas where the Burmese Army has forced villagers to relocate. According to studies conducted by ethnic CBOs and compiled by TBBC, at least 3,000 ethnic villages have been destroyed since 1996 affecting over one million people. Probably more than 300,000 have fled to Thailand as refugees (the majority being Shan and not recognized by the Thai Government).

TBBC estimates that in 2006 there are conservatively still some 500,000 IDPs in the Eastern states and divisions of Burma bordering Thailand, including at least 95,000 in free-fire areas, 287,000 in cease-fire areas (including 11,000 in Mon Resettlement sites) and 118,000 in relocation sites.

Meanwhile the population in the border refugee camps has increased to around 156,000 in 2007.