Govt Wants to Start Resettling Refugees: Minister

By Saw Yan Naing 23 April 2012

Burmese Railways Minister Aung Min, the chief government negotiator in talks with ethnic armed groups, has said that Naypyidaw wants to begin resettling internally displaced persons (IDPs) and war refugees before the start of the rainy season, which begins in June.

Aung Min mentioned the plan during informal talks on Saturday with the ethnic Karenni armed group, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), in the northern Thai border town of Mae Hong Son, said KNPP Secretary 1 Khu Oo Reh.

“He [Aung Min] told us that the government has plans for the resettlement of IDPs and refugees and also wants migrant workers to return,” said Khu Oo Reh.

“They want to start resettling IDPs and refugees by the start of the upcoming rainy season,” he said. “But we think it is impossible and unrealistic, because we don’t know how sure our peace process is. We are just in the process of negotiations.”

There are about 150,000 mostly ethnic Karen refugees from Burma living in nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border and an estimated 1.5 million IDPs inside the country, according to relief and humanitarian aid agencies.

It is believed that Thailand alone is host to as many as two million migrants workers from Burma, most of them unregistered.

Khu Oo Reh noted out that before any resettlement program can begin, a number of issues needed to be addressed, including the demining of conflict zones, deciding where the returnees would live and getting the support of international humanitarian groups.

Aung Min met the KNPP on Saturday, the same day he returned from a trip to Europe, where he briefed Norwegian government ministers on the progress of Naypyidaw’s efforts to reach peace deals with ethnic armed groups.

Despite reaching a series of ceasefire agreements with armed groups representing Burma’s Wa, Karen, Shan, Mon, Karenni and Chin minorities, the government has yet to end nearly a year of fighting with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the country’s second-largest ethnic militia.

Sources in Laiza, the headquarters of the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), said that heavy fighting in the area on Sunday left two Burmese soldiers dead and two injured.

Despite such incidents, however, there is still unprecedented hope of an eventual end to ethnic conflict, though observers say it could take years before a lasting peace takes hold.

Saw Htun Htun, the chairman of the Mae La camp, the largest refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border, said that refugee repatriation would remain impossible in the near future due to continuing security concerns, but added that it could happen within the next five years.