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Woman and Children Injured by Mortar Shelling on Thai-Burma Border: WLB Urges the Thai Government to Ensure the Protection of Civilians Fleeing Conflict

By Women's League of Burma  •  February 1, 2011

A mother and two young boys seeking refuge in Thailand have been seriously injured by shrapnel from mortars that landed across the Thai-Burma border on Sunday 30 January. The three injured are refugees from Karen State, Burma; they had been hiding in the jungle in Thailand, near to the border, to avoid having to return to their villages inside the conflict zone. They are yet to receive proper medical treatment. The Women’s League of Burma (WLB) calls on the Royal Thai Government (RTG) to permit the refugees that have fled to Thailand to stay until the fighting in Karen State ends, and to allow more stable services to be established.

The injured include a 33-year-old woman, shielding her one-year-old baby, who was hit by shrapnel that lodged in her lower leg and an 8-year-old boy who has a piece of shrapnel lodged in the back of his knee. A 7-year-old boy has received injuries to a large area across his lower back, hip, and upper leg; his injuries are considered serious and he is currently being treated at Mae Sot hospital.

The victims were among a group of approximately 1,500 villagers who were hiding near the Moei river on the Thai side of the border when fighting erupted at 10am local time. The fighting was close enough to the border that, over 7 hours of fighting, 49 mortar shells exploded on the Thai side of the river, near to the hiding sites.

More than 10,000 civilians are currently hiding in Thailand after fighting broke out in the eastern and south-eastern regions of Karen State in November of last year. Fighting between the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and 5th Brigade of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) started on 8 November 2010, a day after the SPDC held fraudulent elections to solidify its power. Temporary sites were initially set up inside Thailand in November to deal with the immediate surge of civilians fleeing from fighting. WLB is grateful to the RTG for accepting the massive influx of people that have sought refuge in Thailand since November, and for providing them with a safe place to stay in this time of civil strife.

However, WLB is concerned that the RTG’s policies are forcing these civilians to return to unsafe situations across the border. Villagers have been told to leave the sites when there are temporary lulls in the fighting in Karen State. Yet, armed conflict has continued for nearly three months, and shows no sign of abating.

Villagers who go back to Karen State return to Thailand days or even hours after, when the fighting recommences. Those who are too scared to return to Burma, hide inside Thailand in villages, farming areas and in the jungle near the river.

“People beg the local Thai villagers not to send them back across the border; they know that their communities are unsafe. Instead the villagers go to hiding sites close to the border, on the Thai side as well as in Burma. But these hiding sites are not safe for them. If there are no steps taken to better protect these civilians, they will continue to be at immediate risk of fallout from the conflict across the border,” said Dah Eh Kler, Secretary of the Karen Women Organization (KWO).

WLB is also concerned that temporary services set up to deal with the refugees are unable to cope with the ongoing crisis. Support systems have been set up in Thailand by NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs) to deal with the emergency situation. These provide for the villagers’ basic needs such as healthcare, food and shelter. However, these services are only able to deal with the situation on an ad hoc, temporary basis, and cannot cope when serious problems and injuries occur. Service providers are struggling to continue to provide these basic services after nearly three months of conflict.

As the fighting continues, civilians face an uncertain future. Unable to return home, they are stuck in limbo between Karen State and Thailand. They face a protracted period of time where they are cut off from their livelihoods and are unable to access basic services. For example, children, who make up a large proportion of the displaced population, have been unable to go to school for three months already. Arrangements need to be made to ensure that these displaced people are not severely disadvantaged in this way.

WLB urgently calls upon the RTG to:

1) Allow civilians fleeing from fighting to remain in temporary shelters in Thailand until the conflict in Karen State is resolved, and the people feel safe to return; and

2) Grant international and local humanitarian organisations access to the displaced civilians in order to provide them with essential humanitarian assistance. We request that organisations be allowed to provide basic services and proper medical treatment regardless of where the displaced civilians are located.

For more information, please contact:

Dah Eh Kler (KWO): 085 7269291
Wah Ku Shee (WLB): 086 118 2261
Tin Tin Nyo (WLB): 081 0322 882

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This post is in: Press Release

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