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Fire Razes 500 Huts in Karen Refugee Camp

Originally appeared in DPA

February 24, 2012

A fire destroyed more than 500 bamboo huts in a Karen refugee camp in Thailand near the border with Burma but no one died, Karen sources said Friday.

The fire in Umpiem Refugeee Camp in Phop Phra district of Tak, 300 kilometres north-west of Bangkok, started about midday Thursday and was attributed to an accident, Karen officials said.

“About 500 houses were burned,” said Zipporah Sein, general secretary of Karen National Union, an insurgent group that has been fighting for the autonomy of Burma’s Karen State, across the border from Tak, for the past six decades.

“The fire happened when a family was making bread to sell as snacks. It caught in the cooking area and then spread quickly to other houses,” Zipporah Sein said, dismissing rumours that the blaze had been set deliberately to drive out the 12,000 camp residents.

There are an estimated 145,000 Karen refugees living in a dozen camps along the Thai-Burmese border, some of which have been there for about two decades.

The refugees fled their homeland to escape fighting in the Karen State, the target of Burma’s military offensives since 1990.

The Karen National Union signed a tentative ceasefire agreement with Burmese government last month, raising questions about how long the Karen refugees will be permitted to remain on Thai soil.

“There has been talk of relocating the camp to the Burma side, because the Thai government doesn’t want this camp in Thailand anymore,” said Khin Ohmar, coordinator for the Burma Partnership, a Thailand-based dissident group.

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