Category Archives: Mae Sot

More fighting, more (possibly temporary) refugees

The Thai website Prachatai reports that there is renewed fighting south of Mae Sot (just 10-20 Kms away) and that villagers from that area have sought refuge in a Thai temple. This is again a clash between the DKBA’s rebel brigade 5 and the Thatmadaw. Like the fighting earlier in Myawaddy and also further south still (from which there are still refugees on the Thai side, both villagers and family of DKBA soldiers).

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The election is over, thousands of new refugees

Now that the election in Burma/Myanmar is over the military junta that rules the country has returned to fighting the ethnic minorities. Fighting between the army and the DKBA (a group that before the elections had accepted a ceasefire and were to be integrated into the Army structure) has driven thousands of people from the town of Myawaddy (across the river from Mae Sot in Thailand). The Thai military are trying to stop them crossing, so many are camped on the riverbank.

Further south near a DKBA headquarters many villagers have fled across the river, and are now sheltering with friends in Thailand, who do not have enough resources to feed and shelter them. Pastor Peacefully from a village near Pho Phra writes:

…our area here (Pho Phra) which 5 km from DKBA headquarters, so many people from that side now crossing to Thailand. For sure the fighting will start sometime. That why many villager are now crossing.

Some of the villagers contact me to help them and prepare some place for them to stay. It is really hard for me because it is depend on the Thai authority. Any way as you know we are the only school which is close to this border, so for those children who want to continuous their study will come to our place.

We need your payer and your help.

Share the news to keep pressure on the government not to do any action of war if their election is true democracy and peace.

We are nothing but we can do something through the One Who strength us.

In His Service

Peacefully

Partners NZ (a relief and development agency who help support the school Peacefully runs) are sending supplies and food to PhoPhra. I’ll try to post updates as I get information. Please do pray for him and his friends at this time! As well as for the overall situation in Burma.

Everyday life

A post on Irin gives a picture of one man’s life in Umpiem camp the extract is just to give an idesa do read the rest:

Maung Win*, 36, an ethnic Arakan, told IRIN about his recent arrest outside camp.

“I leave the camp most days to find work nearby. I leave early in the morning, walk 5km to the area where we wait by the side of the road to be picked up for day labour at 4am, and I return to the camp at 5pm….

Another New Experience

We keep chalking up new experiences, not living in a refugee camp, we did that in 2008, even being a refugee we have tried (1991 for a day or two), but still there are new things to try which add new shades to life’s rich tapestry.

The Friendship Bridge, Mae Sot, with others crossing the border on rubber rings.

Today we went to cross the Thailand-Myanmar Friendship Bridge to renew our visas. (That in itself is not the new experience, we did it also in 2008). This time we got photos of the people who cross below on rubber rings, but that hardly counts, as we saw them then, we just had no chance to take photos. Since then we have learned more about the experience and the motives of the ring people. Some are just avoiding customs duty, but others are people planning to be overstayers in Thailand, fleeing the Burma Army and its Generals, they cannot be seen by the Thai authorities to be entering the country with all their worldly goods. So they pay someone to ferry their posessions across on a ring, and plan to collect them once they have entered Thailand. Then they’ll become overstayers…

The person crossing the bridge in the photo above shows the lighter side of life, he was a baloon seller!

Sometimes, as for our informant, it goes wrong and the ferryman steals the load, and the potential overstayer cannot complain as then they would be revealed as intending illegal immigrants.

Oh, yes, our new experience… we became overstayers ourselves today, we should have crossed the bridge yesterday. Our miscalculation cost us 500 Bhat, those fleeing tyranny risk so much more 😦

Bush to speak about Burma

On Wednesday, Thursday 7th (Wed 6th in the USA), George Bush will be visiting Thailand, as well as celebrating 175 years of Thai/US relations, he also gets to lunch with “Burmese activists” in Bangkok. After that he will (according to the Market Watch report of a Press Briefing by Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, Dennis Wilder) “be interviewed by the press in Thailand that broadcast into Burma, so that he can give a message directly to the Burmese people.”

Meanwhile Mrs Bush will visit Mae La refugee camp and Dr Cynthia’s clinic.

The refugee camp Mrs Bush will visit

The Bush visit to Asia continues in China. China is one of the Burmese military junta’s few enthusiastic supporters. So I guess we can pray that this visit may bring significant real hope to the Karen and other Burmese ethnic groups suffering attacks by Burmese military forces.

Another story

It is a simple story, simply told. There is no bloodshed, little horrific violence (and that only mentioned quietly and simply), yet it is powerful. It is told by someone called “May” she seems to suffer from bi-polar disorder (if I understood my quick glance at the rest of her blog rightly) and she tells Thay Htoo’s story, with empathy. Read it. The saddest thing is that it is not really an unusual story.

Crossing the Border

We needed to renew our visas, one does this by leaving the country and then reentering. Since things are fairly calm at present we went in to Mae Sot, to cross the bridge into Burma. The easiest way to organize it was at the weekend, avoiding disrupting teaching, and this weekend was also free of special events. Not like last weekend, and next weekend is Easter. So we had a weekend break in Mae Sot.

Mae Sot is not really a tourist town, though there are national parks nearby. We will be taking a three day trek in one, a bit south of Mae Sot when our time here ends, before we return home, to see waterfalls, wild orchids, and birds; and to go bamboo rafting and elephant riding in the forest. Actually Mae Sot is most famous as Thailand’s “wild west”, in the past a haunt of smugglers, and from time to time dangerously near the fighting between the Myanmar Army and the rebel forces. At least to a tourist on a weekend away, there is little sign of all this in the busy border town today. However, one can hardly cross a street without reminders of the refugee “business”. NGO volunteers are the commonest Westerners, easily outnumbering the tourists. Guesthouses and restaurants hold collections of money and other things to help. Many of the people are not Thai, but Karen – in terms of appearance, most of them will be Thai Karen (people of Karen ethnicity but born in Thailand and of Thai nationality) though who knows how many are “illegals” working for a pittance till the authorities “catch” them and return them across the border.

Mae Sot is a great town for shopping (less sophisticated than Bangkok or Chiang Mai, but with far less crowds and hassle, Sarah was even able to try a couple of tops on before buying). There are bargains, Barbara and Sarah each bought beautiful batik cloths for only 50Bhat (about NZ$2), and I got a couple of packets of delicious locally grown smoky roasted coffee, and the plastic and glass tea pot to make it in cost 40Bhat – the same price as my fine sturdy walking stick. Karen cooking is super, and the food at the camp has been consistently delicious. But after weeks away it was nice to enjoy a meal of frankfurters and bacon with chips (French fries for North American readers) and salad as a change.

Bangkok Tuktuktuktuk.jpg

As an indication of our commitment to Karen (and Thai cooking) Sarah and I bought a kilo of garlic in the market (another 40Bhat) and hope we can persuade the young women who cook to show us how to make the delicious deep-fried garlic that often garnishes and adds fragrance to the already fragrant dishes. (Garlicophobes beware, if you once try this dish, or the Thai prawn and deep-fried garlic, you may well find yourself converted on the spot!)

This morning, however, we set off for the border. We planned to catch a Songthaew (a ute with seating in the back acting as a local bus, or a lorry – “truck” for NARs – for longer distances) from town to the bridge. There was a small misunderstanding over the price before we could start, a simple cultural difference. There was only one other passenger at the time the run was due to start, we had been told the price should be 10Bhat each. The driver asked 20Bhat each. We demurred. Finally, we got the message, if we paid 20 each the bus could go now, if we insisted on paying 10 we’d have to wait for 6 passengers more to arrive! We paid happily, and our fellow passenger indicated (by International Standard Gestures) how “thick” he thought we were to take so long to understand!

At the bridge, the Thai authorities duly stamped us out, and retrieved their forms from our passports, to show that we had left the country. We walked the 400M over the high bridge across the rather dry river (it is the dry hot season here). We were amused to watch locals crossing below us on small rubber rafts and large inner tubes, with bags of shopping somewhat precariously balanced. At the other side we were ushered into an air-conditioned office and invited to fill out our immigration forms, give our passports to the Burmese officer, along with 500Bhat each, and told helpfully to be sure to be back before 5pm when the border office would close.

Street in Myanmar streetm.jpg

We wandered up the main street, and down a little market lane. Burma is either just like Thailand, or totally different, depending on what you look at/for. The brands and products are much the same, the people are not strikingly different, on both sides of the bridge there are many Karen, for example. Both sides of the bridge have a mix of market stalls and small shops, with clothes, cloths and baggage as popular items, and similar small food stalls, with grilled snacks on sticks and baked items. Yet in Myanmar everything is older, more worn, and dirtier. The goods are more basic, with far less luxury items. On the whole too the people look less happy, with only a few exceptions (women at the café we stopped at for a drink and the Karen party in festive clothes on the back of a flag decorated vehicle were two notable exceptions) people simply look less happy, with little of the joy that Karen and Thai alike seem so often to display this side of the border.