Maryknoll Media Relations
P.O. Box 308
Maryknoll, NY 10545-0308

Release date: April 21, 1995
Release No. 95-105


Relief committee urges State Department intervention

MARYKNOLL, NY. Mon Burmese refugees seeking sanctuary in Thailand from civil war in their own country are being harassed by Thai authorities to facilitate construction of an oil pipeline between the two countries, according to U.S. refugee workers in Bangkok and Mon relief officials.

Pressure on the Mon, one of the many indigenous Burmese cultures involved in a six-year dispute with the ruling SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council), has increased steadily since the Thai and Burmese governments reached an agreement on the natural gas pipeline through Mon territory, according to Phra Wongsa Pala, a Buddhist monk and chairman of the Mon National Relief Committee.

According to a December, 1994 report from Human Rights Watch/Asia, Thailand's treatment of Mon refugees "falls far short of international standards." In 1994 Thailand forced more than 6,000 Mon refugees back into Burma who were subsequently attacked by the Burmese miliary. The report suggests mistreatment of refugees is "almost certainly linked to economic and security concerns" about development projects in Burma, including the proposed natural gas pipeline. UNOCAL, a U.S. company, is one of the companies named in the report as being involved with the natural gas project.

Harassment now includes daily and nightly police raids on Mon temples long the Burma=Thai border, and persecution of the sick and disabled. In raids authorities arrest men, women and children, torture victims, war-wounded, and seriously ill refugees, including those with UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) recognition, a special status accorded by the U.N. to political refugees. There are also threats to repatriate all ethnic Mon Buddhist monks back to Burma.

"Pressure is being placed on the little people," says Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful coordinator Vicki Armour-Hileman of Davenport, Iowa, who spent 6 years as a missionary in Asia, including two years working with Mon refugees in Thailand. "The UNOCAL pipeline, which the Burmese are trying to force through Mon land, would mean an economic boon for Thailand. By rounding up the helpless, they hope to force the Mon into signing a peace accord and agreeing to the pipeline."

The Mon, who inhabit land that is largely pristine jungle, are strongly opposed to the pipeline which they say will destroy their land, exploit their labor, and directly profit the SLORC. They have voiced their opposition in several letters to UNOCAL.

One man's story

Repeated raids are spreading panic among refugees, many of whom were tortured in Burma and are terrified of arrest. In the last year, three have been seriously injured trying to avoid police.

During an April 19 raid, Maung Kyan, a severely handicapped ethnic Mon refugee in need of serious ongoing medical attention, was arrested by Yannawa police and put into detention with this wife and two small children. Maung Kyan and his family all have UNHCR status, which in most countries assures protection until a safe return to their homeland is possible. Thailand, however, is not a signatory of the UN protocol on refugees.

Maung Kyan, who lost his eyesight and both arms in a land mine explosion ten years ago, has recently had a cornea transplant, and requires daily anti-rejection medication and monitoring. The Mon National Relief Committee fears that without proper medical care and a clean environment, he could lose his eye.

The U.S. embassy, the UNHCR, and various refugee groups have expressed concern over Maung Kyan's welfare, but have been unsuccessful in obtaining release for him and his family.

The Mon National Relief Committee has asked the U.S. State Department and concerned U.S. groups to call for his release and an end to the harassment of Mon refugees.

Maryknoll, the U.S. based Catholic mission movement, includes the Maryknoll Society (priests and Brothers), Maryknoll Congregation (Sisters) and the Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful (laity, priests, and religious). Maryknollers have been representing U.S. Catholics in overseas mission since the early part of the century, and currently serve in 37 countries worldwide, including the United States.

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