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Burma, Thailand agree on refugee repatriation

15 July 20160 comments

The voluntary repatriation of refugees from Burma living in Thailand is set to begin after the two governments announced a deal to cooperate on the move.

Authorities will begin by checking the documents of displaced Burma nationals wishing to return, the first step in addressing long-standing border and migration issues between the countries.

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Aung San Suu Kyi

The breakthrough follows a visit by Burmese Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi to Thailand this week.

Ms Suu Kyi and Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon signed an agreement to set up a joint committee to check refugees’ documents to “speed up action” on repatriation.

However, Thailand and Myanmar have not set a time frame for repatriation with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha stressing that it would only begin if “the situation is right”.

Estimates say there are up 150,000 displaced persons from ethnic minorities living in camps and shelters in Thailand.

Human rights groups say the ethnic minorities, such as the Karen and Chin peoples, were persecuted by the former Burmese military government over 30 years.

They say the Burmese army systematically destroyed villages in operations described by some as ethnic cleansing.

The two countries also discussed ways to enhance military relations and security cooperation. They agreed to more visits and training of armed forces personnel at various levels, Thai Government spokesman Maj Gen Khongcheep said in a statement.

They also discussed security-related problems affecting border administration, illegal immigration, transnational crime, terrorism and cross-border smuggling of contraband and drugs. A joint panel will work on these issues.

Both countries also agreed that a new bridge should link Burma and Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district to help expand trade and investment and connect special economic zones on both sides of the border.

The bridge is expected to lift the economy as well as improve the quality of life of people in the two countries, the statement said.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist