U.N. sees more Myanmar refugees fleeing to Thailand

  • World
  • Tuesday, 23 May 2006

GENEVA (Reuters) - About 400 refugees from Myanmar crossed into Thailand last week and many more could follow as the military targets the Karen ethnic minority, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday. 

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said 2,000 Myanmar refugees that have fled the former Burma in the past three months had stretched Thai camps close to their limits. 

Spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said hundreds more members of the Karen group, a mainly Christian minority making up about 10 percent of the population of Myanmar, could flee the country if conditions don't soon improve. 

"UNHCR is expecting more refugees to seek safety in Thailand in the coming weeks," she told a U.N. news conference. 

With some government-run camps already past their capacity, some refugees have been sleeping under plastic sheeting that is unlikely to withstand the area's heavy rains, Pagonis said. 

She said the Thai government had agreed to build new shelter to house additional refugees arriving from Myanmar, a country also bordering India, China and Laos that has been under military rule of one form or another since 1962. 

United Nations rights investigators last week told Myanmar's junta to halt abuses against ethnic Karen civilians, reported to include killings, rapes and torture by soldiers. 

Myanmar's information minister has acknowledged the offensive but said it was meant to quell anti-government action by the Karen National Liberation Army. 

There are 140,000 refugees from Myanmar living in nine camps in Thailand, Pagonis said. Many have lived there for as long as 20 years. 

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