Thai military accused of human rights abuses

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The World Today - Wednesday, 17 June , 2009 12:46:00
Reporter: Karen Percy
PETER CAVE: To Thailand now where the country's military and security forces are again being accused of riding roughshod over human rights.

Just over a week ago they were being blamed for a mass shooting in a mosque in the country's south.

Five months ago they were being accused of sending boatloads of Burmese Rohingyas out to sea without engines and water.

Now the respected NGO Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) has pulled out of a refugee camp on the border with Laos because of what they see as the heavy hand of the Thai military.

South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy reports.

KAREN PERCY: Huai Nam Khao camp sits in Phetchabun province near Thailand's northern border.

It's home to thousands of Hmong people, an ethnic group from nearby Laos who assisted the United States in its war against Vietnam four decades ago.

Many of the people who live in the camp weren't even alive then but their government just over the border hasn't forgotten that role.

ANGELA MAKATA: MSF could not, you know, accept the conditions that it was living. You know, the pressure that the military gave to MSF, on our staff, the pressure that it gave to the community and the pressure that it gave to MSF itself.

KAREN PERCY: Angela Makata has been at the camp since March of last year. Now she's had to leave as part of a withdrawal by her organisation, Medecins Sans Frontiers, which packed up in disgust after the Thai army tightened its hold on the camp by restricting the movement of the people and arresting some of them.

ANGELA MAKATA: We are an independent organisation and we wanted to work independently and let the people have access to health care according to our principle.

KAREN PERCY: MSF had been operating at Huai Nam Khao for more than four years, dealing with 8,000 or so Hmong people.

Last week it handed operations over to a Thai aid group, concerned that the Thai army has been forcibly repatriating the Hmong.

Angela Makata understands that the military saw MSF's very presence as a barrier.

ANGELA MAKATA: The Thai authorities regarded the Hmong to be illegal immigrants and, you know, they regarded MSF as supporting illegal immigrants and because of our presence they felt that is why the Hmong are not volunteering to go back to Laos.

(Sound of video from Medecins Sans Frontiers website)

KAREN PERCY: On the Medecins Sans Frontiers website, Angela Makata is seen on a video escorting a visitor around.

She is clearly touched by the people she has treated, disturbed too by the experience they've recounted to her.

ANGELA MAKATA: There's a blind man inside the camp. He's young and he explains, the wife explains that his blindness was due to a chemical somewhere in the jungle, and there are all women who present with gunshot wounds. They show you in their stomach, back or legs and everywhere in the body. So we have had testimonies of people that are afraid to go back to Laos because they will be persecuted.

KAREN PERCY: Angela Makata is a midwife and was a key provider of maternity services, antenatal care and family planning for the camp residents. But she also had to treat other conditions.

ANGELA MAKATA: These people who they, you know, show scars of bullet wounds and the scars of machetes. They show that if they go back to Laos, they will get the same problem. They will be persecuted.

KAREN PERCY: And the scars aren't just physical, with reports of a high prevalence of psychological conditions in the camp, too.

ANGELA MAKATA: The military was continuously announcing that you are going to go back to Laos, you are illegal immigrants. This brought about anxiety, stress and fear amongst the population. And also in the, you know, the other strategy the military are using, they are counting down days for the Hmong and this really gives them stress because they can see that the days are numbered, the days are getting less and less.

KAREN PERCY: The Thai Government has accused MSF of politicising its humanitarian role.

It denies that anyone has been sent back against their will and says the additional security measures inside the camp are designed to ensure order.

But Thailand insists that the Hmong are illegal immigrants, despite the fact that the people in the camps have never been independently assessed.

This is Karen Percy in Bangkok reporting for The World Today.


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