Mon, 15 Aug 1994

Myanmar responds to Mons' report

JAKARTA (JP): The thousands of Myanmar's ethnic Mons currently being accommodated at refugee camps along the Thai border cannot be classified as refugees but rather "economic migrants", Myanmar Ambassador to Indonesia says.

Ambassador U Nyi Nyi Than said that for years, ethnic Mons have been crossing over the Thai border to work and take advantage of the booming economy there.

"The Thai government doesn't like it, but the Thai local authorities allow it because they can get cheap, illegal labor," he told reporters on Friday to respond to an article by the AFP news agency, carried by The Jakarta Post last Friday, about the conditions of Mon refugees in Thailand.

Much of the reports contained incorrect information, he said.

The article suggested that Myanmar's army repelled some 6,000 ethnic Mons, causing them to flee across the border to Thailand.

The Thai authorities had cut off water supplies in a bid to send them back over to Myanmar, according to the report.

U Nyi Nyi Than acknowledged that border crossing activities of the ethnic Mons have created problems for both Myanmar and Thailand because of the increasing illegal gun-running and drug- trafficking. There is also an increasing number of cases of AIDS as Myanmarese women were taken across the border to work in brothels and returned home with the disease, he said.

"But they have to say they are refugees to benefit from the assistance of a number of Western non-governmental organizations operating in the border area," he said. "Besides, they enjoy better facilities in Thailand."

Mon insurgents

He admitted however that a small group of Mon insurgents still exist along the border. "The rebels attack army outposts, so the army has to react in order to re-take these posts."

He said the AFP report was also inaccurate in suggesting that there are four million Mons in Myanmar. A census carried out some 10 years ago found that there are only 780,000 Mons, he said.

The ambassador said his government is now opening up to the international world and a National Convention is currently in the process of establishing a new constitution for the nation.

"The three fundamental principles my government insists on is non-disintegration of our nation, non-disintegration of national unity and solidarity and perpetuity of our sovereign," he said.

He added that talks on federation, self-determination and autonomy are not forbidden within the national convention, "but one thing we will never allow is the breaking up of the union to establish an independent nation."

U Nyi Nyi Than said the military, for historic and traditional reasons, will continue to play a major role in the way the country is governed. (pwn)