Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Second Hostage Incident Forces Thailand's Hand ; Rebels from Burma Take a Thai Hospital Jan. 24, Turning Thais against the Cause of Burmese Dissidents

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Second Hostage Incident Forces Thailand's Hand ; Rebels from Burma Take a Thai Hospital Jan. 24, Turning Thais against the Cause of Burmese Dissidents

Article excerpt

A group of gunmen opposed to Burma's military government slip into neighboring Thailand, storm a building, and hole up with scores of hostages. Some 24 hours later, the siege is over and the hostages are unharmed.

Twice in the last four months, that scenario has riveted Thailand. In early October it was in Bangkok at the Embassy of Myanmar, as Burma is called by its government. This week it was at a hospital in this dusty provincial capital. But the parting images from the two incidents could hardly differ more. So too, it appears, the fallout from the two incidents will be poles apart.

Last October, hostages from the embassy cheered their captors, who, after gaining the international attention they desired, were flown by Thai helicopters to the border jungle with Burma and released. On Jan. 25, captives fled the sprawling hospital in terror; their captors had been killed, following a shoot-out with Thai armed forces.

The about-face is revealing. After years as a haven for refugees, Thailand now fears that the country might become a prime target for terrorists with a public relations message. Though not yet official, such a retreat from the country's open-arm policy on refugees like those fleeing the brutal Myanmar military junta appears inevitable.

"We have, up to now, always based our treatment of these ethnic groups on humanitarian grounds," said Thai Foreign Ministry's spokesman Don Pramudwinai. "We may have to sit down with other agencies to review whether there would be any change in this policy."

Since the 1970s, Thailand has hosted hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war-torn regional neighbors like Cambodia and Vietnam. Now, only 104,000 refugees from Burma remain in 11 makeshift camps. Dissidents started leaving Burma in 1988, when the junta cracked down on a burgeoning pro-democracy movement led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Meanwhile, ethnic groups have fled fighting between their hardscrabble armies and the Myanmar military.

One such ethnic minority is the Karen, a hill tribe with some Christian members in a predominantly Buddhist country. The Karen have fought for an independent homeland in Burma since the British quit their colonial outpost in 1948. But their fight turned desperate over the last two weeks. Karen soldiers from a faction called God's Army, led by chain-smoking 12-year-old twin boys, took the hospital after a recent offensive from both Thai and Myanmar troops. They demanded a cease-fire, which they got, as well as medical care for fallen comrades.

The twins are said to enjoy powers that make them both immune in battle and revered leaders. Their legend began when they helped repel a government attack in 1997. That they apparently have black birthmarks on their tongues, believed to be a sign of divine favor, has enhanced their following. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.