Cablegate: Karenni Refugee Resettlement Could Dim Political Opposition
UNCLAS CHIANG MAI 000199
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PREL PHUM TH BM
SUBJECT: KARENNI REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT COULD DIM POLITICAL OPPOSITION
REF: A. A) CHIANG MAI 87
B. B) CHIANG MAI 75
C. C) CHIANG MAI 37
1. (SBU) Summary. As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) begins the process of resettling Karenni refugees in Mae Hong Son province to third countries, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) is worried that resettlement will drain off party activists and weaken the Karenni resistance to
Rangoon. Faced with diminished political resources, the KNPP
could find ceasefire talks with the SPDC a more attractive
option. End summary
2. (U) The head of UNHCR's Mae Hong Son Field Office, Hanne Mathiesen, confirms that the process of resettling an estimated 500 refugees to New Zealand and Finland has begun at Ban Pang Kwai/Tractor (BKT) camp, the most accessible of the Karenni
camps during the rainy season. Mathiesen expects the process
to expand to other resettlement countries and other refugee camps in the future. In deference to Thai officialdom's concern over pulling new refugees across the border, UNHCR has made no public announcement about resettlement plans.
3. (SBU) According to KNPP Secretary Khu Oo Reh, resettlement
is likely to take a disproportionate number of political
activists and leaders. Of approximately 2,000 Karenni refugees
from BKT Camp who applied for resesttlement, some 200 are KNPP party members. Together with the other applicants -- primarily teachers, nurses, medics, NGO staff, and spouses of KNPP soldiers -- this group constitutes the "cream" of camp residents.
4. (SBU) A National Intelligence Agency (NIA) contact in Mae Hong Son confirms that the resettlement move has upset KNPP leaders who believe it will hurt recruitment of younger Karenni to the KNPP army and party. Some accuse the Thai government of collaborating to drive the Karenni from Thailand in order to accommodate Rangoon.
5. (SBU) Meanwhile, key KNPP positions are no longer held by
hardliners, according to our NIA contact. Senior fighter Aung
Tan Lay has stepped down from the premiership, to be replaced by party leader Tay Bu Peh, who has shown more willingness to
compromise. While the current KNPP executive panel has made no
decision on ceasefire talks with the SPDC, our NIA contact believes that the party's response to Rangoon is likely to be more positive than in the past.
6. (U) Comment: Resettlement options pose a dilemma for Burmese dissidents, who are torn between continuing the struggle or seizing the chance to live a more normal life in a third
country. The so-called urban Burmese confronted this Hobson's
choice earlier this year when forced to register or forfeit the chance for resettlement (ref a); Karenni activists are facing similar questions now, with likely consequences for their political opposition to Rangoon.