News/Thailand:Dreams shattered as Thailand rounds up illegal Myan...

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Subject: News/Thailand:Dreams shattered as Thailand rounds up illegal Myan...
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Sat Nov 20 1999 - 20:54:59 EST


         Dreams shattered as Thailand rounds up illegal Myan...

APws 11/5/99 10:52 AM

By BUSABA SIVASOMBOON
 Associated Press Writer
   MAE SOT, Thailand (AP) -- A month ago, the border outpost of Mae Sot was
a land of opportunity for two kinds of people: illegal migrant workers from
Myanmar seeking any kind of job and the industrialists who employed them.
   A mass roundup of migrants by Thai immigration authorities and tension
between the two nations since last month's siege of the Myanmar embassy in
Bangkok by anti-government activists is destroying their dreams.
   Over the past week, immigration police across Thailand started rounding
up foreign workers -- mostly from poor neighbors Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia
-- to send them home.
   Mae Sot, a main border crossing with Myanmar, also known as Burma, has
been a focal point. On Wednesday, Thailand tried sending back 200 illegals
across the Moei river separating the two countries, but they were turned
back by Myanmar troops who threatened to shoot them.
   Relations between Bangkok and Yangon have soured to their worst level in
years after Thailand resolved the takeover of Myanmar's embassy by allowing
the five Myanmar dissidents who had held 38 people hostage for a day to go
free.
   Some Thai ministers expressed sympathy for the dissidents, who are
opposed to the military regime that has ruled their homeland with an iron
hand since 1962.
   The Myanmar government views them as terrorists and slammed its border
with Thailand shut in protest, indicating it would not reopen before they
were arrested and punished.
   Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai said Thursday that the five had contacted
Thai authorities about turning themselves in, but there was no confirmation
early Friday they had yet done so.
   Thailand has nonetheless pressed forward with its expulsion policy,
drafted in the wake of the Asian economic crisis two years ago to free up
jobs for Thais, but often postponed over employer complaints that Thais
won't do the work.
   Jongchai Thiengdharmma, the deputy labor minister, had little sympathy
for the factory owners, saying most had been set up to exploit cheap
illegal labor and had tried to evade paying taxes.
   "They have profited for a long time and now they have to pay the price,"
Jongchai said. "Why should we rescue the dishonest?"
   Hundreds of factories and other businesses in Mae Sot employ an
estimated 30,000 workers from Myanmar, many in the garment industry.
Employers over the past week have been firing workers wholesale, not
wanting to be caught on the wrong side of the repatriation law.
   "I still do not know how to explain to my client in the U.S. why I'm
going to miss the order deadline for Nov. 10," despaired Taveekij
Jatruajarernkul, owner of the T.K. Garment factory.
   "If the situation goes much further, I will go bankrupt," he said. "I
need 1,500 Thai workers to fill the vacant positions and get the production
line running again quickly."
   Taveekij, who is also vice president of the provincial Federation of
Thai Industries office, is unlikely to find them. Illegals from Myanmar
work for as little as a fifth of the pay Thais would, but raising wages
would mean T.K. would quickly become uncompetitive.
   Several hundred are being sent to the center daily and police are trying
to quickly push them into Myanmar, looking for unpatrolled areas of the
border to push them across.


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