Families 'confirm' Karen disappearances

Witnesses have confirmed 55 male members of the Karen rebel God's Army went missing at the Thai border 13 years ago, a solicitor from the Lawyers Council of Thailand (LCT) has said.

On Friday and yesterday, the LCT's sub-committee on human rights and ethnic minorities, and migrant workers visited the Thai-Myanmar border at Suan Phung district in Ratchaburi to seek evidence of and witnesses to the incident.

The LCT's investigation was launched after receiving a petition from Luther Htoo, a former leader of the God's Army, early last month.

The petition claims that 55 men belonging to his group were captured by the Thai military and have not been seen since.

He told media through an interpreter that his camp at Kamerplaw village on the Myanmar border west of Kanchanaburi was attacked by Thai and Myanmar soldiers.

The fierce battle forced more than 500 ethnic Karen in the camp to flee to either the Thai border at Baan Huai Sud in Ratchaburi, or to the Tenasserim River on the Myanmar side.

Fifty-five men were then captured by Thai soldiers at the border, Luther Htoo claimed.

Surapong Kongchantuk, the chairman of the LCT's sub-committee, said yesterday that he heard witness accounts that some people might have been able to flee from the alleged capture attempt, which went some way to corroborating Luther Htoo's claim.

Ten witnesses, who are relatives of 13 of the 55 missing Karen, told the sub-committee that those people were transported to a refugee camp when they arrived at the Thai border.

But the relatives did not follow them, and they were not found in the camp later, Mr Surapong said.

"They confirmed that their relatives are missing," he said. "They said they tried to ask some officers in the area about them, but no clear answer has been given." Luther Htoo's twin brother Johnny Htoo, who also led the God Army, appeared during the LCT's visit to the Thai border.

Previous media reports had suggested Johnny Htoo had turned himself over to the Myanmar government and his fate was unknown, but the twins reunited earlier this year. Now working in Myanmar, he urged the LCT to investigate the whereabouts of the 55 missing men.

He told the LCT that he led some rebels and about 100 Karens to the Tenasserim River, while his twin brother led others to the Thai border. The LCT also visited the spot where Thai soldiers located a cannon, which was allegedly used to shoot at the Karen camp on the hill.

"This is an international human rights issue," Mr Surapong said. "The state must give clear information to the relatives of the missing persons.

"If they have died, the relatives should be told where the bodies are."

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Writer: Paritta Wangkiat
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