Thai officials to deliver humanitarian aid to war-torn Burma

Thailand plans to open a humanitarian corridor within a month to deliver aid to suffering civilians in war-torn Burma.The plan initially targets a small proportion of the 2.6 million displaced civilians in Burma due to ongoing armed conflict.The aid plan is described as a government-to-government deal, to be managed by Burma’s ruling military council on their side of the border.Thailand expects to open up a humanitarian corridor in about a month to deliver aid to suffering civilians in war-torn Burma, Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said Thursday after inspecting the planned staging area in the northern Thai province of Tak.The plan, initiated by Thailand with the endorsement of Burma and other fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is relatively small in scale and initially would reach just a tiny proportion of the 2.6 million civilians the U.N. estimates are displaced throughout Burma.Burma is wracked by a nationwide armed conflict that began after the army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021 and suppressed widespread nonviolent protests that sought a return to democratic rule.ABOUT 340 BURMESE TROOPS FLED TO BANGLADESH FOLLOWING REBEL SKIRMISH, COUNTRY SAYSLarge areas of the country, especially frontier areas, are now contested or controlled by anti-military resistance forces, pro-democracy fighters allied with armed ethnic minority organizations that have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades. Thailand’s Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara inspects a customs checkpoint near the border with Burma, in Mae Sot, Thailand, on Feb. 8, 2024. Parnpree said the area will be a staging point for sending cross-border humanitarian assistance to war-wracked Burma. (AP Photo/Jintamas Saksornchai)Thai officials have said they expect about 20,000 displaced people will benefit from the plan in its initial stage. The Thai and Burma Red Cross societies would implement distribution, to be monitored by the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management.Other details of the cross-border aid plan remain incomplete or unrevealed, but Parnpree described it at a news conference as a government-to-government deal, meaning activities on the Burma side of the border will be handled by that country’s ruling military council.The ongoing hostilities, however, make unlikely any expansion of what is considered a pilot project, confined for now to a small area just across the river border from Thailand.”We have long been calling for a program of direct cross-border humanitarian assistance to the refugees and civilians truly in need of help,” said Nay Phone Latt, a spokesperson for Burma’s shadow National Unity Government, the leading political body of the anti-military resistance.He rejected the Thai plan, however, urging that the aid instead go through the ethnic minority groups that control much of the border area, and charging that previous efforts to assist displaced person had been diverted to help the military.Asst. Prof. Surachanee Sriyai, a visiting fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, also doubts that Burma’s military government has the will or the competence to run a legitimate assistance program. Neither the Thai nor the Burma Red Cross is capable of dealing with delivering assistance in such complicated circumstances, she believes.At his news conference in Mae Sot, in Tak province, Parnpree defended Thailand’s approach, saying, “If we don’t start with the government, eventually, if we start with other people, we will have to come back to start with the government anyway.In other forums he has acknowledged that the Thai initiative has deep roots in regional geopolitics. Speaking last month at the Diplomacy Dialogue on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, he said that with no end in sight to Burma’s conflict, “The fear among the regional countries is Burma becoming increasingly fragmented and becoming an arena for major-power competition.”As Burma’s eastern neighbor, Thailand especially fears an influx of refugees.Parnpree said ASEAN needs to actively push to implement what it calls the Five-Points Consensus, which it agreed just a few months after the army’s 2021 takeover in Burma..The agreement called for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among all concerned parties, mediation by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid through ASEAN channels, and a visit to Burma by the special envoy to meet all concerned parties.Burma’s generals, despite initially assenting to the consensus, failed to act on it.Parnpree told his Davos audience that while it was desirable to have Burma return to the path of democracy, it was meanwhile imperative to address its peoples’ humanitarian needs.FORMER UNITED NATIONS HEAD URGES BURMA’S MILITARY TO END VIOLENCEHe said Thailand hopes its aid plan will be the building block for constructive dialogue and engagement within Burma and between Burma and the international community as the process goes forward.An aid worker in Mae Sot who has been involved for about a decade in humanitarian activities involving displaced people in Burma’s Kayin state, where the project will be implemented, described what he knows so far about the plan as a good initiative but far too limited, given huge numbers of displaced people across Burma.Speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared interference in his work from the authorities, he blamed Burma’s military for the humanitarian crisis and said they should not be involved at all in the assistance plan. He added that he believed Burma’s military authorities were incapable of carrying out such a program, charging that had failed to deliver assistance to people in need during the coronavirus pandemic.



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