The curse of Shan unity/disunity

tiger-as-editorLast 9 April, 3,663 Shan monks together with elders from 52 townships in Shan State sent a signed appeal to 4 major Shan movements – 2 of which are political parties and the other 2 armed groups – urging them to merge into one single party and one single army.

Two other demands are that all 4 share one single political goal and uphold one single basic law. “Non-compliance will mean non-support from us,” it warns.

This unwanted historic heritage has been commented by several scholars, both Shan and non-Shan, among whom was Sir James Geoge Scott, former Commissioner of Shan States.
The Shans, he wrote, possess “the national characteristic of a liking for small communities, in confederation with others of their race, but steadily averse to subordination to one central power, which would have given them the stability and the conquering force which might have made them masters of all Indo-China, to say nothing of possibly the hegemony of China itself. The Burmese have been given the reputation of having devised the sagacious policy of splitting up the Shan States, and so ruling them with ease, but the truth is that they would have had much more difficulty in persuading the people to submit to the rule of one or two chiefs of greatly extended territories.”

Surkhanfa, 1291-1364 (Portrait: Harthai)
Indeed, another scholar W.W.Cochrane wrote that “A prince of Mao (Surkhanfa, 1291-1364) was the only Shan that ever united these squabbling states into one solid kingdom.” Since then, one after another, several Shan leaders have successively tried to forge unity among them mostly without success, and if successful was brief. One of the historic instances was the unity at the 1947 Panglong Conference to join hands with the Burmans for independence.

Since then, everything has been downhill for the Shans.

No wonder to many, the Shans appear to be through, finished. The old ones are sick and the young ones are weaklings. As a result, the wolves and the buzzards are coming, each for a piece of its own. And in the end, nothing will be left for the Shans.

It would certainly be a sad story, because the Shans will be sinking within sight of their own next of kin: Laotian and Thais, who are independent, together with Ahoms, Dai, Zhuang, Yi and Tai who are dependents in India, China and Vietnam. And, inevitably, with the Shans’ demise, they would be next in line.

However, there is still one hope and that is the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU) formed last year by the said four movements with the lofty aim to speak in one voice with the country’s rulers. Their goal is to achieve the Right of Self Determination, meaning not independence as dreaded by their Burman masters, but having its own government, legislature and judiciary within a federal union.

Like Scott said, even without outsiders’ machinations, the job will be a full time one. But if successful, it will be for the good of everyone, both Shan and non-Shan alike. Indeed, what good has the Divide and Rule policy of successive Burmese governments brought, except war and worsening poverty?

SHAN therefore hopes everyone concerned, at least for one’s own sake, will chip in and help Shans restore their unity that has shunned them for so long. Give unity a chance.

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How the current Ceasefire Talks in Myanmar can bring about National Reconciliation?

Negotiation for the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in Myanmar has reached a point where civil society organisations must take an active and robust role for finding new solutions to deep-rooted Myanmar’s armed conflict. The latest meeting between Armed Ethnic Organisations’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) from 9 to 10 March 2014 at Myanmar’s Peace Centre in Yangon, discussed both sides’ proposals for a draft Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. Both sides expressed their satisfaction on the progress. Speculations among close observers indicated that the Agreement could be signed before the 1st August 2014, if everything goes well as planned.

Ceasefire agreements between armed ethnic groups and the Burma army or the Tatmadaw
 are nothing new. In the past, the Tatmadaw made a number of ceasefire deals with various armed ethnic groups but they have failed to address the root-cause of the ethnic conflict. Between 1989 and 1999, fifteen armed ethnic groups signed ceasefire deals with the Tatmadaw. In April 2009, all ceasefire groups were ordered to transform into Border Guard Forces (BGFs) as stipulated in the 2008 constitution. The scheme entailed that all armed ethnic groups entered ceasefire agreements to come under the partial control of the Tatmadaw. On the 1st September 2010, the government declared that all ceasefire agreements were invalid because none of the major ceasefire groups agreed to become BGFs. The Tatmadaw then re-newed its military pressure on the ethnic groups.

On 18 August 2011, the reformist government, led by President Thein Sein announced its desire to find new solutions to the country’s more than 60 years old civil war and has resumed negotiations with armed ethnic groups. At present, 14 major armed ethnic groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the government, but those agreements appear to be no more than a short-term fix that offers economic incentive through development projects. None of those agreements include concrete plan for the political dialogue to address the underlying political, economic and social cause of the on-going armed conflict.

Currently most armed ethnic groups have been collectively negotiating with the government for the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement that obliges the government committing to peace and political dialogues. The big question is will the ceasefire agreement lead to see the ending of the more than six decades civil war and how will a long lasting peace be achieved. Sustaining peace in Myanmar needs genuine political wills on all sides including the government, the Tatmadaw, ethnic armies, Burman and non-Burman political parties, civil society organisations, and concerned citizens. National reconciliation will only be meaningful if all key stakeholders are able to actively participate and make contribution at every level of the peace process.

Ceasefire agreement without political dialogues taking place will only increase the risk of returning to armed conflict. In the past, the government seemed to see ethnic groups’ armed struggle for their political freedom as solely legal issue. The government tended to view the problem of armed conflicts within a purely legal framework- a position which challenged the legitimacy of non-state actors. This approach explained the government’s refusal to enter genuine political dialogue with armed ethnic groups and as well as its insistence on disarmament or turning the ethic armies into subordinate national forces or Border Guard Forces. The reluctance on the part of the government to enter political dialogue has created a deep sense of distrust among armed ethnic groups.

For ethnic groups, the goal of political dialogue is to achieve equality as member states in the Union of Myanmar, in which they see lacking equality since the beginning of its formation. There are real challenging issues such as federalism, security reform, the return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees who are largely members of ethnic minority groups with many living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, and addressing human rights and community grievances. Some of these issues and their concepts have never been publicly contested. Federalism, for instant, is viewed by the Tatmadaw as fragmentation and lacking unity among different ethnic groups. For ethnic groups, federalism is about relationships and power sharing between the Central Government and the States; self-governance to manage their political, cultural, economic, financial and social matters, and those pertaining to economic development. More importantly, they have always seen federalism is the only solution to Myanmar’s ethnic conflict.  Another major challenge will be implementing security reforms involving formation of a federal army that all sides agree to, gradual demilitarization as the situation improved and reintegration of ex-combatants into the community. The Tatmadaw has neither shown its intension to accept members of armed ethnic groups equally as its own army nor willingness to reform the security institution. Instead, it has mounted military pressure on some ethnic groups.

Recently, the army launched a major offensive again the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and deployed more than 1,000 of its troops in the areas under the KIO control in Southern Kachin State and Northern Shan State at the same time as the KIO’s delegation team was attending the negotiation meeting for the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in Yangon. The army reasoned its military action was only to protect national census enumerators in those areas. As a result of the offensive, more than 3,000 local population was displaced from their homes. This kind of Tatmadaw’s behaviour did not help the Ceasefire negotiation and severely damaged confidence-building measures.

Participation of civil society organizations and concerned citizens is crucial for peace making and building as shown in other countries’ experiences. When community based organizations and concerned citizens take matters into their hands, in other words take initiatives and ownership of the peace building at local level, peace work tends to work better and more effectively. The Committee of Concerned Citizens’ peace initiatives to mediate the Naxalites (Maoist rebels) and the Indian Government in Andhra Pradesh State in India, Dekha Ibrahim Abdi of Kenya (or Somalia) and the Shari’ah Courts’ contribution to dispute resolution in Mindanao of the Philippines are some obvious examples how civil organizations and concerned citizens can significantly contribute to peace making and building. Civil society actors such as human rights advocates, student activists, religious community, the media and women organizations have been a vital force in the movements of democratization and have the potential to play a crucial role in national reconciliation and peace building.

Historically, civil society in Myanmar has been weakened and lacked the ability to influence at decision making level. But, as Myanmar’s political reform has opened up some public space and civil society has speedily re-emerged. Many civil society organizations work closely with the grassroots on the most sensitive public issues and they have proven to be effective in mobilising people, raising public awareness, help shaping public opinions and promoting actions. They can certainly help citizens to become more familiar with the terms and concepts of the Peace Agreement and provide vital links in the transition to and sustainability of post-war democracy. Civil society actors can help advance the notion that that national peace-making is intimately related to everyday life of all citizens. When civil society actors take pro-active role in peace building they also become an effective monitoring mechanism to ensure the government upholds its commitment to achieve genuine national reconciliation.

Trust building will requires improving governance. More than sixty years of civil war have taken a severe toll on administrative institutions which will need reform and strengthening to meet the needs and challenges of peace building. Political dialogues must be unconditional and include systematically and robustly dealing with human rights violations. Ceasefire agreements and peace accords alone will not necessarily bring about national reconciliation unless civil society organisations and concerned citizens are able to actively participate in the decision making and strategic planning for the peace process. However, not all civil society organisations will necessarily make positive contribution to the peace process. Potential spoilers to the peace process will always take the advantage of the fragile political situation and they need to be weeded out of the process.

So far, both the government and armed ethnic groups have only selectively or cautiously related to civil society initiatives, thus failing to capitalise on existing potential for conflict resolutions. Participation of women, as victims of the violent conflicts, in the peace process is also crucial to help prevent future violence and conflicts. To ensure the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement is fruitful and bring about true National Reconciliation, civil society actors from all sectors must be empowered and invited to take more pro-active role in the peace process.

(Sai Oo is a researcher at Pyidaungsu Institute for Peace and Dialogue. He holds a PhD in Community Education and Civil Society from University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). Opinions here expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the Institute.)

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The way to peace: Practise what The Buddha preaches

The 16th of April is regarded as the New Year for most of the people of Burma who are Buddhists, although Buddhist scriptures have not mentioned April as New Year. Indeed, for real Buddhists, the New Year begins with the end of the Full Moon Day of the Kasone (The 6th Lunar Month for Shans) that falls either in May or June, when the Buddha passed away into Nirvana.

The event epitomizes, one may say, the time-honored weird custom of the Buddhists of Burma to revere somebody without observing his/her teachings.

The Buddha has taught that one has three duties:

  • To strive for one’s own enlightenment
  • To strive for the good of one’s community
  • To strive for the good of the world
At the same time, He has indeed maintained that supporting one’s community as one of the highest blessings.

But ever upholding the Middle Way, he has never said one should only love one’s community and hate others. On the contrary, He has urged His disciples ‘Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of her own life, even so let one cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings.’ (From What The Buddha Taught, by Walpola Rahula)
He had also warned them not to form excessive attachment to one’s own community.

However, while most of the people of Burma are proud of being Buddhists, few of them can claim to be following in His footsteps. That is, one may say, one of the reasons why the country has being at war with itself for the past 66 years. One may even say that is the fruit of being a nation of hypocrites.
Water Festival (Potrait: U Ba Kyi)

The answer therefore is simple: Let us all listen and follow His teachings of loving-kindness starting with our leaders:
  • Reduce our extremist nationalism
  • Love all the people of Burma, whether they be Bamars or non-Burmars, Buddhist and non-Buddhist
Then we are sure to witness a peaceful and prosperous nation that rises out of turmoil just as a lotus rises out of a marshland before long.
A Happy Burmese New Year!

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Shan village signpost demolished by unknown assailants

CHIANG MAI-April 11. A Shan village signpost in Nawng Khio, northern Shan State, was demolished by unknown assailants on April 9, to the anger of some Shan cyber-users.

Nawnglong village signpost before it was demolished. (Photo: Loi Kham) 

“The signpost was quite big, so it could not have been destroyed by cows or buffalos. It was done by some assailants,” commented Sai Htwe on facebook.

Sai Zin Min Aye said: “Whoever destroyed the signpost should be arrested, as it violates the constitution, which is aimed to consolidate national unity.”

Sai Hla Kyaw said: “They (the Burmese military authorities which demolished the Keng Tung palace in 1990) destroyed our Shan palace; it is not enough for them. Now, they have even destroyed our village signpost.”

The signpost was for the village of Naunglong village, in Nawng Khio township, north of Mandalay, in northern Shan State.
Nawnglong village signpost after it was demolished by unknown assailants. (Photo: Loi Kham) 

The signpost which was destroyed was written in Shan, as Nawnglong village on the top and in Burmese as Inn Ma village at the bottom.

The signpost was built by the Shan Literature and Culture Association-Nawng Khio.
Most of the signposts of villages and township in Shan State have their names written and designed in Burmese, which does not represent the local language and style.

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An Old Guard leader returns to the fray

Very few at the “historic” (according to Kachin general Gun Maw) meeting on 5 April in Rangoon, where 21 armed resistance movements (ARMs) in Burma had sent their representatives, knew or heard of him.

Many of them, both Burman and non-Burman alike, were more familiar with Mongla’s top leader, Sai Leun aka U Sai Lin aka Lin Mingxian, his two deputies, Hsan Per and Hsang Lu, and former General Secretary Min Ein, who was gunned down near Mongla’s Oriental Hotel on 27 January 2010 by an assassin who is still at large.

Kyi Myint, on 16 November 1968, directing the operations in Hsi Hsin Wan, Muse township (Photo: Land of Jade, Bertil Lintner)

His assassination, taking place at the height of tensions caused by Naypyitaw’s demand that all ARMs that had concluded ceasefire agreements since 1989 transform themselves into Burma Army-controlled People’s Militia Forces (PMFs) or Border Guard Forces (BGFs), had created a sensation.

The National Democratic Front (NDF), the predecessor to today’s United Nationalities Council (UNFC), issued a statement on the next day saying a secret order to assassinate leaders of ceasefire groups that had resisted government demand to become PMFs/BGFs came out from Naypyitaw following the Tri-annual meeting held there in November.

Following Min Ein’s untimely demise, a Shan, Sai Hseng La, was appointed in his place. Three years later, Kyi Myint aka Zhang Zhiming, now 64, returned to Mongla after more than a decade absence. By the end of 2013, he was appointed to replace Sai Hseng La, who became head of the local administration.
Kyi Myint, on 5 April 2014, speaking at the ''historic'' meeting (Photo: RCSS)

It was after his return that Mongla began its call for a self-administered status, a right currently enjoyed by Wa, Danu, PaO, Palaung, Kokang and Naga. Indeed at the meeting in Rangoon, Kyi Myint, as Mongla’s spokesman, spoke in favor of its ally the United Wa State Army (UWSA)’s demand for a separate statehood and reiterated its own call to be elevated to a self administered level. “It was as though the Wa and Mongla had had a rehearsal together before coming,” commented a participant.

Kyi Myint, according to Bertil Lintner, was born in 1950 in Wanding, opposite Shan State’s Panghsai near Muse. He joined the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) in 1968 as a Red Guard volunteer along with Lin Mingxian. He was regarded as one of CPB’s ablest commanders. His departure from Mongla, a few years after Lin concluded a ceasefire in 1989, was said to be “because he couldn’t get along with Lin Hongshen (aka Min Ein).”

Now that he’s back, it is clear Mongla is in the hands of a man with better political acumen. Whether it will make the work of peacemakers more difficult or easier is anybody’s guess at present, though.

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2008 constitution and Wa call for statehood

If Wa wants a separate from the Shans, it is not by antagonizing them, but by waging a charm offensive, according to the military-drawn constitution.

The Wa, together with PaO, Palaung, Kokang and Danu, has been granted a Self Administered statues with 6 townships in Shan State, of which 4: Pangwai, Mongmai, Napharn, and Panghsang (Pangkham) are under the control of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and 2 (Hopang and Markmang) under the Burma Army.

In addition, the northwestern part of Mongyang township (designated Mongpawk sub-township by Naypyitaw), and some parts of Mongton and Monghsat townships on the Thai-Burmese border are effectively under Wa control.


Map: Wa and Mongla controlled areas

Moreover, Mongla that has demanded an Akha Self Administered status, if approved, will virtually become a Wa vassal.

So what does the 2008 constitution has to say about this?
Article 53 has outlined the following procedure:
  • The first step is prior consent of the electorate residing within the (affected) township (s) must be obtained. More than half of the total number of the electorate will be necessary
  • The second step is consent of three-quarters of the total number of representatives of the state/region legislature concerned. The President shall then “de-lineate the territorial boundary of the Region or State concerned”
  • In the event the state/region legislature concerned has decided against the delineation, the resolution of the Union Panglong must be obtained
Since only 15 out of 55 townships in Shan State enjoy non-Shan self administered status, it is quite clear the Wa can win this battle only by blarney and not by brawn, unless they have a higher authority to appeal to.

But since 2 April, the UWSA’s 171st Military Region, known as its southern command, has crossed the Salween to the west bank under the Shan State Army (SSA)’s sway to set up outposts that would guard its gold dredging activities on the river. Inevitably, an armed confrontation has taken place.

Loi Taileng, the SSA headquarters, says it has notified both Panghsang and Naypyitaw to observe the ceasefire that had been concluded since 2011. So far neither the UWSA nor the Burma Army appears to have taken notice.

2008 constitution or not, one thing seems to be certain if this sad deterioration of relationship between the Wa and the Shan continues: The Shan can forget their struggle for greater autonomy and the Wa their struggle for a statehood. Because the ultimate winner can be no other than the Burma Army leaders who still cherish their dreams of establishing the 4th Burmese empire.

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The Nu Jaing, or Salween or Nam Khong River is the Life Force of millions of People in China, Shan State, Karenni, Mon and Karen States

By Sao Noan Oo

“Shan civil society organizations are concerned and are calling the Burmese government to halt dam projects on the Salween and Nam Ma rivers in Shan State. The groups expressed concern that the dam projects are likely to have negative impacts for local people.

Sao Noan Oo
According to the joint statement released by the Shan civil society organizations on April 1 of 2014, representatives of Burma’s Ministry of Electricity, International Group of Entrepreneurs Co., Ltd. and Hydrochina Corporation held a public meeting with villagers in Tarngyan township on March 17, to promote plans to build the Nawng Pha dam on the Salween river and the Mann Toung (မၢၼ်ႈတူၼ်ႈ) dam on the Nam Ma river, a Salween tributary.

The Shans are very concerned of the likely negative impacts on the environment and on the communities that live along the length of the river. We therefore strongly urge the Burmese government to immediately halt the dam projects on Salween and Nam Ma Rivers in Shan State.”

The statement also said: “The Salween and Nam Ma rivers have sustained the livelihood of Shan State people for generations. They are a precious resource which should not be sold off to China by the Burmese government.”

I endorse the concern of Shan civil society organisations and support their call to the Burmese Government to halt the dam projects on the Salween and Nam Ma Rivers in the Shan State. Furthermore I request International Governments and Communities to support our call.

Although dams are being designed based on past hydrological patterns and principles to produce electricity there has been little thought of how it will affect the environments and the lives and well being of citizens whose livelihood depends on the river on which the dam is to be built.

China's three gorges Dam is the world's largest hydroelectric dam based on generating the amount of electricity. After many decades of planning it came into operation in 2009, but continuous adjustments and additional projects are still going on. There is no denying that the three gorges dam will provide China with the growing demand of electricity, but its construction has created an assortment of problems for the country.

In order for the dam to exist, over 100 towns had to be submerged, resulting in relocation 1.3 million people.

Beijing (CNN) -- In a rare admission, the Chinese government has said the Three
Gorges Dam -- the world's largest hydropower plant -- is having "urgent problems," warning of environmental, construction and migration "disasters" amid the worst drought to hit southern China in 50 years.

Man-made droughts are nothing new to those who live downstream of big dams. Some people living on the dry side of dams have suffered from massive ecological and hydrological changes. They experience both man-made droughts from dams holding back the river's flow and in some cases, to the point of the river disappearing completely from some of its course, and man-made floods caused by poor dam design and management.
By building dams on the river Salween the people living downstream in the Shan Karenni, Mon and Karen States are likely to suffer from drought.

It was believed that the main environmental benefit of the Three Gorges Dam is the reduction of carbon emission. However, it has been found that the dam does cause greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. In reservoirs, the breakdown of vegetation and organic material that becomes blocked and accumulated behind the dam also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The hydroelectric dam also serves as a physical barrier that disrupts the river ecosystem. In addition, the three gorges Dam area is rich in archaeological and cultural heritage. Many cultures have inhabited the areas that are now under water, making it impossible to conduct future archaeological and paleontological studies.

The Salween River, "is an international river, the source of which was debatable until recently. In 2011 a team of CERS (China Exploration & Research Society) led by Wong How Man discovered the source of the Salween River to be in Qinghai, a province in N W China where the Yangtse Caing and Lan Jang also rise. These three important, great rivers of China are also international rivers, used in ancient times by migrants as routes to follow to settle in different parts of the world. According to a Chinese legend these three rivers were the “The Three Sisters of the Tanggula”, that came down and settled in the watersheds of Qinghai, where during spring , the whole area is like a green carpet, dotted with colourful little flowers. The three sisters then travelled south, parallel and side by side until they reached Yunnan. Once in Yunnan each of the sisters chose to travel their own separate way.

The Salween or Nam Khong flows down the Tibetan Plateau, along the Western border of Tai Khong (Dehong Prefecture) in China. It enters the Shan State at the Northern tip of Hsenwi and flows from north to south, the whole length of the country and then through the Karenni, Karen, Mon States and finally into the Indian Ocean at Moulmein. The Salween River and its many tributaries serve productive and industrious Shan farmers with water for irrigating rice fields. Rice cultivation has been Shan culture for generations and most importantly, it is their livelihood.

Therefore, the people fear that if the river ceases to flow the Shan State as we know it will be lost forever. The Nham Kong River is as important symbolically to the Shan as the Irrawaddy is to the Burmese People.

The dam will not only have devastating social and environmental impacts: large area of farmlands will be inundated and countless people will suffer.

People who have lived and visited the Shan State has described it as “A naturally beautiful country”. It has rolling downs, mountain ranges, waterfalls and ample water supply from the Salween River and its many tributaries. The country also has many natural resources, minerals, forests of good quality timber. I would like to call on all global Governments and Communities to please support us in our quest to conserve our National and Cultural heritage, which has been kindly endowed to us by Mother Nature

The contributor is the daughter of the ruling prince of Lawksawk and the author of “My Vanishing World”.

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Opening of Mekong unbolts doors for Uighurs fleeing China: Thai immigration

China can blame nobody but itself for opening up the Mekong that was once crammed with treacherous cascades, according to Thai immigration officials on the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand converge on the Mekong that originates in China.

Suspected Uighurs from China's troubled far-western region of Xinjiang, rest inside a temporary shelter after they were detained at the immigration regional headquarters near the Thailand-Malaysia border in Hatyai, Songkhla March 14, 2014. About 200 people rescued by police from a human smuggling camp in southern Thailand on Wednesday are suspected Uighur Muslims from China's troubled far-western region of Xinjiang, say Thai police. (Photo: Reuters)

They were commenting on recent reports of more than 300 Uighurs from China’s Muslim-dominant Sinkiang (Xinjiang) province being detained in Thailand:
  • 220, including 78 men, 60 women and 82 children, on 12 March, in Songkhla, one of the kingdom’s southern provinces (Bangkok Post)
  • Another 112, later in Sa Kaew near the Thai-Cambodian border (RFA)
According to an informed source in Maesai, most of the Uighurs are coming down the Mekong by boats. “They get off the boats when they are approaching a checkpoint, and, conducted by a guide, will skirt it on foot, then climb back into their boats when they get to a safe distance,” he said. “They are later discharged at Muong Mom on the Laotian side of the Golden Triangle. Afterward they are carried across the river to Chiang Saen (Chiangrai province).”
Map of China (Map:

Trafficking of Uighurs, according to him, are different from that of the North Koreans. “The North Koreans usually announce themselves upon arrival on the Thai soil, so they can be detained by the police and picked up by the South Koreans later,” he said. “But Uighurs never do that. They are just quietly transported by their contacts to the South (of Thailand), where sizeable Muslim populations are located. From there, they are taken to other countries.”

Authorities initials said they believed the groups were Turkish, because they claimed to be from Turkey, reported Bangkok Post.

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