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Laura Bush visits refugees on Thai-Myanmar border

August 7, 2008

From The Associated press

First lady Laura Bush, meeting with refugees who fled a brutal campaign by Myanmar’s military junta, urged China and other countries on Thursday to join the U.S. in imposing sanctions against the country.

Mrs. Bush, who is traveling in Asia with President Bush, flew to the Thai border with Myanmar, previously known as Burma, to visit the Mae La refugee camp and a health clinic run by a woman known as the “Mother Teresa of Burma.”

“We urge the Chinese to do what other countries have done — to sanction, to put a financial squeeze on the Burmese generals,” Mrs. Bush said.

An outspoken critic of the junta, Mrs. Bush urged other nations to apply sanctions to force the military into a dialogue with pro-democracy forces in Myanmar.

At the border, she met with some of the 38,000 refugees at Mae La, mostly from the Karen ethnic minority group that human rights organizations say is the target of an ongoing Myanmar military campaign marked by murders of civilians, rapes and razing of villages. She also bid farewell to a group of Karen ready to depart for resettlement in the United States, including a family of seven bound for South Carolina who were boarding a bus.

The Myanmar junta’s decades-long conflict with a number of the country’s ethnic minorities has sparked an ongoing exodus, and some 140,000 refugees now live in camps strung out along the Thai-Myanmar border. Kitty McKinsey, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Thailand, said more than 30,000 Myanmar refugees have been resettled in third countries, including more than 21,000 who have left for the United States since January 2005.

“While these camps are supposed to be temporary camps, in reality, some people have been living here for over 20 years. Some were born in the camps and now they have their own children,” said Sally Thompson, deputy director of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, the key aid agency working in the camps. “They are entirely dependent on handouts, which is not good socially or psychologically.”

“It is a protracted emergency which is hard to keep in the news, but there is human rights abuse going on virtually every day (in eastern Myanmar),” she said.

Mrs. Bush and her daughter, Barbara, made their way through the muddy ground of the camp in pouring rain at about the same time President Bush was delivering a speech in Bangkok, the Thai capital, calling for “an end to the tyranny” in Myanmar.

“The noble cause has many devoted champions, and I happen to be married to one,” said Bush, who also called on Myanmar’s junta to release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners.

Mrs. Bush also visited the Mae Tao Clinic, run Dr. Cynthia Maung, a Karen Christian refugee who provides medical care on the Thai side of the border to more than 50,000 people from Myanmar every year. She visited a ward for victims of land mines, which are buried along the border and inside eastern Myanmar.

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