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THAILAND-BURMESE Feb-10-2005 (420 words) xxxi

Thai cardinal says thousands of victims are workers from Myanmar

By Stephen Steele

Catholic News Service

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNS) -- Thousands of unidentified tsunami victims and missing persons in Thailand are undocumented workers from Myanmar, a Thai cardinal said.

Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu of Bangkok said sources in southern Thailand told him that many of the unidentified were from Myanmar, formerly Burma. He also said that there were likely many undocumented missing Burmese not recorded in official totals.

Between 800,000 and 1 million Burmese live in Thailand; most of them are undocumented, the cardinal said.

He said the exact number of Burmese killed in the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis will never be known, but added he guaranteed "that the number will be in the thousands."

Cardinal Kitbunchu said Feb. 8 that the church has reached out to Burmese in the six southern Thai provinces affected by the tsunamis. He said the church has paid about $25 to Burmese they've identified who either have lost a family member or job because of the tsunami.

"The church will try to do its best to support and assist them," he said of the Burmese.

He said that the church also has lobbied the Thai government to ensure that the Burmese are treated humanely and that their rights will be protected.

The cardinal said church workers circulated fliers in southern Thailand informing Burmese workers that the church would assist them in their recovery from the tsunami disaster. He said most undocumented workers will not seek help out of fear of being deported or arrested.

"These are not the type of people who will live in the camps. It is our duty to find them and help them. At the moment we are helping them," he said.

The cardinal said that an ongoing conflict between Myanmar's military government and various ethnic groups complicated the church and Thai government's response to the Burmese affected by the tsunamis. Many of those involved in the conflict have fled to Thailand, where they work illegally. In the past, help offered to undocumented Burmese gave the appearance that Thailand supported those fighting Myanmar's government, he said.

"This has created problems for the church in Myanmar and has caused problems for the Thai government," the cardinal said.

Nearly 1,800 recovered bodies remain unidentified and more than 3,000 people remain missing in Thailand from the Dec. 26 tsunamis, according to the latest statistics by Thailand's Home Ministry. About 5,400 people have been reported killed; nearly 1,800 of them were foreigners, the ministry said.


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