The border of Thailand and Burma is more of a suggestion than a dividing line. People pass back and forth with relative ease, smugglers, traders, refugees, and military forces.
Refugees come to Thailand to look for work or escape the Burmese army. They are underpaid and have no rights on this side of the border. If caught by the Thai police, these refugees risk getting deported back to Burma, where they face incarceration or death.
They work as construction workers and on farms. Many find themselves involved in the thriving black market. Everything is reputedly for sale here, from jeeps to medicines, to people.
The traffic flows both ways, in and out of Burma. Gold comes out, along with teak and teak products. Teak is rare and mostly illegal to harvest in Thailand. The Thai side of the Burmese border, however, is lined with shops selling teak furniture.
Medicine and money flow into Burma, medicine in a country where medical supplies are difficult to find, money that makes its way back to support relatives still living in Burma.
Occasionally the Burmese army comes across the border to raid refugee camps, launching mortar attacks or assassinating rebel leaders.
You can't stay long by the Burmese border without hearing about the Free Burma Rangers.
The Free Burma Rangers
is a Thailand based organization that works to provide relief for villagers affected by the war in Burma. Medical teams provide support and aid to those most in need. They also attempt to document the atrocities of the Burmese army.
In a recent conversation with spokespersons for the FBR, I learned that on July 24, 2010, the Burmese army in the Northern Karen State attacked and burned down the village of Tha Da Der, forcing 900 villagers to flee.
Largely overlooked in this conflict is the fact the ethnic groups most targeted by the Burmese army are, to a large extent, Christian. According to Christianity Today
, "In an effort to terrorize the ethnic groups into submission, the Burma Army uses religion as a weapon of war. When it is convenient to do so, the army cloaks itself in Buddhism and stirs up anti-Christian sentiment."