Death toll from Thai refugee camp blaze rises to 36, officials say

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 March, 2013, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 March, 2013, 6:01pm

A fire swept through a remote camp in northwestern Thailand for refugees from Myanmar, killing 36 and destroying hundreds of make-shift shelters, officials said on Sunday.

The fire, which broke out on Friday in Mae Hong Son province, about 900km north of Bangkok, has left more than 2,000 people homeless, provincial governor Narumol Palavat told Reuters.

Narumol said 115 people were hurt in the blaze, 19 of them seriously. Authorities were investigating the cause, with initial reports suggesting the blaze was sparked by a cooking accident.

Most of those living in the camp are ethnic Karens – 3,500 refugees who fled fighting in Myanmar in 1992.

Karen insurgents began fighting for greater autonomy since Burma won independence from Britain in 1948. The Karen National Union signed a ceasefire with the Myanmar government in January last year, halting one of the world’s longest-running civil wars.

Despite political reforms in Myanmar, ethnic tensions persist and the refugees do not want to return yet. Many were born in the camps and have lived there for decades.