Michael's Dispatches

Tragedy in Thailand


27 March 2013


Burma neighbors Thailand on the west.  For 65 years, a war against and between ethnic groups in Burma has been on.  The conflicts created many internally displaced refugees, while others have crossed into Thailand.  Thailand has allowed this incursion for humanitarian reasons.

One of the ethnic groups are called Karenni.  I visited some of the Karen (not Karenni but closely related) villages in Burma and Thailand.  The Karen I have met have all been Christian, and their churches are little more than bamboo huts similar to those on Gilligan’s Island.  Some people sleep on mats on the bamboo floors, while others use hammocks.

Their homes are made from bamboo, planks, and thatch.

The Karen are educating their children in foreign languages, mathematics, and the normal topics.  I visited a school while it was in session.  The children were attentive, and again, like something from Gilligan’s island with no air conditioning, no desks, just benches, with pigs and dogs wondering into the classes.  They were getting the job done.  Teachers have no real teaching tools other than a blackboard and some books.  Yet when talking with the kids, it does not seem that their education is lacking.

These people live hard, but they seem to have a collective happy heart.


Last week, tragedy struck a Karenni refugee village.  A cooking accident burned down the entire village, killing dozens and injuring perhaps one hundred.  The figures are unclear as they were taken to many hospitals, and on the scale of Asia this is little more than a minor footnote that involves people who mostly are ignored.

The Thai Army, police, fire, and humanitarian groups came to assist.  A truck filled rescuers also had a terrible accident resulting in at least one death and many injuries.

The tragedy made a flash in the news and emergency help poured in, but now the refugees, with twice-shattered lives will again fade into oblivion.

A group of mostly American aid workers has worked with the Karenni and other groups for years.  They are based here in Chiang Mai, but spend much time inside of Burma.  The Christian group is called “Free Burma Rangers,” and is headed by a former Green Beret officer.

If you wish to help, please go here, making a note that this is for the Mae Suring refugee camp: http://www.freeburmarangers.org/contact/support/

Many pictures follow, without comment.  The images were sent to me by Free Burma Rangers.  The images speak for themselves.  Some are highly graphic.







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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Travis · 8 years ago
    SAD....Pray for healing and comfort for the families of all those lost and injured!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Traci Wilberger · 8 years ago
    Breaks my heart Michael... Thank you for providing the website information for Free Burma Rangers... I will do what I can and forward the dispatch as well...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    leyla · 8 years ago
    Sometimes pictures can say more than words themselves. I pray for everyone, those who died and those who are alive, living with the reality of what happened. My heart goes out to everyone...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dave Carlton · 8 years ago
    What the hell did they cook? A napalm bomb? That is a huge devastated area!
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Simonferrer · 8 years ago
      [quote name="Dave Carlton"]What the hell did they cook? A napalm bomb? That is a huge devastated area![/quote]

      The cookfire probably wasn't that big; it was most likely too close to or inside one of the huts. Bamboo is technically a grass and burns very hot once it gets going, then like any forest fire the wind spread it around. You wouldn't think it, but Thailand can get very dry even into the wet season. I was visiting a friend in Chonburi in the more humid south end of Thailand around this time of year when some tapioca farmers near his house tried to use fire to clear a nearby field of weeds. The fire got away from them and ripped through four acres of field in only three minutes.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heath · 8 years ago
    My prayers go with these people and hope there are outpourings of help to them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul · 8 years ago
    It seems impossible that the natural construction materials could burn so fast as to trap and burn alive so many people. It would be very interesting to hear an educated speculation on how something like this occurs.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Raymond · 8 years ago
    Short video of the fire here:

    It's easier to understand how people were trapped after watching this.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Paul · 8 years ago
      The guy who took this is with the Free Burma Rangers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Eric Smith · 8 years ago
    Oh my, from the looks of the destruction, I would've thought somebody set off a fuel air explosive on top of their village rather than a cooking accident.

    It's very sad to see a tragedy like this, regardless of where it happens.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Tee · 8 years ago
      I was there yesterday the aftermath is greater than the photo's show. It was not a cooking pot fire that could have easily been put out. Burma soldiers have been doing this for years and over the last two month on china/Thailand border shooting automatic weapons on woman and kids and then dropping small chemical devices wiping out thousands. No where to run no where to hide. Same here they fire was covering hundreds and hundreds of acres hundreds in hospital, more than 1,000 people missing? about 90 dead and there are 206 families each with 5 family members all homeless and have nothing more than 500 kids with nothing except the ragged torn clothes on their backs.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    datechguy · 8 years ago
    Hmm these refugees are Christian

    and the MSM has no interest in them.

    A coincidence I'm sure
  • This commment is unpublished.
    egejuru obinna stanl · 8 years ago
    May the great God in heaven bring back the loast in Thailand and restore peace.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    luagha · 8 years ago
    I don't exactly mean this the way it sounds, but the semi-recent movie 'Rocky IV' with Sylvester Stallone concerned the plight of the Karen in Burma.

    I'm not saying that a movie is a place to go and get news, but it was definitely an attempt by Stallone and others to bring some attention to what's going on there.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tee · 8 years ago
    This is tragic I will not forget them I i will be going back again early next week just trying to get more funds together.
    This wasn't a cooking pot fire 100% sure, it was not and unfortunate accident these poor Karen Hill-tribe people many Christians have been suffering persecution and torture for year by Burma military and for last last few month's attacks have happened daily on Katchin stats bordering China with Thailand they have been shooting automatic weapons at woman and kids from helicopter and small planes also dropping small chemical weapons on these desperate people who have no where to run, no where to hide.
    You must pray for them Burmese soldiers do small scale quick in and quick exit air raids with camps on boarders frequently and thousands die because of it. last month USA president Obama warned them saying if they didn't stop the chemical weapons he would send in a special task force to stop them. We are waiting for you to send and do it quickly.
    God bless these poor people. Finally it was not a cooking pot fire with the thousands of people in that camp and the fact that they have a river running through that camp there is more than enough people and water to put out a small house fire quickly. This was something bigger and reports by the refugee some fearfully said cooking pot, many said dropped from aircraft. I will leave that up to you to decide but in the end it really doesn't matter how, what matters is these people are suffering and need help fast.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Redman · 8 years ago
    They would all be somewhat perplexed to learn that the US is spending $880,000 to study the sex life of snails.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cato the Elder · 8 years ago
    Michael, thanks again for your intrepid reporting. Glad to hear of the Free Burma Rangers. The various Karen tribes strongly resisted the Japanese in WWII and were critical to the success of U.S. Ranger ops in Burma.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tomatojuice · 8 years ago
    This is an unfortunate event. While living in the Twin Cities, MN, I have come across a few Karenni and they were great people as well as neighbors. I was wondering if you have an information about the story in Laos currently. Hmong leader, Moua Toua is in the Bangkok Thai Immigration Jail and is probably expected to be handed over to Lao Authorities. Any information would be greatly appreciated Mr. Yon.
  • This commment is unpublished.
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