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Thailand ends search after refugee camp blaze

Posted on March 25, 2013, Monday

TEMPORARY SHELTERS: Myanmar refugees sit with their belongings as they start to build temporary shelters with bamboo and leaves at the Mae Surin camp in Mae Hong Son province. — AFP photo

TEMPORARY SHELTERS: Myanmar refugees sit with their belongings as they start to build temporary shelters with bamboo and leaves at the Mae Surin camp in Mae Hong Son province. — AFP photo

MAE SURIN, Thailand: Rescue workers yesterday ended the search for victims of a blaze that tore through a Myanmar refugee camp in northern Thailand as destitute survivors scavenged for bamboo to build shelters.

Thirty-six people — including 10 children —  died in Friday’s fire which destroyed Mae Surin camp in Mae Hong Son province, provincial governor Narumol Paravat told AFP by telephone.

“The search operation has finished today. Rescue teams found 36 dead, among them were 10 children,” she said, adding 13 of the bodies were yet to be identified.

“A police investigation has yet to conclude the cause of the fire.”     Desperate refugees chopped bamboo and gathered large leaves from the surrounding jungle to build makeshift shelters as relief trickled in to the remote area, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

The blaze is believed to have destroyed 400 houses and left over two thousand people homeless at the remote mountainous camp, leaving behind a stark landscape of charred tree stumps and debris.

The Thai government has pledged an investigation into the fire at the camp, which was set up in 1992 and houses roughly 3,500 refugees.

Ten camps strung out along the Thai-Myanmar border are home to a total of about 130,000 people, who first began arriving in the 1980s.

Many of the refugees have fled conflict zones in ethnic minority areas of Myanmar.

After a new quasi-civilian government replaced the long-ruling junta in Myanmar two years ago, Thailand announced it wanted to shut the border camps, raising concern among their residents.

But so far they have been allowed to stay and the Thai government has stressed that it will only send them back when it is safe to do so. — AFP

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