Mae La Refugee Camp, Thailand
Trees give way to primitive wooden homes in the rolling hills approaching Mae La refugee camp on Thailand’s border with Burma. Access is controlled by the Thai army. The largest camp in Thailand, Mae La, holds 50,000 refugees. Some residents have spent their entire lives within Mae La’s confines.
Burma, also known as Myanmar, has been at war most of its history. A British colony occupied by Japan during World War II, Burma gained its independence shortly after that conflict ended. But the new government refused to grant the autonomy promised the nation’s many ethnic groups. War erupted.
Although the bloodiest and most tragic aspect of Burma’s history, the fragmented civil war has been overshadowed by the democracy struggle centered in Rangoon. In 1962 the superstitious Gen. Ne Win overthrew his country’s young democracy. The junta changed shape over the years, with his eventual ouster, but the generals refused to relax their bloody grip.