THE   Karen National Union chairman Saw Ba Thin Sein has died at 82.

He had fought for independence for the Karen people since 1949.

His funeral was on Sunday, at a fortified camp inside Burma, defended against soldiers of the State Peace and Development Council, the ruling Burmese military regime.

Among the people who attended the funeral to pay tribute to a man who had spent his life in pursuit of unity were leaders of the disparate ethnic nationalities who populate Burma.

Khin Araung, the vice president of the United Party of Arakan, an ethnic minority whose people sprawl along the Bangladeshi border in refugee camps, spoke highly of Ba Thin, explaining that he had been a figure of unity in a sea of discontent.

“This is a great loss, but we must gather strength from a great man’s death,” he said.

“All of the countries surrounding Burma have refugees,” he said.

“Bangladesh is very poor, but still they have refugees.”

People flee across Burma’s borders to whichever country is closest.

Even Laos, which along with Burma shares United Nations Least Developed Country status, has refugees.

Aik Lone, a senior representative of the Lahu people, said he believed the people of Burma could see change in the future.

He said Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 100,000 people, had exposed the ruling generals’ ruthlessness to the world and perhaps could be the required catalyst for change in a country that was at the end of British colonisation one of Southeast Asia’s richest.

“I think this is an ending for the SPDC,” he said.

Each and every one of the ethnic leaders at Ba Thin’s funeral spoke of unity, of the desperate need to unite against an oppressive regime that has sought only to enrich its privileged elite.

They said differences that had crippled past attempts to dislodge the SPDC must now be put aside.

The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Burma is appalling.

In Karen state alone, which borders Thailand, there are as many as 300,000 internally displaced people on any given day.

These people are fleeing men with guns who can take control of their lives in a single moment of anger.

There are more than 100,000 people living in refugee camps scattered along the Thai border.

The people who populate these raggedy camps, struck of bamboo and leaves, are the lucky ones.

They know SPDC soldiers will not storm their home when they go to sleep at night because Thai soldiers are watching over them.

Thailand has been a good friend to the Karen for many years, since 1984 when refugees came flooding across its borders after particularly brutal military offensives, it has managed camps to protect a dislocated populace.

But Thailand is a developing country.

And developing countries are hungry for energy that will power their economies.

Burma is blessed with natural gas reserves in the Andaman Sea.

The Gulf of Thailand is not.

And so to continue developing, Thailand must do business with Burma’s ruling military regime.

They would probably prefer they did not have to.

Dan Pedersen Mae St, Thailand

They know SPDC soldiers will not storm their home when they go to sleep at night because Thai soldiers are watching over them. Thailand has been a good friend to the Karen for many years, since 1984 when refugees came flooding across its borders after particularly brutal military offensives, it has managed camps to protect a dislocated populace. But Thailand is a developing country. And developing countries are hungry for energy that will power their economies. Burma is blessed with natural gas reserves in the Andaman Sea. The Gulf of Thailand is not.