More than 215,000 Burmese were refugees at the end of 1997, including 130,000 in Thailand, 40,000 in India, an estimated 40,000 in Bangladesh, 5,000 in Malaysia, and an unknown number in China. More than 350,000 Burmese lived in refugee-like circumstances in Thailand. Their reasons for leaving Burma may have included fear of persecution. An estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Burmese were internally displaced. Lack of access and information made it difficult to verify their number and condition, however. Human Rights The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and its army, the tatmadaw, seized power in 1988, when they crushed a democracy movement, jailing most leaders of the party elected to rule Burma, including Nobel Peace Price winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Since coming to power, SLORC (now officially the State Peace and Development Council) has been one of the world's most repressive regimes. In a surprise move, SLORC released Suu Kyi in July 1995, although hundreds of her supporters remained under arrest in 1997. Although various Burmese ethnic-minority rebel groups have signed cease-fire agreements with SLORC, the Burmese military in 1997 continued its pattern of forced labor, summary execution, forced relocation in ethnic-minority areas, and other human rights abuses. In February, SLORC launched a new offensive along the Thai border, controlled primarily by the Karen National Union, causing 20,000 refugees to flee to Thailand. In April, the United States announced a ban on new investment in Burma, which U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said was moving in the "dangerous and disappointing direction" of large-scale repression. Human Rights Watch welcomed the decision, saying Burma had "singled itself out for stigmatization in the eyes of the world." In July, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) formally admitted Burma as a full member. Some ASEAN governments asserted Burma's admission to ASEAN could improve respect for human rights in Burma. Rohingya Refugees from Burma An estimated 40,000 ethnic Rohingya refugees from Burma remained in Bangladesh at the end of 1997; about 5,000 remained in Malaysia. The Rohingya, Muslims, fled human rights abuses by the Burmese military, including killings, forced labor, rape, and religious persecution. About 250,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh during 1991 92. Most have since returned to Burma under a controversial UNHCR supported repatriation program that USCR and many other observers did not consider truly voluntary. At the end of 1997, fewer than 22,000 of the original refugees remained in Bangladesh. During 1996-97, thousands of other Rohingya fled to Bangladesh. Most observers estimated their number at 9,000 to 20,000. Bangladesh did not recognize them as refugees. Some 10,075 recognized Rohingya refugees repatriated from Bangladesh in 1997, including about 400 that Bangladesh forcibly returned in July. The rest returned under the "voluntary" repatriation program. Other Refugees from Burma During the year, about 17,000 Burmese refugees fled to Thailand to escape forced relocation, other human rights abuses, and fighting between the tatmadaw and insurgent groups. More than 100,000 Burmese ethnic-minority refugees, mostly Karen, Karenni, and Mon, were already living in camps in Thailand at the beginning of the year. Thailand neither recognized them as refugees nor permitted UNHCR to protect them, but did allow international and local NGOs to assist them. At the end of 1997, about 107,000 ethnic-minority Burmese were in camps in Thailand; more than 20,000 ethnic Shan Burmese refugees were in northern Thailand, not living in camps. During the year, Thailand forcibly returned an estimated 5,000 or more refugees to Burma. An estimated 40,000 refugees from Burma lived in India. Most are ethnic Chin. The Chin, largely Christians, fled discrimination under successive Burmese governments and persecution by the present regime.

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