Siam and Burma have taken turns to occupy the areas of Marid, Tavoy, and Tenasserim all through history.
A Thai stone inscription records that the Kingdom of Sukhothai in the reign of King Ramkamhaeng extended westward to Pegu and the Gulf of Bengal. And missionaries who came to Ayutthaya recorded that Tavoy and Tenasserim belonged to Siam.
During the reigns of King Narai or King Naresuan, Marid and Tenasserim were important ports for Siam where Indian and European traders shipped and unloaded their goods.
In some periods, these areas belonged to other parties, as in 1340 when King Leu Tai, son of King Ramkamhaeng, succeeded to the throne, the Mon declared their independence from Sukhothai and seized Tavoy and Tenasserim.
In the late Ayutthaya period or 1759, Burma's King Along Paya sent troops to suppress rebellious Tavoy, and also seized Siam's Marid and Tenasserim. In 1787, King Rama I of the current Chakri dynasty attempted to reclaim Tavoy, but failed. However, four years later, in 1791, Tavoy, Tenasserim and Marid asked to take allegiance with Siam.
In 1823, toward the end of King Rama II's reign, Britain began to seize the coastal areas of Burma including Tenasserim, Marid and Tavoy which was the capital of Tenasserim division. It sent a team of mapmakers to study the topography, resources, and boundaries of its occupied lands. When the team reached Tenasserim Mountain, they learned that the eastern side of the Tenasserim range was Siam's territory.
In 1865, during the reign of King Rama IV, Britain sent its Governor of India to contact Siam to demarcate a permanent boundary between Thailand and British-occupied Burma
According to a research team conducting community studies in Tsunami-affected areas, the Siam-Burma border was first officially set on July 3, 1868, and since then Marid, Tavoy and Tenasserim have been territories of then British-occupied Burma.
During 1865-1867, a joint commission was set up to survey and set the boundary from Mae Hong Son down to Ranong. In Bangkok, a convention was agreed on February 8, 1868, and later was ratified on July 3 after Britain's ‘Map of Tenasserim and the adjacent provinces of the Kingdom of Siam' had been verified by Siam.
Sutin Kingkaew, Chair of the Network of Displaced Thais in Ranong, Chumphon, and Prachuab Khiri Khan, told Prachatai that in light of the violent incidents in Burma, the provinces have made ID badges for displaced Thais to hang around their necks, treating them like Burmese migrant workers. The authorities claimed i was a measure to control migrant workers.
"It's unacceptable that they force us to agree that we're Burmese," Sutin complained.
He added, "If we have to agree to being Burmese, what did we come here for? We'd have done better to remain there. So the government should distinguish us as Thai. Do not hang the badges around our necks."
Now that there are over 20,000 displaced Thais living in Thailand, the relevant state agencies, NGOs and academics seem to agree that to solve this problem laws must be changed.
The government passed a resolution on March 9, 1976 to allow groups of aliens who had entered Thailand before that date to adopt Thai nationality.
In Ranong, only 671 displaced Thais have been granted Thai nationality. Many more entered the country after March 9, 1976, including their children who were born here.
This denies these people the right to birth certificates for their children, education, work, travel, marriage, ownership of assets and death certificates. They are denied the opportunity to thrive, and have been at a disadvantage and abused by the authorities for decades.
Sarinya Kijprayul from a research project on the legal status of people in Tsunami-affected areas under the Foundation for Development and Protection of Children and Plan Thailand, said that Thai people who had previously lived in or moved to Marid, Tavoy, and Tenasserim after July 3, 1868 never lost their Thai nationality, and they can prove their identity and have their names registered. However, the problem lies in retrieving and verifying evidence, which is difficult and delays the process.
For example, Mr Mad Charoenrit was born in 1947 in Ranong. At 11, he went to study Islam at Kawthaung in Burma, and continued living there as his parents moved to farm on an island which was attached to Marid, until he married his first wife and had three children. After he married his second wife, they moved to Ranong, but Mad still went back and forth to Kawthaung like other fishers along the Andaman coast. In 1987, they settled at Hin Chang village where they currently live. Then they received ethnic minority ID cards from the authorities, identifying them as of Burmese origin.
The government passed a cabinet resolution on January 18, 2005, allowing them to change their nationality to Thai. Nevertheless, they still find it hard to come to terms with, as it officially forces them to accept being Burmese first and then to change to Thai.
Another shortcoming of the Jan 18, 2005 resolution is that through the nationality change they will not be completely Thai citizens as they will not be granted certain rights such as political rights.
A bill to restore Thai nationality to their ancestors has been proposed and is being considered.
Pakawin Saengkom, coordinator of community and livelihood project, said that the authorities still regard these people as uncontrollable illegal aliens, a threat to national security.
"This problem is a mistake made in the past; setting the boundary on the basis of geographical features, not taking the people into account. We should recognize the mistake, and solve the problem by changing the laws and orders accordingly," Pakawin said.
Translated by Ponglert Pongwanan