MAE SAKOEP: Thai soldiers began sending back some of the thousands of people who have fled a series of airstrikes by the military in neighboring Myanmar, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.
But Thai officials denied that insecurity on the border added a new dimension to an already volatile crisis set off by a coup in Myanmar.
The weekend strikes, which sent ethnic Karen people seeking safety in Thailand, represented another escalation in the violent crackdown by Myanmar’s junta on protests against its Feb 1 takeover.
On Saturday, more than 100 people were killed in and around demonstrations throughout the country the bloodiest single day since the takeover.
Against Thai PM’s remarks, soldiers are pushing back migrants into Myanmar
The violence by the Myanmar military both on the border and in cities around the country raised the question of whether the international community would respond more forcefully than it has thus far to a coup that ousted the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and reversed years of progress towards democracy.
In response to reports of people fleeing the airstrikes, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said earlier on Monday that the country didn’t want mass migration but that it was preparing for an influx of people and would take human rights issues into consideration.
But later, three people with knowledge of the matter said Thai soldiers had begun to force people to return to Myanmar.
They told them it was safe to go back even though it is not safe. They were afraid to go back but they had no choice, said a spokesperson for the Karen Peace Support Network, a group of Karen civil society organisations in Myanmar.
Two other people confirmed that refugees were being sent back to Myanmar. All three spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.
A spokesman for Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, said claims that some Karen were being forced to return to Myanmar were inaccurate.
Those reports cite information solely from non-official sources without confirming the facts from official sources on the ground. … In fact, the Thai authorities will continue to look after those on the Thai side while assessing the evolving situation and the needs on the ground, Tanee Sangrat wrote in a statement.
In one border area, Thai soldiers refused to let journalists or curious locals approach or speak to those who had fled.
Myanmar aircraft carried out three strikes overnight Sunday, according to Dave Eubank, a member of the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian relief agency that delivers medical and other assistance to villagers. The strikes severely injured one child but caused no apparent fatalities, he said.
Earlier strikes had sent about 2,500 people into northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province and left at least four people dead and many wounded, according to the agency.
One witness described a chaotic scene as he watched hundreds of people cross the river border Sunday into Mae Hong Son.
“There were many children and women. It seemed like they had basic supplies to sustain themselves, but I don’t know how long they can last without help,” said La Rakpaoprai, who buys snacks and other goods in the mountainous border village of Mae Sakoep and sells them in remote areas.
Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2021