Escalating conflict spurs mass exodus to Thailand


Fleeing to safety: People crossing the Moei River as they flee Myawaddy township in Myanmar to Thailand’s Mae Sot town in Thailand’s Tak province. — AP

About 1,300 people have fled from eastern Myanmar to Thailand, officials said, as fresh fighting erupted at a border town that has recently been captured by ethnic guerillas.

Fighters from the Karen ethnic minority last week captured the last of the Myanmar army’s outposts in and around Myawaddy, which is connected to Thailand by two bridges across the Moei River.

The latest clashes were triggered in the morning when the Karen guerillas launched an attack against Myanmar troops who were hiding near the 2nd Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, a major crossing point for trade with Thailand, said police chief Pittayakorn Phetcharat in Thailand’s Mae Sot district yesterday.

He estimated about 1,300 people fled into Thailand.

Thai officials reported people had started crossing since Friday following clashes in several areas of Myawaddy.

The fall of Myawaddy is a major setback for the military that seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021. Myanmar’s once-mighty armed forces have suffered a series of unprecedented defeats since last October, losing swathes of territory including border posts to both ethnic fighters, who have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades, and pro-democracy guerrilla units that took up arms after the military takeover.

The clashes, involving drone attacks from the Karen forces and airstrikes by the Myanmar military, had subsided by noon yesterday compared to the morning, but Pittayakorn said he could still hear sporadic gunshots. He said Thai authorities would move people fleeing into a safer area.

Footage from the Thai border showed Thai soldiers maintaining guard near the bridge with sounds of explosions and gunshots in the background.

People with children walked across the bridge with their belongings and were received by Thai officials on the river bank.

Several are seen taking shelter in buildings along the river bank on the Myanmar side.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin wrote on the social media platform X yesterday that he was closely monitoring the situation at the border.

“I do not desire to see any such clashes have any impact on the territorial integrity of Thailand and we are ready to protect our borders and the safety of our people.

“At the same time, we are also ready to provide humanitarian assistance if necessary,” he wrote.

In March, Thailand delivered its first batch of humanitarian assistance to Myanmar for about 20,000 displaced people.

Nikorndej Balangura, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters on Friday that Thailand is currently working to expand its aid initiative. — AP

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