Thousands flee into Thailand following Myanmar air strikes

This handout from Ei Tu Hta community leaders taken and received on March 29, 2021 shows Karen people, who had crossed the Salween river into Thailand to seek refuge after air strikes in eastern Myanmar's Karen state following the February military coup, being requested by the Thai authorities to leave Mae Hong Son and head back in boats across to the Myanmar side of the river. (Photo by Handout / EI TU HTA COMMUNITY LEADERS / AFP) / -----EDITORS NOTE --- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / EI TU HTA COMMUNITY LEADERS " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS



Thai authorities along the country’s border with Myanmar are bracing on Monday for a possible influx of more ethnic Karen villagers fleeing new airstrikes by the Myanmar military.

Myanmar aircraft carried out three strikes overnight Sunday, according to 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, a member of the agency said.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha on Monday acknowledged the problems across his country’s western border and said his government is preparing for a possible influx of people.

“We don’t want to have mass migration into our territory, but we will consider human rights, too,” Prayut said.

Asked about people who have already fled into Thailand, Prayut said, “We have prepared some places, but we don’t want to talk about the preparation of refugee centres at the moment. We won’t go that far.”

About 2,500 people, including 200 students, have crossed the Salween River into northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province, according to Burma Free Rangers. An estimated 10,000 people are believed to be displaced in Myanmar’s northern Karen state, the agency said.

Video shot Sunday shows a group of villagers, including many young children, resting in a forest clearing inside Myanmar after fleeing their homes. They carried their possessions in bundles and baskets.

The bombings may have been retaliation against the Karen National Liberation Army for having attacked and captured a Myanmar government military outpost on Saturday morning. The group is fighting for greater autonomy for the Karen people.

Leaders of the resistance to last month’s military coup that toppled Myanmar’s elected government are seeking to have the Karen and other ethnic groups band together and join them as allies, which would add an armed element to their struggle.

According to Thoolei News, an online site that carries official information from the Karen National Union, eight government soldiers were captured in Saturday’s attack and 10 were killed. The report said one Karen guerrilla died.

The airstrikes mark an escalation in the increasingly violent crackdown by the Myanmar government against opponents of the Feb. 1 military takeover.

At least 114 people across the country were killed by security forces on Saturday alone, including several children — a toll that prompted a U.N. Human rights expert to accuse the junta of committing “mass murder” and criticize the international community for not doing enough to stop it.

The UN Security Council is likely to hold closed consultations on the escalating situation in Myanmar, diplomats said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement. The council has condemned the violence and called for a restoration of democracy, but has not yet considered possible sanctions against the military, which would require support or an abstention by Myanmar’s neighbour and friend China.

In Sunday’s bombings, Myanmar military aircraft attacked a Karen guerrilla position in an area on the Salween River in Karen state’s Mutraw district, according to workers for two humanitarian relief agencies.

Two guerrillas were killed and many more were wounded in those attacks, a member of the Free Burma Rangers said.

Funerals were held in Myanmar on Monday for those who died protesting against the coup over the weekend. In Yangon, friends and family gathered to say farewell to 49-year-old Mya Khaing, who was fatally shot on Saturday. Friends told media that he was always at the front of protests.

As his coffin was moved toward the crematorium, mourners sang a defiant song from an earlier 1988 uprising against military rule. “There is no pardon for you till the end of the world,” the words said of the military, calling it “monsters.” “We will never forgive what you have done.”