By Nontarat Phaicharoen
More than 1,500 additional Myanmar residents crossed the border into Thailand during the previous 24 hours as they fled fighting between Burmese junta troops and a joint force of Karen rebels and pro-democracy activists, two sources said Monday.
The influx began on Sunday as fighting flared in Lay Kay Kaw township, forcing residents to cross the frontier to Mae Kon Ken village in Thailand, the sources said. Mae Kon Ken is about 3.5 miles east of Lay Kay Kaw and 14 miles south of Mae Sot district, where about 2,500 refugees arrived last week after escaping similar fighting.
“On Dec. 20, the 14th Infantry Regiment found 1,559 displaced people crossing the border into Thailand, so they were placed at a ranch in Mae Kon Ken as a temporary shelter. They were given basic humanitarian aid,” the Tak Province Border Center said in a statement issued Monday evening.
Before dusk on Monday, 101 refugees returned home voluntarily, bringing the tally to 1,458, the center said. Meanwhile, the number of refugees who previously fled the fighting was reduced to 2,075 after a few hundred returned home.
“Some displaced people wanted to go back to Myanmar voluntarily because their worry was eased and they wanted to live a normal life,” the center said, adding that more than 400 returned home on Saturday.
According to the border center, Thai troops fired five warning shots into Myanmar on Sunday after seven unidentified shells landed on the Thai side of the Moei River.
“The Naresuan Task Force ordered its 14th Infantry Regiment to fire five smoke rounds in warning in accordance to respective shelling,” that statement said, adding that the task force had lodged a protest with the joint Township Border Committee comprised of Thai and Burmese members.
A Karen source who asked not to be named because of security concerns said the fighting inside Myanmar had raged on for a week.
“They were still fighting on Sunday, there was sporadic shooting all day. Myanmar deployed artillery in Lay Kay Kaw,” the source told BenarNews.
While Myanmar officials denied his statement and would not say if any troops had been killed since the skirmishes resumed, the source claimed that about 50 junta personnel had died in the fighting.
He noted that 132 people crossed back to Myanmar on Sunday through the area controlled by the Karen Border Guard Force, a subdivision of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces).
The anti-junta fighters include the pro-democracy People’s Defense Force militiamen and fighters with the Karen National Liberation Army, which is the armed wing of the Karen National Union political group.
The source said he and others delivered relief aid, including food and supplies, at both shelters after receiving permission from Thai authorities, adding they were not allowed to have contact with the displaced people.
On Monday, the United Nations called on Thailand to treat the refugees humanely.
“UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency, today emphasized the need for urgent protection and assistance for refugees who have fled intensified fighting in and near Lay Kay Kaw, Kayin state, Myanmar, and who have crossed into Thailand,” the U.N. said in a statement.
“UNHCR, together with partners, reiterates to the Royal Thai government its readiness to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance and protection support to the new arrivals.”
Kunnawut Boonreak in Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributed to this report.