By Wilawan Watcharasakwet
At least 20 people died when a double-decker bus carrying dozens of migrant workers from Myanmar caught fire Friday in western Thailand, authorities said.
The bus was transporting 47 people in Tak province, along the border with Myanmar, when it caught fire while heading to a factory in an industrial zone near Bangkok, police said.
The incident occurred just eight days after 19 people were killed when a bus traveling in another part of the country veered off the road and smashed into a tree.
Late on Friday, investigators said they were trying to determine what caused the double-decker to erupt in flames.
“The bodies were sent to Taksin Hospital for identification, while officials need to interview all survivors,” police Col. Krissanok Danudom told BenarNews. “Officials need time to gather all evidence before they can specify the cause of this tragic accident.”
Bus driver Bantoon Vitoon, 48, told investigators the fire erupted in the lower deck, which was packed with luggage and passengers’ belongings.
Upon seeing the fire, he said, he immediately stopped the bus and tried to wake his passengers.
Most of the victims were burned beyond recognition, making identification difficult, according to Col. Krissana Pattanacharoen, a spokesman for the Royal Thai Police.
Officials from Myawaddy town in southeastern Myanmar arrived in Tak province late Friday to meet the governor and police officials.
“Thai government agencies will help workers who still want to travel to their destinations in Bangkok, while officials need to do DNA tests on the bodies,” Tak Governor Charoenrit Sa-nguansat told reporters.
Ye Min, a member of the Aid Alliance Committee for Myanmar Workers (ACC), a Bangkok-based group that advocates for the rights of migrant workers, confirmed that the bus was carrying 47 people.
“These workers were coming into Thailand through Mae Sot [district] with a chartered bus,” Ye Min told the Myanmar Service of Radio Free Asia which is affiliated with BenarNews.
Thailand has the second highest road traffic fatality rate in the world after Libya, at 36 per 100,000 with an annual estimate of more than 24,000 or 66 deaths every day, according to the World Health Organization.
Thailand also is a popular destination for migrant workers from across the Greater Mekong Delta region, as well other parts of Asia. After its economy grew at an average annual rate of 7.5 percent in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the country created millions of jobs that helped pull people out of poverty, according to the World Bank.
Thailand has about 2.7 million registered migrant workers, mainly from Myanmar and Cambodia, according to the Thai Labor Ministry.