About 1,300 people from Myanmar flee into Thailand after clashes broke out in a key border town

Officials in Thailand say about 1,300 people have fled from eastern Myanmar into Thailand as fresh fighting erupted at a border town that has recently been captured by ethnic guerillas

April 20, 2024 04:17 pm | Updated 04:17 pm IST - Bangkok

People cross the Moei river as they flee Myawaddy township in Myanmar to Thailand’s Mae Sot town in Thailand’s Tak Province on April 20, 2024.

People cross the Moei river as they flee Myawaddy township in Myanmar to Thailand’s Mae Sot town in Thailand’s Tak Province on April 20, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

About 1,300 people have fled from eastern Myanmar into Thailand, officials said on April 20, 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. He estimated about 1,300 people fled into Thailand.

Thai officials reported people had started crossing since April 19 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 on April 20 compared to the morning, but Mae Sot police chief Pittayakorn Phetcharat 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 waded across the river 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.

Hundreds of Thais to be evacuated from Myanmar via China amid heavy fighting

Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin wrote on the social media platform X on April 20 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 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters on April 19 that Thailand is currently working to expand its aid initiative.

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