Thailand: thousands of refugees arriving from Burma

refugees arrriving on foot in Thailand

refugees arrriving on foot in Thailand

Thousands of refugees have begun pouring into Thailand today, from Burma, after fighting broke out between the Burmese government and a rebel group.

Reports from the Thai border and from inside Burma indicate that the DKBA, the rump of a rebel force which has until recently been working alongside the government SPDC troops, have opened fire on their former allies and taken the town of Myawaddy, across the Moei river from Mae Sot, where the Thai Children’s Trust supports several projects for Burmese refugees.  They have also taken the town of Three Pagodas Pass further south.  Ten people have been killed in Myawaddy, there are no casualty figures yet available from Three Pagodas Pass.

An eyewitness in Mae Sot, who made his way to the border, heard grenades and machine gun fire from the other side of the river in Myawaddy.  The Thai side was empty of civilians, and there is a significant presence of the Thai army, who will, he says, certainly prevent any intrusion of Burmese hostilities onto Thai soil.  Some stray mortar shells have already fallen on the Thai side.  

He said: "the DKBA ordered that Myawaddy be emptied out in the face of an inevitable Burmese assault to retake the town. Thousands of refugees have fled over the border into Mae Sot. There are two main camps that have sprung up in the last ten hours to take in these displaced people. I went with some reporters into one this afternoon. My estimate is that there were five to six thousand people there, the site of a Thai army post. The Thai police have since told reporters that there are fifteen thousand people in this refugee camp that did not exist this morning. These folks all woke up today in their homes in Myawaddy, and hours later found themselves refugees fleeing fighting. The Thai authorities were doing a great job taking care of them all. Everything was calm and orderly. I was quite impressed with the Thai, and have to give them the credit they deserve, as they are not well known for their generous treatment of Burmese."

It is not clear whether these are isolated incidents, or whether they are the first moves in a co-ordinated attack by the armed wings of a number of ethnic militias which have operated on Burma’s eastern border for 60 years.  Sporadic fighting over the years, particularly since the brutal suppression by the military of the student protest in 1988, has brought countless Burmese refugees into Thailand.  Estimates vary between one to three million.  Thai Children’s Trust is appealing for funds to help feed Burmese refugees in the Mae Sot area, where more than half the refugee children are malnourished.

"Concerned parents have been sending children across the border to safety in Thailand for months, the slender resources available to feed them are under desperate strain already," says Andrew Scadding, Director of Thai Children’s Trust.  "a new influx could push the situation into a new and dangerous phase."

The Thai Children’s Trust has just posted up film of fighting inside Burma on its ‘Big Give’ appeal page at:

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