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Published 19:57 IST, April 20th 2024

Myanmar: Over 1,000 people Flee into Thailand as Clashes Erupt in Border Town Captured by Rebels

The clashes were triggered when the Karen guerillas launched an attack against Myanmar troops who were hiding near the 2nd Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge.

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People fleeing Myawaddy township near the Myanmar-Thailand border. | Image: AP
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Bangkok: About 1,300 people have fled from eastern Myanmar into Thailand, officials said Saturday, 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.

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He estimated about 1,300 people fled into Thailand.

Thai officials reported people had started crossing since Friday following clashes in several areas of Myawaddy.

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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.

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The clashes, involving drone attacks from the Karen forces and airstrikes by the Myanmar military, had subsided by noon Saturday 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.

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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.

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Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin wrote on the social media platform X on Saturday 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 Friday that Thailand is currently working to expand its aid initiative.

19:57 IST, April 20th 2024