November 9: Fighting between the Burmese military and a breakaway Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) faction, supported by Karen National Union rebel troops, caused the mass exodus of over 20,000 Karen refugees into Thailand, yesterday, Nov8. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Monday said Thailand will give humanitarian aid to the minority refugees, but does not want them to be “an endless burden for the country”. The 20,000 plus refugees add to the quarter-million ethnic minority refugees already sheltering in three Thai districts from what were described as ‘brutal campaigns by the Myanmar Army’.
Yesterday, Tak Governor Samat Loyfa ordered all roads leading to the border to be closed. Thais living along the border in Mae Sot, including traders at Rim Moei Border Market near the Thai-Burmese Friendship Bridge, were evacuated and Government offices and schools have also been closed temporarily.
According to the MCOT Thai News Agency, the Thai government would like to see the Burmese authorities restore order and will not interfere in their neighbour’s internal affairs. The Thai government however does not want to see any party using Thailand as ground for assembling an armed force, the prime minister was reported as saying.
“The Myanmar authorities told me during my visit to the country that they still need to close the border due to concerns over anti-Myanmar government minority groups at the Mae Sot border. Turmoil on the Myanmar side of the border is still a problem and is likely to continue for the next three months as Myanmar is worried about the post-election transition,” Mr Abhisit told MCOT.
Fighting erupted on Sunday, the day of the Burmese General Election, when DKBA forces took over a police station and post office and attacked a military camp in Myawaddy, just across the Moei River from Mae Sot, Thailand. The Burmese military retaliated and a fierce fire fight ensued in which at least three were killed and 20 injured, although one witness who visited the Myawaddy ‘s hospital reported around 10 deaths. Five Thais and five Burmese villagers were also wounded when stray rocket propelled grenade rounds landed on Thai territory during the battle. The Thai Army was ordered not to retaliate. Two M79 grenade rounds were also reported to have landed in the Three Pagodas Pass in Sangkhla Buri by Sangkhla Buri District Chief, Chamrus Kingnoi.
The Friendship Bridge between Burma and Thailand, previously closed by the Burmese military, was reopened by the DKBA, beginning the mass exodus across the river. The refugees have been accommodated in the 346th Border Patrol Police unit in Mae Sot’s Tha Sai Luad district as well as in the Tha Arj and Wang Takhian townships. An additional holding area has been prepared at Wat Thai Watthanaram, where half of the 20,000 refugees will stay temporarily. A number of refugees have begun to return as the fighting ceased when Burmese military regained control of the DKBA-occupied areas, the latter having retreated to their stronghold. Military spokesman Third Army commander Wannatip Wongwai said today, Nov9, that all refugees are expected to return home by the end of the day, though this is somewhat optimistic as Mae Sot district chief Kittisak Tomornsak said he believed that the confrontation between the Burmese government forces and the DKBA would continue for one week and Tak Governor Samat Loyfa, told The Associated Press.” We have to evaluate the situation to see if the clashes have actually ended before sending them back.”
The contentious elections have provoked strong criticism from world leaders; President Barack Obama reportedly said it was unacceptable for Myanmar’s government to “steal an election” and hold its people’s aspirations hostage to the regime’s greed and paranoia, while U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the voting was not inclusive enough and lacked transparency.
In the civil war which has dragged on sporadically since 1948, civil rights groups have accused the Burmese authorities of waging a brutal counter-insurgency campaign involving the rape, torture and murder of villagers, whose homes are routinely destroyed. Activist groups and the exiled Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), are warning that violence is likely to escalate with six armed groups in Burma’s troubled ethnic minority areas expressing solidarity and vowing to retaliate if attacked by the Burmese military.