New attacks inflame humanitarian crisis at Thai-Myanmar border


Another wave of Myanmar refugees is expected to flee to the Thai border amid increased violence in Kayah (Karenni) and Karen State. Local rights groups fear Thai security forces will push displaced people back across the border.

Early yesterday morning, the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw,  launched airstrikes killing one person and severely injuring three others in Shwe Nyaung Bin, a village located in ‘Brigade 5’ an area controlled by Karen ethnic armed forces.

According to Wahkushee Tenner, the director of Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN) the air raids have been ceaseless.

“Heavy mortar shelling continues every day,” Wahkushee told Thai Enquirer. “Over 5,000 people have crossed to the Thai side since December 21.”

Some estimates put the number of displaced people at 300,000.

Wahkushee added that Thai security forces have continuously asked internally displaced people (IDPs) to go back to the Myanmar side, despite the increased risk of violence.

A military helicopter flies over a rural village in Karen State, Myanmar. Attacks from the air have been on the rise in the last few weeks. Free Burma Rangers Picture.

She said that the attacks haven’t slowed down. But she believes Myanmar junta troops are deserting their ranks and joining the Karen National Liberation Army, a military branch of the Karen National Union (KNU), which fights for self-determination of the Karen people. The KNU is one of the most active anti-military groups, they have also provided refuge and training to dissidents who have chosen to fight back against the military.

The Tatmadaw has ratcheted up assaults in areas controlled by resistance forces since late October. They have increased strikes from both the air and ground, killing dozens of people and injuring many more.

Since the Feb 1 coup, the Myanmar army has killed at least 1,400 people and arrested thousands of others. The junta has targeted its own civilians at peaceful protests in cities, killing women and children.

On Sunday, two villagers from Dooplaya District, Karen State, were wounded by Tatmadaw artillery. Two of the injured were elderly men, both farmers, according to the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian group providing medical aid on the ground.

Tee Pan Aung, a 64-year-old farmer, was injured by military shelling on Sunday. Free Burma Rangers Picture

The shelling took place as the men were cooking breakfast in their homes. FBR medics have treated both the farmer’s life-threatening injuries.

“The Burma Army troops are looting and stealing villagers’ food, taking everything they find,” Wahkushee continued.  But she said despite the attacks on civilians, the Tatmadaw is “losing ground,” as they struggle to resupply and reinforce their numbers.

On Thursday, 67 ethnic Karen community organizations from 17 countries called on United States’ President Biden and French President Macron, to sanction gas revenue that supports the Myanmar military. The EU has already imposed targeted sanctions on the military and its leaders, but they are now discussing imposing further sanctions as the violence worsens.

“As long as American and French countries continue to fund the military, your countries are complicit in human rights violations committed by the Burmese military,” the letter said.

“Since the military coup, more than 300,000 people have been forced to flee their homes because of attacks and threats by the Burmese military. The majority of these people are from ethnic states, including around 85,000 in Karen State.” 

Over the last few days, organizations in Mae Sot, Tak province, say that the Myanmar military has fired artillery strikes into the refugee camps spread across the Thai side of the border. Thai security forces have warned that they will respond if the strikes continue indiscriminately. 

“They’re using villagers as human shields as they [Tatmadaw troops] dare not travel from base to base themselves,” Wahkushee said. “This is why they are using heavy shelling and conducting airstrikes.” 

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