Myanmar army air raids send hundreds fleeing into Thailand

About 4,200 people have crossed into Thailand after the government in Myanmar conducted air attacks on a rebel-held area.

Myanmar’s military has conducted air raids and used heavy artillery on a rebel-held area near the border with Thailand, sending hundreds of people fleeing across a river into the neighbouring country.

The Karen National Union (KNU) said the area under its control in Karen state was hit on Thursday evening by at least two air raids and artillery rounds. On Friday, more air raids struck the small town of Lay Kay Kaw, added the KNU, which is seeking greater autonomy from Myanmar’s central government.

Fresh fighting between the Myanmar military and the KNU broke out last week, and more than 4,200 people have crossed into Thailand since the violence began, according to Thailand’s foreign ministry.

Civil society groups have placed the number of displaced as high as 10,000.

Earlier this week, the Karen fighters had called on the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Lay Kay Kaw to protect civilians.

Fighting has intensified since February when the military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, and Karen rebels offered refuge to opponents of the army.

The most recent clashes were triggered by a raid last week by government soldiers on Lay Kay Kaw.

Independent Myanmar media reported that soldiers seized 30-60 people associated with the organised opposition to the military government, including at least one elected legislator from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.

Michael Vatikiotis, the Asia director at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, told Al Jazeera that “the army has not been able to stabilise the country and dampen the tenacious resistance”.

Vatikiotis said Thailand has been under international pressure to provide cross-border aid.

“We must anticipate that this problem will get worse and that Thailand will try to send these people back,” he added.

Thailand’s foreign ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat told a news conference on Friday he was concerned about the latest violence that also affected Thai people living along the border.

Several foreign envoys to Myanmar, including from the European Union, Britain and the United States, issued a joint statement on Friday calling for an end to  “indiscriminate attacks” in the border area and elsewhere by the military.

“The recent attacks on civilians in Karen State, including the shelling of villages, are a violation of International Humanitarian Law and must stop,” they said.

Rebel groups have battled the central government for decades seeking more autonomy in remote border regions. Opponents of the February 1 coup have called for a united front with rebel groups to help those standing up to the military.

Some 1,300 people have been killed since the military’s power grab, according to a local monitoring group.

More than 700,000 people from the Rohingya ethnic group had already fled persecution and violence in Myanmar in August 2017. Since then, Bangladesh has been sheltering nearly a million refugees in crowded camps near its coast.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies