Thailand’s top diplomat visits Myanmar border amid clashes, evacuations

Foreign Minister Parnpree arrives in Mae Sot to review measures to deal with people fleeing fighting across frontier.

Thai military personnel keep watch atop armoured vehicles along the Moei River on the Thai side of the border [Manan Vatsyayana/AFP]Published On 12 Apr 202412 Apr 2024

Thailand’s foreign minister is visiting a border town near Myanmar, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, after days of clashes in which the military government’s troops were expelled by ethnic minority armed groups that displaced hundreds of residents.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara will also visit two “friendship bridges” that link the Thai town of Mae Sot and Myanmar’s Myawaddy, an important trading hub between the two nations.

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Thailand’s Foreign Ministry said he would review preparations for a further influx of people fleeing the fighting in Myanmar.

Earlier this week Thailand said it was prepared to accept 100,000 people fleeing from Myanmar. But Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin warned on Thursday that the fighting should not spill into his country’s airspace.

Fighting between Myanmar’s military and ethnic minority armed groups has rocked Myawaddy this week, sending people rushing into Thailand, from where the boom of artillery shells and gunfire could be heard.

The conflict in Myanmar set off by the military’s 2021 coup regularly sends people fleeing across the two countries’ shared 2,400km (1,490-mile) border.

On Thursday, the Karen National Union (KNU) rebel group said it displaced troops loyal to the military-backed government, who were sheltering near one of the bridges on the Myanmar side.

Battlefield losses

As fighting intensified, the numbers crossing to Mae Sot from Myawaddy doubled this week to about 4,000 a day, according to the Reuters news agency.

Among those trying to cross into Thailand were Moe Moe Thet San and her son, residents of Myawaddy.

“I am afraid of air strikes. They caused very loud noises that shook my house,” she told Reuters. “That’s why I escaped here. They can’t bomb Thailand.”

The complete capture of Myawaddy would be seen as a humiliating defeat for the military government, which has suffered a string of battlefield losses in recent months that prompted rare criticism of its top brass by its supporters.

Myanmar military spokesman Zaw Min Tun confirmed to reporters late on Thursday that government soldiers “had to withdraw” from their base in Myawaddy, saying it was for their families’ safety.

He said the government and Thai authorities were in discussions about the soldiers, but did not give any details about how many were involved.

Thailand, which says it is keeping neutral in the Myanmar conflict has pursued engagement, including aid deliveries, with its neighbour since Srettha came to power last August.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies