Thai soldiers ‘returning people to Myanmar’ after thousands flee air strikes
Thai soldiers have started sending back some of the thousands of people who have fled a series of air strikes by the military in neighbouring Myanmar, sources said.
The weekend strikes, which sent ethnic Karen people seeking safety in Thailand, represented another escalation in the violent crackdown by Myanmar’s junta against protests over its February 1 coup.
On Saturday, more than 100 people were killed in and around demonstrations throughout the country — the bloodiest day since the takeover.
The violence by the Myanmar military — on the border and in cities around the country — raised the question of whether the international community would respond more forcefully than it has so far to a coup that ousted the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and reversed years of progress towards democracy.
The UK called for a closed meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday afternoon, council diplomats said ahead of an official announcement.
The council has condemned the violence and called for a restoration of democracy, but has not yet considered possible sanctions against the military, which would require support or an abstention by Myanmar’s neighbour and friend China.
On Monday the US suspended a trade deal with Myanmar until a democratic government is restored. US trade representative Katherine Tai said Washington was immediately suspending “all US engagement with Burma under the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement”.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called the surge in killings by the military “absolutely horrendous”, and urged greater unity and commitment by the international community to put pressure on the coup leaders to reverse course and go back to “a serious democratic transition”.
“My message to the military is very simple: stop the killing. Stop the repression of the demonstrations. Release the political prisoners, and return power to those that have really the right to exercise it,” he told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.
In response to reports of people fleeing the air strikes, Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-ocha had said earlier on Monday that the country did not want “mass migration” but was preparing for an influx of people and would take human rights issues into consideration.
Three sources later said Thai soldiers had begun to force people to return to Myanmar.
“They told them it was safe to go back even though it is not safe. They were afraid to go back but they had no choice,” said a spokesperson for the Karen Peace Support Network, a group of Karen civil society organisations in Myanmar.
A spokesman for Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said claims that some Karen were being forced to return to Myanmar were “inaccurate”.
Myanmar aircraft carried out three strikes overnight on Sunday, according to Dave Eubank, a member of the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian relief agency that delivers medical and other assistance to villagers. The strikes severely injured one child but caused no apparent fatalities, he said.
Earlier strikes had sent about 2,500 people into northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province and left at least four people dead and many wounded, according to the agency.
As of Sunday, at least 459 people had been killed in Myanmar since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The true toll is thought to be higher.
On Saturday alone, at least 114 people across the country were killed by security forces, including several children, prompting a UN human rights expert to accuse the junta of committing “mass murder” and criticise the international community for not doing enough to stop it.