Some 5,000 residents of villages in Karen State’s Myawaddy Township on the Thai border have sought shelter in the neighboring country, while an estimated 10,000 more locals remain internally displaced in the area following the Myanmar junta’s heavy offensives against the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and civilian People’s Defense Force (PDF) groups.
On Sunday, more displaced people crossed the Thaung Yin River, which forms the border with Thailand, after the junta shelled civilian residential areas. A relief worker helping the IDPs said a growing number of people are stranded at the border and need help, as the fighting has escalated there.
The military fired artillery at them and some shells landed on Thai soil, the source said, adding that he heard the Thais fired back with smoke bombs as a warning.
Military tensions escalated last week when some 200 junta soldiers raided Lay Kay Kaw new town near Myawaddy on Dec. 14, alleging that democracy activists and members of PDF groups were hiding there. Two MPs-elect from the National League for Democracy, U Wai Lin Aung and Dr. Pyae Phyo, were among around 40 people detained by the junta on that day.
The raids and clashes followed the junta’s accusation that the Karen National Union, Myanmar’s oldest revolutionary force, was supporting and sheltering striking civil servants and anti-regime armed resistance groups. The KNLA is the armed wing of the KNU.
Many internally displaced people (IDPs) have been unable to cross the river into Thailand, so Lay Kay Kaw administrative officials are arranging for temporary IDP camps to be set up in the area, said KNU Vice Chairman Padoh Kwe Htoo Win.
“The military activities have continuously intensified in the area, with the deployment of 105-mm howitzers in Myawaddy. It’s likely that they will fire artillery from there [at Lay Kay Kaw and surrounding areas],” he said.
The junta has also sent drones and reconnaissance planes over Lay Kay Kaw and the surrounding area every day, he added.
On Monday morning, planes circled above Lay Kay Kaw, Padoh Kwe Htoo Win told The Irrawaddy in the afternoon. He added, “We are worried they will bomb the area,” which has many villages that are home to ethnic Karen, Mon, Shan and Bamar communities.