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Thai PM denies forcing refugees back to Myanmar

THAILAND’S prime minister denied today that his country’s security forces has forced villagers back to Myanmar who had fled from military air strikes.

Prayuth Chan-ocha said they returned home on their own accord, adding that Thailand is ready to shelter anyone escaping the fighting, as it has done many times in recent decades.

His comments came a day after humanitarian groups reported that Thailand has been sending back some of the thousands of people who have fled a series of Myanmar military air strikes.

“There is no influx of refugees yet. We asked those who crossed to Thailand if they have any problems in their area. When they [said] no, we just asked them to return to their land first. We asked, we did not use any force,” Mr Prayuth told reporters.

The weekend strikes, which drove ethnic Karen people to seek safety in Thailand, were another escalation in the violent crackdown by Myanmar’s junta on protests against its takeover.

At least 510 protesters have been killed since the coup, according to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which says the actual toll is likely much higher. It says 2,574 people have been detained.

The coup that ousted the government of Aung San Suu Kyi reversed the country’s progress towards democracy since her National League for Democracy party won elections in 2015 after five decades of military rule.

A group of about 3,000 refugees crossed into Thailand on Sunday, according to several humanitarian aid agencies who have long worked with the Karen. 

They said on Monday, however, that 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. 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.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said in a statement on Monday night that claims some Karen were being forced to return to Myanmar were inaccurate and “cite information solely from non-official sources without confirming the facts from official sources on the ground.”

The army has restricted journalists’ access to the area where the villagers crossed the border.

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