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Villagers flee Myanmar to Thailand after military junta launches further air strikes

ABOUT 3,000 villagers had reportedly fled Myanmar’s Karen state for Thailand today after the military junta launched further air strikes in the border region.

Three strikes hit the north of the state overnight on Sunday, said the Free Burma Rangers, a Christian humanitarian relief group that delivers medical aid to villagers.

The attacks came after air strikes on Saturday night reportedly claimed the lives of three civilians and at least two soldiers from the Karen National Union (KNU), which represents the country’s Karen ethnic minority.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who formerly led his own military junta, said today that his government is braced for an influx of refugees.

“We don’t want to have mass migration into our territory, but we will consider human rights too,” he said.

Asked about people who have already fled into Thailand, Mr Prayuth said: “We have prepared some places, but we don’t want to talk about the preparation of refugee centres at the moment. We won’t go that far.”

About 2,500 people, including 200 students, had crossed the Salween River into northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province, according to the Free Burma Rangers. A further 10,000 people were believed to have been displaced inside Karen state.

The air strikes may have been in retaliation for the Karen National Liberation Army’s seizure of a Myanmar government military outpost on Saturday morning. The group, which opposes the junta, is the armed wing of the KNU.

Leaders of the resistance to last month’s military coup are seeking to have the Karen and other ethnic groups band together and join them as allies, which would add an armed element to their struggle.

According to Thoolei News, a website which carries official information from the KNU, eight government soldiers were captured in Saturday’s attack and 10 were killed. It said that one Karen guerilla had died.

The air strikes mark another escalation in the increasingly violent crackdown by the junta against opponents of its February 1 military takeover.

UN human-rights expert Tom Andrews accused the junta of committing mass murder and called for international intervention after at least 114 people, including several children, were killed by security forces on Saturday alone.

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