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Fighting Cools on Burma-Thai Border

  • Daniel Schearf

Thai soldier watches people who fled fighting take boats to and from Burma, Mae Sot, Thailand, 09 Nov 2010

Thai soldier watches people who fled fighting take boats to and from Burma, Mae Sot, Thailand, 09 Nov 2010

Fighting between Burma's military and an ethnic militia has cooled down and Thai authorities are sending home more than 10,000 people who fled the violence. But many who fled are worried about further clashes.

Scores of people Tuesday evening head across the Moei River from Mae Sot, Thailand, going home to Burma, just a day after escaping fighting there.

Burma's army appears to have retaken control of the town Myawaddy, after clashes with an ethnic Karen militia sent thousands streaming into Thailand to escape the violence.

The Thai government says Myawaddy is safe now and the refugees can go home.

Khin Ohmar, coordinator of the Burma Partnership coalition, says many who fled the fighting told her they did not feel safe to go back. She says some crossed over to Burma and then, not feeling safe, returned to Thailand.

"I just wish that the Thai government, Thai authorities, didn't send them back today, at least not today," she said. "It's too soon to be certain whether they will be safe or not."

Indeed, some boats ferried people to Burma, and then came back to Thailand fully loaded with people.

Earlier Tuesday, thousands of men, women, and children were sheltering under blue tents erected on a soccer field next to a Mae Sot border patrol police station.

Ma Aye Aye Po tries to soothe her crying baby. She says she wants to return home to Burma with her family and children, but she is worried the fighting may not be over.

She says they have never had to flee from a battle field, they have never seen Myawaddy look like a battle field. She says they have heard gunfire before, but never had to run away. She says this situation was the worst.

Myawaddy resident Daw Ommah says she and her family were separated as they fled the violence, and she is anxious to make sure they are safe.

She says if the situation really cools down, she would like to go back. But, she says, she heard from a friend that up until 5 Tuesday morning there was still gunfire. So, she is a little worried.

In Mae Sot Tuesday, security appeared better.

There were fewer soldiers on the streets than Monday when gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades spilled over the border, injuring eight people.

But shops near the bridge remained closed and few people ventured onto the streets near the border.

The fighting erupted Sunday as Burma's military government held its first election in two decades, which it says will help restore democracy after five decades of military rule.

A military-backed party Tuesday said it won a majority, fueling criticism that the vote was engineered to keep the military in power.

The army says it must retain a significant role in the government to keep various ethnic minority militias from trying to divide the country.