Thailand has confirmed reports that thousands of ethnic Karen villagers have fled into the country to escape fighting in neighboring Burma.
Rights groups and aid organizations were the first to report as many as 3,000 ethnic Karen villagers fled from Burma to Thailand, in the past week. The groups say villagers crossed Thailand's western border to escape escalating fighting between Burmese forces and Karen rebels.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn confirmed the reports for VOA. He says it was not the first time fighting in Burma had forced villagers to flee to Thailand and would not be the last.
"We believe that, with the experience of Thailand handling this situation in the past two decades, where at times there were several hundred thousand came over the Thai borders - this is, on one hand, serious issue," said Panitan. "But, on the other hand, I think Thailand is capable of handling this. And, there shouldn't be any problem."
Panitan says the Thai authorities have emergency procedures to handle large flows of villager refugees. He says they will be given temporary shelters and medical care, while immigration authorities decide what to do with them.
Thailand has tens of thousands of refugees living in camps along its borders. Many of them fled fighting in Burma.
This latest flood of villagers came as Burmese forces moved in on rebel fighters from the Karen National Union.
Burma has been increasing pressure on Karen rebels to end decades of fighting, ahead of next year's controversial Burmese elections. Burma's military-run government wants the country's many ethnic groups to support the elections.
Thailand has been acting as a go-between for the Burmese authorities and the KNU to try to end the fighting, but with little success.
Burma's last elections were in 1990, when the party of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won by a landslide. The military ignored the results and placed her under house arrest.
Aung San Suu Kyi is now on trial for allowing an uninvited guest to stay in her house without official permission and is expected to be sentenced to up to five years in prison.