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Heavy Fighting Reported on Burma's Border - 2002-06-06


Thai officials report heavy fighting just over the Burmese border, as Burma retakes positions lost to a rebel group last month. The Thai army said it has secured the border and evacuated nearby families to safer ground.

Heavy shelling was heard along the border as Burmese troops launched attacks on ethnic-Shan rebels. The rebels captured Burmese army outposts May 20. Burma accuses Thai troops of backing the Shan. Thailand denies the allegation, which has soured relations between Bangkok and Rangoon.

The Shan, along with ethnic Karens, have been fighting Rangoon for decades to secure greater autonomy.

A Thai Defense Ministry spokesman has said while both the Burmese army and the Shan had casualties, the toll this week is probably a few dozen, much lower than initial reports.

Lieutenant General Surapan Poomkaew has said the Thai army has secured the border to keep the fighting from spilling over into Thai territory. He said there has been no damage in Thailand, but the military has evacuated more than 500 villagers living near the border.

"They [Thai Army] secure the border and help the civilian population to pick up the people at the border from the dangerous area to the back-off area," he said.

He said the Burmese troops want to recapture the positions the Shan captured.

The fighting follows three-weeks of escalating tensions between Thailand and Burma. Relations were strained further by an attack on a Thai school bus near the border with Burma this week. The attack left three Thai teenagers dead and a dozen wounded.

The Burmese military government and several ethnic Burmese rebel groups have denied responsibility for the attack.

Thailand and Burma regularly face border tensions, complicated by drug trafficking, illegal logging, and people smuggling.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has come in for criticism for taking a conciliatory stance in dealing with Burma's government. But Thai military and academic sources say talks between the two countries to ease the tensions may take place soon.