PM denies backing junta govt
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PM denies backing junta govt

Fears grow of surge of Myanmar refugees

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks to reporters at Government House in Bangkok on Monday. (Screenshot)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks to reporters at Government House in Bangkok on Monday. (Screenshot)

The government on Monday denied allegations that it was supporting Myanmar and its use of force against its own people, saying it is preparing for a possible surge of refugees as the political conflict across the border escalates.

"In what ways do we support Myanmar troops? Nobody supports use of violence against the people," Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said when asked about claims the government was providing aid to Myanmar troops.

Gen Prayut made the remark when he spoke to the media at Government House on Monday -- two days after at least 90 Myanmar citizens, including several children, were killed after Myanmar's security forces opened fire on anti-coup protesters. As the death toll since the Feb 1 coup soared to over 460 on Monday, the Myanmar junta staged a major show of might for its annual Armed Forces Day.

The prime minister also defended the Thai military's decision to send representatives to attend the Armed Forces Day celebrations, saying Thailand needs to engage and maintain a communications channel.

"It is a military channel. We need mechanisms which will enable us to follow political developments in Myanmar. The countries share a border and we will be affected," he said.

Gen Prayut said authorities were preparing for a possible flood of refugees fleeing the violence in Myanmar.

"We don't want an exodus into our territory, but we will observe human rights, too," Gen Prayut said while declining to estimate the number of people who might flee across the border.

Gen Prayut said economic activities between Thailand and Myanmar are continuing as usual because they are vital to the livelihoods of people in both countries.

However, he said the government will have to carefully weigh this against measures imposed by Asean and other international organisations.

Meanwhile, when asked about political violence in Myanmar, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Monday said that Thailand will remain committed to Asean's non-inference principle.

When asked about the crackdown on anti-coup protesters, Gen Prawit said: "I don't get involved. I don't look."

In the border province of Mae Song Hon, authorities were preparing for a surge of refugees following reports of air strikes near the Thai-Myanmar border.

Thai villagers in tambon Mae Sam Lap in Sop Moei district told district officials they spotted aircraft from Myanmar on Monday afternoon.

It was reported that about 3,000 Karen villagers crossed the Salween River from Myanmar into Thailand's Mae Hong Son province on Sunday out of fear of another air strike on Sunday.

Governor Sitthichai Chindaluang said on Monday measures have been rolled out to accommodate refugees, with the Naresuan Task Force put in charge of handling the refugees.

He said that those who fled out of panic would be asked to return while those who fled out of fear for their safety will be sheltered on a humanitarian basis. He said the refugees will only be allowed to remain near the border.

A source said that almost 2,200 people fled across the border to Mae Hong Son's Mae Sariang district after airstrikes on a military base controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU), which is located opposite Mae Sariang district, killed one soldier and injured two others.

Meanwhile, Singapore's foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan has called the situation in Myanmar "an unfolding tragedy", saying it is essential for Southeast Asian countries to have a stance on the matter.

"It is going to take quite some time to resolve. I must confess to you that I am pessimistic," Mr Balakrishnan, according to a transcript released on Monday.

Mr Balakrishnan has spoken strongly about the coup and the subsequent deadly crackdown. He has been pushing for Asean to play a more active role in finding a way out of the crisis.

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