Aid, shelter given to over 2,000 refugees at border

Aid, shelter given to over 2,000 refugees at border

More than 2,000 people who fled the hostilities across the border in Myanmar have been provided shelter and humanitarian assistance, Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich said.

The military, he said, has set up a "safe zone", where those who crossed the Salween River -- which forms the natural border between Thailand and Myanmar -- in Mae Hong Son are being accommodated.

His remarks came as the People of Salween River Basin Network, a civil rights group based in Mae Hong Son, urged the government not to push the refugees back, as the fighting between Myanmar troops and the joint forces of the Karen National Union (KNU) and Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) gained pace.

Lt Gen Kongcheep said a total of 2,200 people from the opposite side of the border have been offered shelter in the zone, with strict health and safety measures in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The area is placed under maximum control and has been made off-limits to unauthorised persons.

Before the fresh clashes broke out, many Myanmar citizens who had fled earlier waves of violence had begun to return across the border, he said.

However, the Salween network said many villagers, especially the elderly, women and children, feared for their safety, and many were reluctant to return to Myanmar.

The network alleged Thai soldiers were given orders by their superiors to tell the Myanmar villagers they must return, as their prolonged presence would hurt trans-border trade.

The network also said that Myanmar is carrying out air raids on offensive bases held by the KNU, which poses a danger to returning villagers.

Thai authorities should assess the situation using accurate information and reliable intelligence, the group said.

Authorities should allow humanitarian organisations and relief agencies to take part in the distribution of aid, the group added.

Last week, Mae Hong Son governor, Sitthichai Jindaluang, assured Katsunori Koike, a visiting United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officer, that the refugees have been given shelter, health assistance and other necessities as a humanitarian measure.

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