Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has instructed authorities to help bring home 162 Thais trapped in an escalating conflict in the China-Myanmar border town of Laukkai between Myanmar troops and an alliance of ethnic armed groups.
Mr Srettha said the Thai embassy in Yangon was coordinating with Myanmar authorities to rescue the 162 Thais and provide them with safe shelter. Efforts are now under way to repatriate all Thais from the area, government spokesman Chai Wacharonke said on Friday.
“The prime minister has instructed all relevant agencies to provide urgent assistance to all Thais and bring them home safely,” said Mr Chai.
The Irrawaddy, an independent Myanmar media outlet, on Thursday reported that about 500 foreigners, including nearly 200 Thai nationals, were being held by regime forces in Laukkai and being used as “human shields”.
The captives included 189 Thais and nationals of countries such as Nepal, Ethiopia and Laos, it said.
Humanitarian workers told reporters the foreigners had recently been rescued from online scam businesses operating in the northern Shan State.
However, a junta-controlled anti-human trafficking unit has sent them to military camps to use them as forced labourers to build bunkers, dig trenches and carry timber
The effort to rescue Thais from chaos in neighbouring Myanmar comes after at least 30 Thais, most of them farm workers, were killed during the Oct 7 rampage by the Hamas militants in southern Israel. Sixteen Thais were wounded and 23 are known to be among hostages taken by the Palestinian militants.
Heavy fighting erupted last week in Shan State where an alliance of ethnic minority forces battling for self-determination launched a series of coordinated attacks on junta positions.
Myanmar's ruling military says it has lost control of several towns on the border, including Chinshwehaw, neighbouring Yunnan province in China.
The United Nations said on Friday that more than 23,000 people had been newly displaced by the fighting, while Myanmar media outlets said thousands had fled to China.
Chinese media reports said displaced people were forming long queues to enter the country and some Chinese towns nearby were ready to evacuate should the conflict escalate further.
China's foreign ministry on Thursday urged all parties to "immediately cease fire", resolve the conflict through dialogue and ensure the stability of the border.
In a joint statement, the "Three Brotherhood Alliance" said the assault was intended to overthrow "dictatorial rule" in Myanmar and target criminal gangs running telecoms scams that they said were protected by the junta.
The area has become a hub for telecoms and other online fraud in recent years, and China has ramped up efforts to curb the crime, rounding up hundreds of suspects.
Foreign Affairs Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said earlier on Friday that he did not know what the Thai nationals were doing in northern Myanmar but there were probably "many types of work".
Coffins are lined up next to graves as a mass funeral takes place to bury victims of a military strike on a camp for displaced people near the northern Myanmar town of Laiza on Oct 10, 2023. (Photo: AFP)
Myanmar's junta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Myanmar has been in chaos since a military coup in February 2021 unseated a democratically elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Newly formed pro-democracy insurgent groups have in some areas teamed up with ethnic minority guerrillas who have been campaigning for decades for greater autonomy.