The first group of 41 Thais, left stranded in northeastern Myanmar due to clashes between Myanmar soldiers and ethnic rebel groups, have been evacuated from Laukkaing to Kengtung in Shan State, awaiting repatriation to Thailand.
According to a report from the Pha Muang Force of the 3rd Army Region, the 41 Thais - 23 men and 18 women - arrived at Kengtung around 10.30pm on Wednesday.
They are to be repatriated through the Myanmar border town of Tachilek to Mae Sai district in the northern province of Chiang Rai.
As of 11am on Thursday, the 41 Thais remained in Kengtung. After going through all legal procedures, they would proceed to the Mak Yang border checkpoint in Tachilek.
At the checkpoint, they would be met by Col Natee Thomsen, commander of the Thap Chao Tak Taskforce of the Pha Muang Force, who is a member of the Thailand-Myanmar township border committee (TBC).
From Tachilek, the 41 Thais would be transported across the 2nd Friendship Bridge over the Mae Sai River to Mae Sai district.
They would then be transported to Meng Rai Maharat military camp of the 3rd Army Region in Chiang Rai. There, they would undergo screening for communicable diseases, complete immigration procedures and meet with officials from the Social Development and Human Securities. They would also be permitted to meet their relatives.
The army will continue collaborating with the Foreign Affairs Ministry and other relevant agencies to facilitate the return of the remaining 246 Thais stranded in Laukkaing back to Thailand.
In a related development, deputy national police chief Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn said he on Thursday morning talked to Chinese officials of the Public Security Ministry for China to open a route to evacuate Thai nationals from Laukkaing into China.
Pol Gen Surachate affirmed that the Thai nationals stranded in Laukkaing were still safe.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin told reporters in San Francisco on Tuesday (local time) that the Ministry of Defence is planning to complete the repatriation of the 41 Thais from Tachilek by Thursday or Friday.
Government spokesman Chai Wacharongke said on Wednesday that the Thai army had coordinated with the United Wa State Army through the Thailand-Myanmar Township Border Committee (TBC) to facilitate the evacuation of the 41 Thais to Kengtung.
The group is part of the 164 Thais recently rescued by the Myanmar authorities. They had been either lured to work in illegal call centres or had fallen victim to human trafficking networks.
The 18 Thai women gather for a group photo, after they arrived in Kengtung, Myanmar, on Wednesday. (Photo supplied)