Fleeing violence in Myanmar, thousands camp along Thai border river

Heavy fighting between the Myanmar military, which seized
power in a coup last year, and resistance fighters has killed or displaced thousands
of civilians in this region and elsewhere.

Many have fled to Thailand, but poor conditions in refugee
camps there have prompted some to return to the Myanmar side of the border, and
human rights groups have called for more help for the displaced.

Reuters reporters on the Thai side of the Moei river on
Friday saw an estimated 2,000 men, women and children living under tarpaulin on
the opposite bank in four separate locations.

One woman from the camp, Sabal Phyu, 42, had waded across
the loosely patrolled border to collect donated food and bottled water, before
returning to the Myanmar side of the river.

“Over there, we received good aid donations but it was
very crowded and difficult to live. Here, we have more freedom,” Sabal
Phyu told Reuters.

Sabal Phyu said she initially crossed into Thailand with her
husband and four children but came back to the border area after being packed
into an empty cattle barn with other refugees near the Thai town of Mae Sot.

About 8,000 Myanmar refugees are staying in temporary
shelters in Thailand, according to the International Committee of the Red

A spokesperson for Myanmar’s military government did not
answer calls from Reuters seeking comment.

Asked about the Thai camp conditions, Thailand government
spokeswoman Ratchada Dhanadirek said the country was “taking care of the
refugees” and carrying out its duties “according to international
human rights standards.”

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The United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR said on Friday it
had not been granted access by the Thai government to the sites in Mae Sot
where refugees are being hosted and also cannot access the Myanmar side of the

UNHCR has supplied mosquito nets, sleeping mats, blankets
and facemasks to support the humanitarian response being led by Thai
authorities, spokesperson Kasita Rochanakorn said.

The deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch said Thailand
needed to do more to support those displaced by fighting in Myanmar.

“Thailand must recognise that their humanitarian
obligations to refugees involve more than just allowing some food and medicine
packages across the border,” Phil Robertson said.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted a
civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1, triggering
protests and sporadic clashes in the countryside between anti-junta militia and
the army.

More than 1,400 civilians and protesters have been killed by
Myanmar security forces since the coup, according to the Assistance Association
of Political Prisoners activist group.

The military has said those figures, widely cited by
international organisations, are exaggerated.

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