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Thousands of Karen flee to Thailand after Myanmar airstrikes

Rights advocates urge concerted international action to prevent further mass atrocities

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: March 28, 2021 05:00 PM GMT

Updated: March 29, 2021 05:56 AM GMT

Thousands of Karen flee to Thailand after Myanmar airstrikes

Karen villagers take refuge in the jungle near the Thai border following Myanmar military airstrikes on rebel-controlled villages in Karen state on March 28. (Photo: Karen Education and Culture Department)

More than 3,000 ethnic Karen were forced to flee their homes in Myanmar’s Karen state to Thailand following military airstrikes.

The military launched airstrikes on five areas in Lu Thaw township of Mutraw district, including a camp for internally displaced persons near the eastern border on March 28, according to the Karen Women’s Organization.

“Many villagers are now hiding in terror in the jungle, and more than 3,000 have crossed to Thailand to take refuge,” the group said in a statement.

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It’s the second attack by fighter jets following nighttime air raids on Day Bu No village, Lu Thaw township, controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU), on March 27 that killed three civilians and injured seven others.

“We call urgently for concerted international action to prevent further mass atrocities,” the group said.

“We haven’t had airstrikes there for over 20 years. These were at night, so the capability of the Myanmar military has increased with the help of Russia and China and other nations, and that is deadly,” said David Eubank, founder of the Free Burma Rangers relief group.

At least two soldiers from the KNU were killed, according to Eubank.

The latest military offensive in Karen state came on the same day the ethnic armed group overran an army post near the border in an incident that killed around 10 people.

The mountainous state has been relatively peaceful besides minor clashes since three local militias including the KNU — one of the largest armed groups — signed a National Ceasefire Agreement with the government and the military in October 2015.

However, tensions flared again in 2018 following the deployment of six battalions to oversee road construction that prompted clashes and caused hundreds of people to flee into the jungle.

The state with a large Christian population has seen more than 60 years of conflict between the military and the KNU that has left over 100,000 refugees, mostly ethnic Karen, in camps along the Thai border.

The KNU and the Restoration Council of Shan State which operates near the Thai border have condemned Myanmar’s military bloody violence against peaceful protesters, pledging to support the resistance.

Hundreds of people who fled in the wake of the increasingly deadly crackdown have been sheltered in the KNU-controlled area, according to media reports citing officials from KNU.

The Karen account for about 5 million out of Myanmar’s 54 million people and are the third-largest ethnic group in the country following the Bamar and Shan. The majority of Karen, also known as Kayin, are Theravada Buddhists while around 15 percent are Christians. Many Karens were animists when Christian missionaries arrived in the 19th century.

While the military has launched offensives in ethnic areas, its violent crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protesters has continued in urban areas following the bloodiest day on March 27 that left at least 114 dead.

As of March 28, at least 459 people had been killed and more than 2,559 detained since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent non-profit organization founded by Burmese former political prisoners living in exile.

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