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Thailand’s top diplomat visits Myanmar border amid clashes, evacuations

Thailand’s foreign minister has visited a border town near Myanmar, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, after days of clashes in which the military government’s troops were expelled by ethnic minority armed groups that displaced hundreds of residents.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara visited the Thai town of Mae Sot which lies across from Myanmar’s Myawaddy, which has been wrested out of the military’s control.

“Thailand wants to see peace and dialogue,” Parnpree told reporters, adding that it was considering alternative trade routes in case of road closures caused by the fighting.

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry said he would review preparations for a further influx of people from Myanmar.

Earlier this week Thailand said it was prepared to accept 100,000 people fleeing from Myanmar. But Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin warned on Thursday that the fighting should not spill into his country’s airspace.

Fighting between Myanmar’s military and ethnic minority armed groups has rocked Myawaddy this week, sending people rushing into Thailand, from where the boom of artillery shells and gunfire could be heard.

The conflict in Myanmar set off by the military’s 2021 coup regularly sends people fleeing across the two countries’ shared 2,400km (1,490-mile) border.

On Thursday, the Karen National Union (KNU) rebel group said it displaced troops loyal to the military-backed government, who were sheltering near one of the bridges on the Myanmar side.

 

Battlefield losses

As fighting intensified, the numbers crossing to Mae Sot from Myawaddy doubled this week to about 4,000 a day, according to the Reuters news agency.

Among those trying to cross into Thailand were Moe Moe Thet San and her son, residents of Myawaddy.

“I am afraid of air strikes. They caused very loud noises that shook my house,” she told Reuters. “That’s why I escaped here. They can’t bomb Thailand.”

The complete capture of Myawaddy would be seen as a humiliating defeat for the military government, which has suffered a string of battlefield losses in recent months that prompted rare criticism of its top brass by its supporters.

Myanmar military spokesman Zaw Min Tun confirmed to reporters late on Thursday that government soldiers “had to withdraw” from their base in Myawaddy, saying it was for their families’ safety.

He said the government and Thai authorities were in discussions about the soldiers but did not give any details about how many were involved.

Thailand, which says it is keeping neutral in the Myanmar conflict has pursued engagement, including aid deliveries, with its neighbour since Srettha came to power last August.

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