MAE SOT, Thailand (Reuters) - More than 1,000 Burmese villagers poured into neighbouring Thailand Sunday after renewed fighting between Myanmar’s army and ethnic Karen rebels, witnesses and officials said.
About 1,000 villagers escaped to the Thai border town of Mae Sot, adding to 200 who fled late Saturday when clashes erupted between Myanmar troops and militias from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) for the second time this month.
Fighting broke out in two locations on November 8 and a splinter faction of the Karen group seized parts of the Myanmar town of Myawaddy. More than 12,000 people poured into Mae Sot and five Thais were wounded when rocket-propelled grenades landed on the other side of the border.
The clashes underline tensions between the central government and Myanmar’s many armed ethnic groups, which have fought for autonomy since independence from Britain in 1948. More than a dozen have tenuous cease-fire deals with the government.
Myanmar’s military rulers have demanded the ethnic militias disarm and join a state-run Border Guard Force but most have resisted and the larger armies are braced for offensives, which could result in heavy casualties.
The government denied attempts by several leaders to form political parties to run in the November 7 election because of their refusal to transfer their fighters to the BGF. Most do not trust the government and believe Myanmar should be a federal republic.
Many analysts expect war is imminent, a scenario that will worry Thailand and key political and economic ally China, who fear protracted conflict, a refugee crisis and a disruption to trade and vital energy projects.
Reporting by Somjit Rungjumratrussamee; Writing by Martin Petty