Thai police escort a group of Myanmar refugees crossing from Myawaddy, Myanmar, to Mae Sot, Thailand. CNS photo

BANGKOK – Church workers have rushed humanitarian aid to thousands fleeing to Thailand from Myanmar to escape fighting between ethnic militia and the military.

“Myanmar people feel unsafe to live there,” said Suree Vinitchop, director of Santhawamaitri Suksa school run by St Paul de Chartres nuns in Mae Sot.

“The violence has also spilled over to the Thai side,” she said.

Fighting broke out on Nov 8 between Myanmar troops and rebels belonging to the Karen ethnic minority who seized key government offices in Myawaddy, on the Thai-Myanmar border.

The violence came just one day after the military dictatorship’s first elections in 20 years.

Suree led a Catholic team on Nov 9 to aid Myanmar civilians who fled to Thailand.

“Villagers living in at-risk areas on the Thai side of the border were evacuated to safer areas,” she said, adding that the team will plan other kinds of assistance after studying the situation further.

According to Thai media reports, at least 10 people, including Thais and Myanmar villagers, were wounded when stray shells landed on Thai territory.

The fighting forced at least 20,000 Myanmar people, mostly Karen civilians, to flee to Thailand. They were allowed to take refuge at the Border Patrol Police unit in Mae Sot near the border.

Father Rangsipol Plienphan, secretary of Nakhon Sawan diocese, which covers Mae Sot district, said he will provide aid once he gets first-hand information about the situation.

“I hope the negotiations will work out so the refugees can return to their country,” he said

Thailand shelters around 110,000 Myanmar refugees in nine camps along the border. Some have been there for more than two decades. •

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