Burma Army Planning Large Scale Offensive Against Combined Karen Forces – Displaced People Fear Forced Return from Thailand

Despite Thailand’s reassurances to the United Nations that it would not force villagers displaced by fighting to return to Burma, recent meetings between local border officials from both countries has raised concerns among displaced villagers seeking temporary safety in Thailand.

In a recent meeting with the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Burma, Noeleen Heyzer, on January 17, 2022, media reported Thailand’s Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, said displaced villagers would be able to return to their country on a voluntary basis.

The recent fighting in Lay Kay Kaw areas south of Myawaddy Town resulted in more than 10,000 villagers fleeing their homes – around 3,000 of those crossed into Thailand.

Displaced people taking refuge in Thailand are now concerned they will be forced to return to their hometown as the Burma Army claim that they have regained control of the Lay Kay Kaw area after more than 30 days of fighting, including the use of airstrikes and artillery ground attacks.

A displaced person, taking temporary refuge on the Thai side, told Karen News they were concerned about news Thai and Burma local government officials were liaising to plan to send displaced people back over the border.

The displaced person who asked not to be named told Karen News.

“Thai officials came to speak [to us] with hand-held speakers telling us we could go back to Myanmar. When we told them we dared not to go back, they told us there is plan to send one hundred people a day back to Myawaddy’s Kyauk Lone Gyi camp under an arrangement with the Military’s [State Administration] Council.”

According to the displaced villagers, the Military Junta’s appointed State Administrative Council (SAC) is planning to receive displaced people through a temporary shelter in Myawaddy Town. Identities of the displaced are to be verified with the village leaders before they will be allowed to return to their respective villages.

A displaced villagers pointed out to Karen News that this process was a cause for concern for the displaced – many villagers and anti-coup protesters fleeing military prosecution would be left open for reprisals and arrest.

“We are afraid to go back with this process. Most of us are scared that we would be arrested or detained for interrogation.”

More than 500 of the 3,000 refugees, seeking safety in Thailand from Lay Kay Kaw area, have returned to their homes under the supervision of General Saw Mote Thone, a commander of the Burma Army’s sponsored Border Guard Force (BGF).

Despite the BGF assurances for their safety the return ended badly for the 500 plus villagers. On January 3, 2022 heavy artillery shelling killed a woman villager and injured three others who had returned to Palu Lay village. After the the deadly bombing attack, only a small number of people returned to the villages – others took refuge in temporary jungle and river banks’ shelters.

According to sources from the displaced community, the military’s State Administration Council local officials have contacted and ordered villagers – taking refuge on the riverbanks of Thaung Yin (Moei) River who were originally from Lay Kay Kaw new town, Yathit Gu, Palu Gyi, Palu Lay, Htee Mae Wah Khee, and P’He Klaw villages – to return.

A member of the Karen Youth Network from Lay Kay Kaw areas, who is helping displaced villagers, said it is impossible for people to return to their homes due to the presence of the Burma Army in Lay Kay Kaw new town and in other nearby villages.

“Everything was damaged in Lay Kay Kaw. The Burma Army is settling [it’s troops] in the Lay Kay Kaw administration office, schools, library, and homes. We are not reassured. There is also danger of unexploded ordinances. Nobody can guarantee that there is are no land mines there.”

During the meeting between the United Nations General Secretary’s special envoy to Burma Dr. Noeleen Heyzer and Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the UN envoy called for the Thai government to help prevent the escalation of conflict in Burma and to protect refugees who fled from these conflicts.

As reported by the local sources, the Burma Army has been reinforcing its supplies, munitions and troops on a daily basis in the Lay Kay Kaw, Palu Gyi and Palu Lay villages.

Sources close to the Burma Army said heavy fighting is likely to continue it is preparing to carry out a large scale offensive on Karen National Liberation Army’s combined forces and those anti-coup groups resisting the SAC in the Myawaddy – Kyauk Ket- Sone See Myaing – Wallay regions.

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