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Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera

Hundreds of Thais trapped by clashes in northern Myanmar being evacuated

Thai nationals ride a bus to Mae Sai, Thailand on November 18 after being evacuated from Myanmar [Handout: Royal Thai Army via AFP]

Over 200 Thai nationals caught in the crossfire of clashes between soldiers and armed ethnic-minority groups in northern Myanmar are being rescued and flown back to Thailand, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced.

Myanmar’s military, which took power in a 2021 coup, is battling armed resistance from an alliance of three ethnic-minority groups and pro-democracy fighters. The fighting is especially intense in the country’s north, with armed fighters taking over key towns near the Chinese border and blocking trade routes.

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry says they are working with Myanmar authorities to evacuate a group of 266 Thais, along with an undisclosed number of Filipinos and Singaporeans, who are stuck in the town of Laukkaing in the northern Shan State.

The group will receive clearance to enter China and will then fly from the Chinese city of Kunming on two chartered flights to Bangkok. There, they will be screened for human trafficking and criminal records, the foreign ministry said.

The groups are expected to arrive in Thailand late Sunday night, the Bangkok Post reported.

Authorities previously said some people trapped in Myanmar were victims of human trafficking, and others might be involved in telecom scams.

Southeast Asia, including Myanmar, has become a hub for telecom and other online fraud, according to the United Nations, with hundreds of thousands of people trafficked by criminal gangs and forced to work in scam centres and other illegal operations.

The latest push to evacuate Thai nationals from Mynamar comes a day after a separate group of 41 Thai nationals were repatriated by land back to Thailand.

Operation 1027

Myanmar plunged into crisis when generals seized power from the elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup in February 2021.

Millions took to the streets to oppose the takeover and advocate for a return to democracy. When the military responded with force, some civilians took up arms, joining forces with ethnic armed groups who have long been fighting for self-determination. At least 4,185 civilians and anti-coup activists have been killed in the violence since, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Myanmar non-profit tracking the crackdown.

The latest offensive against the military, code-named Operation 1027, began in Shan State near the border with China on October 27. It is led by the Three Brotherhood Alliance, a grouping of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA).

The operation’s aim is to eradicate “oppressive military dictatorship”, and fighting has since spread to other areas of the country, including western Rakhine and Chin states, bordering Bangladesh and India.

More than 200,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, according to the United Nations.

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