Myanmar army attacks force 2,000 Karens to flee: Aid groups
Aid groups yesterday expressed concern for more than 2,000 ethnic Karen villagers hiding in the eastern Myanmar jungle after they fled their homes to escape attacks by government soldiers.
The exodus took place in the past week as Myanmar's army shot and killed three villagers, burned down homes and forced a number of people into labour, according to humanitarian group Free Burma Rangers (FBR).
"There are no large-scale offensives at this time but over 2,000 people have been displaced in attacks this week while villagers were shot to death by Burma Army patrols," said a statement from FBR, which uses the country's former name.
Similar army crackdowns in recent years in the eastern region, where the ruling junta has been battling Christian-majority Karen rebels for decades, have forced huge numbers of villagers to flee their homes.
Tens of thousands of these refugees live in camps across the border in Thailand but those displaced this week are hiding in the Myanmar jungle, according to the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), an aid group.
"They could not bring many materials, especially blankets, and now the cool season is very cold and they do not light fires because if the (army) see them they will be shot," said Saw Steve of the Thailand-based CIDKP.
"If the (army) operation still goes on they will be in trouble. If they have to hide in the jungle there will be health problems," he said, confirming that around 2,000 villagers had fled and could run out of food.
Analysts say the junta wants to rid the country of the last vestiges of activity by ethnic insurgents, who seek greater autonomy, before holding national elections promised some time this year.
Around 4,000 villagers escaped to Thailand in June when the regime stepped up its campaign against the Karen rebels, one of the few remaining ethnic insurgent groups yet to sign a peace deal with the junta.
In August thousands of refugees poured across the border into China from the northeast of Myanmar, after deadly clashes between junta forces and ethnic Chinese rebels.