Hundreds of Mon refugees are fleeing into Thailand as the possibility of fighting increases after the New Mon State Party (MNSP) last week rejected proposals to become a Border Guard Force.
Escalating tension in Burma’s northeastern Shan state following a similar rejection by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) has also forced dozens across the border into Thailand’s northern Chiang Mai province, Wa locals say.
Demands by the Burmese government that all ceasefire groups transform into border militias have been largely rejected, despite threats of military action by the Burmese army.
Additional troops have reportedly been sent to Burma’s central Mon state, close to Ye township. An NMSP representative told DVB that hundreds of people had arrived at the Halockhani refugee camp in eastern Thailand in recent days.
“Many people from areas deep inside Burma are fleeing to Halockhani camp,” said Nai Chay Mon. “We were able to provide temporary shelter for 225 mothers and children at a middle school inside Halockhani camp. That was all we can do.”
More are reported to be arriving at the camp. The NMSP said on Friday last week that it would not meet the junta’s demands, which would see it forced to reduce troop numbers and subordinated to the Burmese army.
Nai Chay Mon added that NMSP and government troops are “vigilantly watching each other” and that some of the group’s offices have been closed down.
The border guard issue looks set to further destabilise Burma’s already volatile ethnic states, the majority of which lie along Burma’s borders with Thailand, China and India.
China has already warned against unrest along its border, following an outbreak of fighting last year between Burmese troops and an ethnic Kokang group in Shan state which had refused the transformation. The fighting forced more than 30,000 refugees into China.
The junta is looking to consolidate its support base prior to elections this year, but decades-old ceasefire agreements with nearly 20 ethnic armies are looking increasingly tenuous. Ethnic strife has plagued the military government since it came to power in 1962 and has since underpinned much of the country’s political turmoil.
The UWSA said last month that Burmese troops had blocked the flow of food into Wa state, a ‘special region’ of Shan state, in a sign of looming hostilities.
Similarly, troops have moved closer to the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of Burma’s main ceasefire groups, which is also resisting the demands to transform.