More than 2000 Thai nationals living close to the border with Burma have taken part in an evacuation drill as fighting continues in eastern Burma and with it, the risk of stray artillery landing on Thai soil.
Around 20 villages in Chiang Mai province and Tak province were included in the exercises yesterday, conducted by the Thai army’s Third Army unit, and public disaster prevention experts.
A local in Fang district, north of Chiang Mai city, said that stray artillery shells often land in Thai villages alongside the border, disrupting local livelihoods.
“There isn’t much fighting at the moment because now is monsoon season, but once the monsoon is over, there will be more fighting,” he said. “We haven’t been given this training for quite a while so [yesterday was] quite a big one.”
A drill was conducted inside a football stadium in the border town of Mae Sot yesterday, organised by the Thai National Security Council. Similar training was given to civilians along Thailand’s border with Cambodia when fighting erupted earlier this year.
Thai authorities are also reportedly taking note of Burmese nationals who unofficially cross the border into Thailand and shelter in Thai villages. Groups of community watchmen have also been formed to alert police to suspicious foreigners.
The Burmese government continues to launch attacks against ethnic armies in the country’s eastern and northern border regions. Refugees have spilled into China in recent months following the end of a 17-year ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which a similar rupture in relations with the northern faction of the Shan State Army has seen fighting break out in central Shan state.
But its battle with the Karen National Liberation Army, and more recently the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, has caused refugees to flee back and forth across the Thai border, while on several occasions Thai civilians have been injured by stray fire.
Chalaungchai Chayakan, a senior official in the Thai Army’s Third Army Area, told media recently that the new Burmese government was looking to wipe out ethnic armed groups.