Army air strikes killed six villagers in Myanmarâ€™s eastern Kayin state Tuesday, as thousands of ethnic Karen people who sought refuge in Thailand were turned back by Thai authorities, and three rebel armies in Myanmar warned they might let a cease-fire lapse and fight to protect civilians from government forces.
The Karen National Union (KNU), which opposes the military regime that seized national power in a Feb. 1 coup and has provided refuge for protesters and striking workers, said the six killed were from Htee Phado village in Shwegyin township.
Myanmar forces also conducted two air strikes in areas controlled by KNUâ€™s 5th Brigade in Hpapun district, the KNU said. RFA could not reach a military spokesperson for comment on the bombing raids.
The military also bombed villages in Hpapun district on March 27 and 28, killing and injuring some civilians, including children, and forcing about 10,000 people to flee their homes, the KNU said.
As tensions from the coup and bloody crackdown spilled into border regions, the latest flare-up came after the KNU captured a Myanmar army base camp housing Light Infantry Battalion 394 along the border with Thailand on March 27, killing 10 soldiers, including a deputy battalion commander of the Myanmar Army.
Thai authorities pushed back more than 2,000 people to the Ei Tu Hta displacement camp in Hpapun district, after they fled air strikes Monday evening, an official from a Karen advocacy group said.
But the Thai Army returned about 2,000 of them to their displacement camp in Myanmar because they said the Myanmar Army had not target the Ei Tu Hta internally displaced persons (IDP) camp, according to Naw Kâ€™Nyaw Paw, general secretary of the Karen Womenâ€™s Organization.
â€œThey said the IDP camp was not hit by the Myanmar Army, but the refugees are too afraid to return, so they are just staying in the mountains and in nearby jungles,â€ she said. â€œThey were forced to return from the other side by boat, group after group â€” more than 2,000 of them.â€
A few thousand other Karen refugees arrived in the Thai border district of Mae Sariang, she said.
â€œThere are now more than 10,000 refugees in (Myanmar)Â and about 3,000 in Thailand,â€ Naw Kâ€™Nyaw Paw said. â€œThousands of them haven’t crossed into Thailand yet, but they are taking refuge on the other side of Thanlwin River which is in Thai territory.â€
The activist called on Thailand and the international community to press the Myanmar military to stop attacking civilians, reopen roads, and send medicine and food for the refugees.
The Karen news agency KIC also said that thousands of refugees from Ei Tu Hta camp and villagers living along the SalweenÂ River, nearly 10,000 people, had arrived at the border.
â€œAccording to information we gathered, there are about 7,000 or so refugees from [KNU Battalion 5â€™s area],â€ he said. â€œSo with the 3,000 who fled to the Thai border yesterday, the total number has reached more than 10,000, but not all had entered Thailand yet.â€
Starting Monday, Thai authorities had been pushing back the 3,000-odd Karen refugees who started arriving a day before in Thailandâ€™s Mae Hong Son province, said Pornsuk Kerdsawang, a member of Friends Without Borders Foundation, a Thai NGO.
â€œFrom March 29 onward, Thai authorities have been trying to push them back into Myanmar,â€ Pornsuk told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated on-line news service.
Three civilians died and two houses were burned down during the March 27 bombings, the KNU said.
The Thai government said it has prepared seven temporary camps for more than 40,000 people expected to take refuge in Thailand following the military coup in Myanmar.
Â Late Tuesday, Tanee Sangrat, a Thai foreign ministry spokesman, said that 545 of the 3,000-odd mostly Karen refugees had returned home of their own accord.
â€œIt is Thailandâ€™s policy not to push back anyone fleeing from fighting in Myanmar,â€ Tanee said.Â
â€œSome have gone back voluntarily as they have depleted their food supplies that they brought from their villages across the border in Myanmar. They often stay a few days until they are convinced that it is safe to return.â€
Tanee also confirmed that some of the refugees had been taken to a hospital in Mae Hong Son, but did not say how many.
Millions of Myanmar refugees have fled to Thailand since the 1990s to escape conflict between armed ethnic groups and the Myanmar military.
Ethnic armies issue warning
The ethnic armies that comprise the Three Brotherhood Alliance â€” the Arakan Army (AA), the Taâ€™ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) â€” said Tuesday they might not renew a unilateral cease-fire with the Myanmar Army.
TNLA spokesperson Lt. Col. Mai Aik Kyaw told RFA that leaders of the three rebel groups are discussing violence directed at peaceful protesters and other civilians by the military regime since the coup began to decide whether to continue their one-way truce, which expires Wednesday.
â€œAs a result of the actions taken by the Myanmar Army following the military coup, we are reconsidering out unilateral cease-fire,â€ said a statement the groups issued.
Civilians in northern Rakhine state, where a cease-fire between the AA and Myanmar military has been in place for nearly four months, say they fear that fighting could resume without a truce extension.
The alliance condemned the crackdowns and demanded that Myanmar soldiers and police stop the attacks on civilians that have killed more than 500 people in brutal assaults on protesters and residents in the eight weeks since the military takeover that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
â€œIf not, our Three Brotherhood Alliance will have to support and cooperate with our own oppressed brethren and multiethnic people who are waging the Myanmar Spring Revolution in self-defense against the Myanmar Army,â€ their statement said, referring to the local name of the domestic civil resistance efforts.
The Myanmar military has not yet commented on the threat.
Violent attacks on protests claimed 20 lives nationwide in the largest city, Yangon, and several other cities and towns, witnesses said.
RFA and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Thailand-based Myanmar NGO, recorded the deaths of at least 14 people in Yangonâ€™s southern suburbs.
A burned body was discovered in the morning on a street in Yangonâ€™s South Dagon township, where protesters erected heavy barricades to defend themselves from indiscriminate gunfire into streets, wards, and houses, after another burnt corpse was found on March 27 in Mandalay.
Rumors circulated on Monday that a police officer in civilian clothes killed and set the man ablaze in an act of revenge, locals said. The rumors prompted security forces in Mandalay to enter the area, shooting their weapons and making arrests.
RFA could not independently confirm whether the policeman in Mandalay had been killed or whether the two men had been burned alive or set fire after they had died.
RFA could not reach military regime spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment on the incident.
Lethal force in Yangon townships
Several videos have emerged online showing security forces entering and shooting in South Dagon township during the past five days.
A South Dagon township resident said there had been shooting all night in ward 56 and that a burnt body found on the street near a teashop was that of a male in his late teens.
â€œSecurity forces removed sandbags in wards 70 and 71 on Monday, though there was no shooting,â€ she said. â€œBut we heard a lot of gunfire in ward 56 the entire night last night.â€
Other residents described the scene as a battlefield, with machine-gun fire ringing out and people on the streets being shot on sight. Soldiers and police used lethal force in wards 70, 71, 56 and 57 because protesters had put up barricades against them and shown strong resistance, residents said.
One person was killed and five other people injured Monday during a crackdown by security forces in Yangonâ€™s Thanlyin township, a resident said.
â€œThey came in shooting at about 5 p.m.,â€ he said. â€œOne was killed and about five were injured. One was hit in the groin, and we heard he is in critical condition.â€
In Thaketa township, across the Yangon River from Thanlyin, a man was shot in the head when police and troops fired at a group of protesters, a witness who declined to give his name told RFA.
â€œOne died in Yanpyay ward, and four were wounded,â€ he said. â€œOne was hit on the lower right side of the chest, one hit in the thigh, another hit on his right hand.â€
â€œThe one killed was hit on the top of his head by a rubber bullet,â€ he said. â€œHe was trying to throw something at them when a hail of bullets hit him and he didn’t even get to the hospital.â€
Other residents said junta forces used heavy weapons and grenades against the street barriers and shot at random into small alleys.
Shooting in Tanintharyi region
Two protesters were killed by security forces in Kawthaung, the southernmost town of Tanintharyi region, residents said
â€œThe shooting started at about 10 a.m. while we were still preparing for the protest,â€ a local said. â€œA young man about 20 years old was killed. They didnâ€™t use heavy weapons but tear gas and live ammunition. They came in at us from both sides.â€
Videos shot by witnesses show police using navy boats to patrol the waterfront and shoot at protesters.
In Muse, northern Shan State, soldiers and police wearing civilian clothes shot dead a man Tuesday morning, local residents said on a Facebook post.
RFA has recorded a total death toll of nearly 500 since Feb. 1.
The AAPP said that as of Tuesday, authorities had detained 2,608 people in relations to the military coup, and put the total number of people killed at 521, but said the actual figure could be higher.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a news briefing Tuesday condemned the killing of more than nonviolent protesters and bystanders by Myanmar security forces on March 28, noting that the military said in advance that it might shoot protesters in the back or in the head.
â€œAnd they made good on that threat,â€ he said, adding that four children, including a five-year-old boy, were among those killed.
â€œWe condemn these and other widespread violations by Burmaâ€™s security forces in the strongest terms, and we continue to call on the military regime to release all those people who have been unjustly detained, stop its attacks on civil society members, journalists, labor unions, halt the killings by security forces, and return to power the democratically elected government,â€ Blinken said.
â€œThe United States is committed to working with its allies and partners to hold the perpetrators of these abhorrent acts accountable,â€ he added.
Reported by Soe San Aung and Lu Seng for RFAâ€™s Myanmar Service, and by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. Translated by Thane Aung and Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.