June 8, 2009 / 10:05 AM / 10 years ago

Nearly 1,800 Karen flee Myanmar fighting - Thailand

MAE SOT, Thailand, June 8 (Reuters) - Nearly 1,800 ethnic Karen, most of them women and children, have fled to Thailand from Myanmar where the army has launched an offensive against Karen guerrillas, a Thai army commander said on Monday.

A total of 1,741 Karen have entered Thailand from eastern Myanmar since fighting erupted close to their camp on June 3, said Lieutenant General Thanongsak Aphirakyothin, whose unit operates along Thailand’s western border.

"They fled because of danger and fear of capture and forced labour by the Myanmar army," Thanongsak told reporters. "Most of the refugees are women and children."

Exiled groups said 3,295 people had fled the fighting.

Myanmar’s army began its offensive against the Karen National Union (KNU) on June 3 and fighting continued on Monday, KNU commander Kyaw Ny told Reuters.

The KNU, the country’s biggest rebel group, has been fighting for independence in the hills of eastern Myanmar for the last 60 years. The conflict is one of the world’s longest running insurgencies.

In February 2008, KNU leader Mahn Sha Lar Phan was shot dead at his home in a Thai border town in an assassination blamed on the regime in the former Burma, which has been ruled by the military for almost half a century.

The Thai army was in contact with international aid agencies to provide relief for the Karen who had been displaced, Thanongsak said.

(Reporting by Somjit Rungjumratrussamee; Writing by Kittipong Soonprasert; Editing by Martin Petty and Sanjeev Miglani)

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