Thousands flee from Three Pagoda Pass Town, support and basic supplies a concern
November 9, 2010
Due to fighting which began yesterday in Three Pagodas Pass town between the DKBA and local Burmese SPDC forces, an estimated 10,000 refugees have now fled over the Thai-Burma border, and into ceasefire NMSP controlled territory. These refuges, judging the fighting to be a sever threat, fled without personal belongings or supplies. As a result of this sudden exodus, refugee encampments on Thai side of TPP and in NMSP controlled territory are likely to suffer sudden shortages of food, shelter, mosquito nets, and even the most basic food supplies.
On November 8th, a day after the national election, fighting erupted at 10:45 AM between the local Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) battalion No. 907 troops led by Major Aye One with another unidentified DKBA battalion against the Burmese State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No.283. Since then, four Three Pagodas Pass (TPP) residents estimate nearly 10000 people have left their homes during the armed clashes between the two groups. According to these witness most of the residents fled to the southern parts of TPP town where rubber plantations and orchards are located, while others fled to Jon-Kwee [Japanese Well] village and other places located in the NMSP controlled area. The majority of refugees so far have traveled to Jon-Kwee though it is 2 miles away, due to the greater security and support they get in NMSP territory, which currently retains its ceasefire with the SPDC. Alternatively, while residents were able to enter Thai side of TPP last night, the borders have been reclosed, leaving refugees only illegal crossings which effectively trap them in Thai territory, as they are placed under strict travel restrictions.
Mi Sam, a mother of three children, explained how she managed to flee from fighting between DKBA battalions and LIB. No. 283:
Yesterday around 11, when my two sons and I went back home from the market, we heard the gun and shell sounds; then we ran back to my home located in quarter No.4. At that time, most of my neighbors already left their homes. The gunshots were more and more, then, me and my three children ran without collecting anything from [our] home. Now, we want to go back and look at the condition of our home but many people suggested not doing that and no one dares to go back.
Ko Nyan Win, a snack shop owners whose home is located near the Sa Ya Pha (Burmese military intelligence) office, explained his fears after hearing the Sa Ya Pha office had been burned by the DKBA:
I am very worried [about] my house. When I left around 11:30 [AM], the DKBA burned down some government offices near my house. I also don’t know my shop’s condition. Most [people] got scared and ran away and as for my family, we had to leave everything behind.
According to a HURFOM field reporter, yesterday evening close to 5 PM, DKBA troops patrolled quarter to quarter announcing to remaining residents that after sunset DKBA soldiers would not be responsible for any accidental shootings that occurred when trying to differentiate between residents and Burmese troops.
At 7 PM yesterday evening TPP residents were still fleeing to Thai side for security. Thai authorities have given them temporary shelter first in a nearby temple, then later moving tem to a primary school that was further from the border and possible stray weapons fire.
An accurate number of the wounded and casualties amongst civilians’ has been difficult to judge. HURFOM has been able to confirm at least two cases in which civilians have been injured. Early this morning, before 10 AM, a woman and two teenage girls stepped on a landmine crossing into Thailand from the Burmese side of TPP through an illegal DKBA checkpoint originally controlled by Cpt. Htoo Aung. No other refugees were with them, but they were found by Burmese civilians that had already reached Thai soil, and were taken to an unknown clinic. Also before 10 AM a group of 7 Burmese refugees were struck by a mortar shell after having fled TPP Burmese side in front of a Thai resort. 5 of the victims from the mortar attack were civilians while 2 were monks
The major concern of the sudden exodus from TPP has been the volume of food and water available to residents fleeing. As refugee groups have been divided during their flight, mixed repots have come in about the number of refuges and the overall support they currently have. Numbers range between 9000 to 1000 over all in both NMSP controlled territory and on Thai side TPP. The break down is estimated to be 6000 in NMSP controlled territory and possibly 3000 on Thai Side TPP.
Nai Kon Tar, a truck driver from Three Pagoda town, explained his estimates of the refuges from the situation he witnessed so far:
Until now we have about 2500 people who have left their homes from the four quarters of Three Pagodas border town. Currently, the village is crowed with refugees included women, children and elderly persons. I guess another 6000 are now hiding in many rubber plantations outside of the town. The rest of another 2000 are temporary sheltered in TPP Thai soil. Most of these people who are currently here are factory workers [at factories] run by Thai businessmen.
While border-based support groups have reportedly been well coordinated, and local residents have provided some assistance, some refugees and witnesses predict there will be sever shortages of basic supplies if the displacement continues.
Nai Ong Pha, 44, a resident of Japanese Well village told HURFOM his concerns over how the large numbers of refugees would be supported:
For me I am worrying about the lack of food, drinking water and security because this village is much closer to the places where the fighting occurred. Right now, I have only saw some members of MSF [Belgium]. We need basic supports to survive here…because most [of the] refugees fled their homes with empty hands. Many children seem hungry and [are] crying as they have left their homes since this morning without having their morning time rice [lunch]. The NMSP’s relief team members came and surveyed the conditions. Hopefully they will come and assist [us] by tomorrow.
A mother with 2 children, who was temporarily sheltered in the Jon-Kwee Village, NMSP controlled area, described her concern of the lack of supplies:
As for me, I need to go back. It is very difficult to hide here as there are a lot of mosquitoes and bugs. My food will run out soon.
At the time of the writing of this report, HURFOMs reporters have confirmed that fighting has mostly stopped. However, the potential increase of Burmese troops to the area, and the possible involvement of the Karen National Union’s (KNU) Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) sets conditions that could lead to a significant increase in fighting with in the area, as well as compounds the number of residents who might additionally flee to either Thailand or NMSP controlled territory.
Refugees remain in Thailand and in NMSP controlled territory with no clear time frame of when they will be able to return home. This large number of displaced persons face a potentially sever risk from lack of basic shelter, mosquito netting, food, and water, if they remain unable to return home. HURFOM wants to highlight that while the Mywayddy/ Mae Sot area has seen significant attention and support, the areas around TPP also are in sever need of resource and medical support. The continued support of internationally based NGOs such as Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), Medicine Sans Frontier (MSF) (Belgium), and the International Rescue Comity (IRC) is crucial at this time.
Lastly, given the obvious dangers these refuges have faced, and could face if returned to their homes before fighting is conclusively over, HURFOM hopes that the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) will exhaust all efforts in working with the Royal Thai Government (RTG) to insure that these refugees will continued to be supported until conditions improve.