“We have been preparing for some time and we can temporarily accommodate around 100,000 people in the Thai safe zone,” said Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara, Thailand’s foreign minister, as fighting continues between the Myanmar military and his opponents for control of a border town.

Thailand shares a 2,400-kilometer border with Myanmar, which has been plunged into chaos since a junta seized power in a coup in 2021, toppling a democratically elected government. The civil war in the Southeast Asian country has intensified in recent months and forces opposed to the military have advanced into several previously peaceful regions of the country.

On Saturday April 6 and Sunday April 7, local media reported intense fighting between the Burmese army and groups opposed to the junta near the Burmese town of Myawaddy, separated from the Thai town of Mae Sot by the Moei River. Fighting periodically breaks out along the border between Thailand and Burma and dozens of Burmese people take refuge in Thailand before returning home when calm returns.

“Special” flights to repatriate Burmese

Although there is no “mass evacuation” underway, according to the head of Thai diplomacy, people are crossing the border. The latter stressed that it remained open and that trade continued in Mae Sot and Myawaddy. “There is no fight, trade continues, even if it is decreasing,” he said, adding that trade had fallen by around 30% over the past year.

Myawaddy is Burma’s third border crossing point. According to the junta’s commerce ministry, 1 billion euros worth of goods passed through there during the last twelve months. Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and senior Thai officials met to discuss the border issue. “The Prime Minister is concerned that the situation could worsen,” Mr Parnpree said.

On Monday, the Thai government announced that the Burmese junta had requested and obtained permission to carry out “special” flights to repatriate Burmese in Thailand, after fighting at a strategic crossing point in Burma. Thailand is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and does not distinguish between refugees and other migrants.

However, tens of thousands of people who have fled Burma since the 1980s are already living in informal camps set up by Thai authorities near the border.