Thai police seeking anti-junta activists detain 108 Myanmar nationals in Mae Sot

RFA Burmese
Thai police seeking anti-junta activists detain 108 Myanmar nationals in Mae Sot
Courtesy citizen journalist

Authorities in western Thailand’s Tak province detained as many as 108 Myanmar nationals Wednesday in a series of raids on buildings believed to house members of anti-junta groups, confiscating what they claimed was military equipment.

The raids took place at around 1 p.m. in Tak’s Mae Sot district, along the border with Myanmar, and followed intelligence reports that members of Myanmar’s anti-junta People’s Defense Force paramilitary groups were being sheltered, according to reports from residents and the Bangkok Post.

“Thai military and immigration officers raided the [two] Ma Ruay Villa four-story buildings … making all the residents go out and sit in the streets,” a resident of a building near the compound told Radio Free Asia’s Burmese service, speaking on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal.

“Then they found two men with some drones and military equipment in an apartment. They took pictures and took them away. Then they let the other people in the building go and left.”

The Bangkok Post reported that authorities discovered more than 200 Myanmar nationals, including children, living in the buildings – many of whom “managed to flee.”

It said authorities detained 83 illegal migrants for questioning and seized “bullets, military equipment and uniforms, drones, badges of some resistance groups, and medical supplies.”

But sources told RFA, a news service affiliated with BenarNews, that as many as 108 people were detained in the raids and 106 were released after being interviewed by police. The two men held after authorities found them in possession of military equipment were reportedly released on Thursday.

The raids took place as a joint force of Chinese, Myanmar and Thai police held an anti-human trafficking meeting in Tak province, which was also attended by Myanmar’s chief of police.

A Myanmar national who fled conflict at home to take refuge across the border in Mae Sot told RFA that security in the town was noticeably tighter on Wednesday.

“There are continuous arrests because the Myanmar chief of police is here, and I don’t dare go out,” he said. 

Additional raids took place on Thursday, according to sources, but no arrests were made as those interviewed by police provided proof of legal residence and permits to work in Thailand.

Searching for activists

A man who witnessed the raids and was briefly detained by authorities told RFA that police had been asking people about the identities of two individuals in photos they were carrying. They also asked those they interviewed whether they were members of the Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar that has seen tens of thousands of government employees leave their jobs in protest of the military’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup.

“We told them that there were no CDM or political activists here, only refugees of conflict,” said the man, who also declined to be named for security reasons. “They told us that we can stay here peacefully, but if we do anything … such as organizing political activities or supporting political activists in Myanmar, they would arrest us.”

Residents were also warned not to photograph Wednesday’s raid or post information about it on social media, or risk arrest.

mae sot2.jpeg
A room in the buildings in Mae Sot raided by Thai authorities had military equipment, drones and uniforms, March 22, 2023. [Courtesy citizen journalist]

The man told RFA that the two men who were held overnight became suspected of having ties to the PDF because “when they opened their doors [to police] … they were wearing camouflage shirts.”

“At that point, the police opened all their storage containers and found some drones, followed by computers and cameras,” he said.

“The young men claimed that they had only arrived there that day and suggested [the equipment] might have been owned by previous tenants. The officers still took them away but released them later.”

Arrests on the rise

Following the military coup in Myanmar, police in Thailand have made regular arrests of people fleeing across the border to escape what has become an increasingly widespread conflict between junta troops and various armed resistance groups.

Sources say Thai authorities have significantly stepped up random raids and arrests of Myanmar nationals living in Mae Sot in 2023.

In January, the Myawaddy-Mae Sot Friendship Bridge, which connects Thailand’s Tak province with Kayin state’s Myawaddy township in Myanmar’s east, resumed operations for the first time since 2020, when the two countries closed their borders because of the coronavirus pandemic.

That same month, international watchdog Fortify Rights reported that the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand would investigate the Thai government’s treatment of Myanmar refugees after the group shared evidence of potential violations. They included “forced returns, arbitrary arrests, detention and extortion by Thai authorities.”

Also in January, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing hosted Gen. Chalermpol Srisawat, Thailand’s military chief of staff, at a beach resort in Myanmar’s Rakhine state for talks that focused on military relations and stability issues along their 1,500-mile (2,415-km.) border.

The three-day meeting was the eighth annual gathering for the two nations’ military leaders.

Myanmar’s military is squaring off with anti-junta forces that include People’s Defense Force paramilitary groups and ethnic armies on multiple fronts in embattled Kayah, Kayin and Shan states, as well as Tanintharyi region, all of which border Thailand.

Since the military seized power in Myanmar, the Foundation for Education and Development has reported that arrests of Burmese migrants have at least doubled with deportations also on the rise. The Thai NGO recorded 1,400 migrants and 181 arrests in 2022.

A recent report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that between 2,000 and 5,000 people returned to Myanmar each month in 2022. Most of them were deported. For those forced into exile, the risks loom large over their lives. 

According to the Migrant Workers Rights Network, the number of people crossing into Thailand from Myanmar increased from 100 per day in 2020 to 2,000 per day in 2022. Thai authorities reported that 60,000 migrants were arrested last year, including up to 45,000 that fled Myanmar. 


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