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Thailand Does Not Intend To Take In More Refugees From Myanmar


It has been two months to the day since the coup in Myanmar when the military seized power from a democratically elected government. More than 530 civilians, including children, have been killed during the protests. Fighting has increased between the country's military and ethnic minority militias. Reporter Michael Sullivan has traveled to the Myanmar border, and he joins us now. Michael, thanks for being here. I mean, what is the significance of this escalation of violence between the military and these militia groups?

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Oh, it's definitely an escalation. And that's why I'm here on Thailand's westernmost border with Myanmar along the Salween River because in the last 10 days or so, Rachel, Myanmar's military has launched multiple airstrikes against territory controlled by the Karen National Union, or KNU, just across the river. And that hasn't happened in nearly 20 years. The KNU is one of these ethnic minority groups who've been fighting for greater autonomy for decades. And those airstrikes sent thousands of people fleeing across the river to safety here on the Thai side. They followed a KNU attack on a Myanmar military outpost that left at least 10 soldiers dead or wounded. And there are reports of another attack against the military by the ethnic Kachin militia in the north of the country. It claims to have killed 20 members of Myanmar's military on Wednesday. So all of this as the almost daily nationwide protests against the military continue.

MARTIN: How has the Thai government responded to the influx of refugees there now?

SULLIVAN: They're not happy because Thailand already hosts more than 100,000 refugees who fled previous military crackdowns. It doesn't want anymore. The area where they've been crossing is now pretty quiet, no new arrivals today, according to a Thai army major I spoke with there. And he says he expects things to stay quiet. But I think that's doubtful. And the Thais have prepared some camps for more if they do, in fact, come. But Thailand still hasn't condemned the coup makers. It's still close to Myanmar's military. Thailand, Rachel, was one of only a few countries to send a representative to the military's Armed Forces Day last Saturday, even as security forces killed more than 140 civilians that same day.

MARTIN: What's the international community saying at this point about the situation in Myanmar?

SULLIVAN: It's getting grim. The U.N. special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that a bloodbath is imminent if the U.N. doesn't take more forceful action. And she and others are talking about a full-on civil war not being out of the question. And a group of lawmakers who represent Aung San Suu Kyi's deposed government, they're calling on these ethnic militias to band together with them to fight the military and are dangling the offer of a new constitution that sees Myanmar's becoming a federal state with far greater autonomy for these ethnic minority groups, something they've been demanding for decades.

MARTIN: So, I mean, what's the military doing at this point? Have they shown any signs of relenting to this pressure?

SULLIVAN: No. And with China and Russia in particular blocking any attempts by other Security Council members to impose harsher penalties on the military, it knows it's protected for now at least. And remember, Myanmar's military sees itself as the only institution that can hold a fractious nation together, the only one that can keep it from descending into anarchy.

MARTIN: Reporter Michael Sullivan along the Thai-Myanmar border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.