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Anti-junta fighter killed during deportation from Thailand to Myanmar

One of three Burmese armed resistance fighters who sought medical assistance in Thailand was killed as Thai authorities handed them over to junta authorities en route to Myanmar, Radio Free Asia has learned.

The incident prompted Thailand’s opposition Commoners Party on Monday to condemn the Thai government for cooperating with Myanmar’s military regime in what it said was a violation of domestic and international law.

The three members of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force entered the Thai border town of Mae Sot, across from Myawaddy in Myanmar’s Kayin state, on April 1 seeking medical treatment, but were arrested by Thai authorities at the Thai-Myanmar border immigration gate. On the morning of April 4, they were sent back across the border to Myanmar’s Karen Border Guard Force, who arrested them and transferred them into the custody of junta troops.

Following their deportation, reports emerged that the three PDF members – Thiha, the Lion Battalion’s deputy platoon commander, and fighters Htet Nay Win and Saw Phyo Lay – were killed in junta captivity.

On Monday, the Lion Battalion spokesperson Anyar Thar told RFA that Saw Phyo Lay was shot as he attempted to escape during the handover and later died from his injuries. The status of the other two men remained unclear.

“When [the PDF fighters] learned that they were being handed over to the BGF [Border Guard Forces], they jumped out of the boat that was carrying them,” he said.

“Troops from both sides shot at them. [Saw Phyo Lay] who was about to die [from his injuries] was even handcuffed, put back into the boat and sent over to the BGF. This shows how good the relations are between the BGF and Thai authorities.”

Anyar Thar said that Thiha and Htet Nay Win have been sent to the junta’s Southeast Regional Military Headquarters based in the Mon state city of Mawlamyine.

Neither the junta nor the Karen Border Guard have released any news regarding the incident and attempts by RFA to reach Col. Saw Chit Thu, the head of Myanmar’s Border Guard Force, went unanswered on Monday.

Opposition condemnation

On Monday, Thailand’s opposition Commoners Party issued a statement criticizing the Thai government for collaborating with Myanmar’s junta and accusing it of perpetrating an “inhumane act” by assisting the junta in committing “war crimes.”

The statement also called on Thailand’s Immigration Department to publicly clarify why it violated international and domestic laws by repatriating the PDF fighters after they entered Thailand in need of medical attention.

“I do not accept the Thai government’s policy towards Myanmar anti-junta activists and refugee applicants,” Commoners Party spokesperson Kornkanok Khamta told RFA Burmese. “The government is sending them back to unsafe locations. We all have to show that we are one with the people of Myanmar.”

Two of the People’s Defense Force fighters from Myanmar are seen in the back of a vehicle before being transferred to Myanmar security forces earlier this month. Credit: RFA screenshot from Twitter

When asked about the Thai government’s response to the Commoners Party statement, Kornkanok Khamta said none was provided.

“They silently neglect the statements of other organizations as well,” she said.

Attempts by RFA to contact Thai Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kanchana Patarachoke went unanswered on Monday.

Human rights groups have also called on the Thai government to examine its immigration department’s handling of the three resistance fighters.

Speaking to RFA, Patrick Phongsathorn, a legal expert for the NGO Fortify Rights, urged the Thai government to investigate the situation as soon as possible and to prosecute the officer responsible for deporting the PDF members under Thailand’s anti-torture law.

Refugees fearful

Previously, Thai authorities have arrested Myanmar nationals seeking shelter in Thailand after fleeing fighting between the military and anti-junta forces and warned them to abide by Thai law, but mostly allowed them to stay on humanitarian grounds.

One Myanmar refugee in Thailand named Nikki told RFA that members of the Burmese community there are now worried for their safety after the three PDF fighters were arrested and returned across the border.

“This incident has seriously scared the Burmese people who are taking refuge in Thailand,” she said.

“We are too scared to even go out to buy food. Thai police are regularly arresting Burmese refugees in Mae Sot, targeting the undocumented and political refugees.”

Reports of the deportation came amid an April 5-8 attack by a combined force of the ethnic Karen National Liberation Army and the Lion Battalion on military and Karen Border Guard Force bases located north of Myawaddy.

Although details of the attacks were not immediately clear, injuries have been reported and nearly 10,000 residents of the area are believed to have fled the fighting to safety.

Some of the anti-junta fighters injured in the battle were taken to the Thai side of the border on April 9 and later arrested by Thai police.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Matt Reed.