04/30/2021, 13.39
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Ethnic Karen flee to Thailand as poverty grows in Myanmar by leaps and bounds

by Francis Khoo Thwe

At least 8,000 people are set to cross the Salween River on the Thai border. Clashes between Myanmar’s military and armed Karen forces group are intensifying. For the UN Development Programme (UNDP), at least 25 million people in Myanmar will fall into dire poverty by next year. Swimmer Win Htet Oo is giving up on the Tokyo Olympics so as not to compete for the putschist regime.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Thousands of ethnic Karen are set to flee across the border into Thailand as a result of air strikes in northern Kayin State (picture 1). Clashes between Myanmar’s military and Karen armed forces have been escalating for more than a week.

Although the Karen National Union (KNU) signed a ceasefire with the government in 2012, the Karen military wing, along with those of other ethnic groups, have decided to fight the putschist junta and defend the civilian population from the violence and harassment by the security forces.

Four days ago, Karen forces destroyed a military outpost on the west bank of the Salween River, killing 13 soldiers. Three Karen fighters were also killed.

According to the Karen Peace Support Network, at least 8,000 ethnic Karen have taken refuge along the Salween, waiting to cross the river into Thailand, but it is not certain that the Thai military at the border will let them in.

A month ago, Thailand was accused of turning away 3,000 refugees, a charge rejected by Thai authorities.

Meanwhile, in Myanmar the economic situation is becoming increasingly difficult. Due to the civil disobedience movement many banks, offices, and many businesses are closed while travel is impaired.

The pandemic is making matters worse. According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), at least 25 million people in Myanmar will fall into dire poverty by next year.

According to a report by the UN agency released today, the number of people below the poverty line has increased by 11 per cent since the start of the coronavirus epidemic.

Following the coup d'état three months ago, the security in the country has also deteriorated, pushing the poverty rate up by 12 per cent. As usual in such situations, women and children are the first victims.

Despite the poverty, resistance to the military dictatorship continues undaunted. The decision by a swimmer, Win Htet Oo (picture 4), not to compete for Myanmar in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics met with great support on social media.

“The image of me walking behind the flag in the Parade of Nations and smiling – pretending everything was all right – quite frankly disgusted me," said the young man.

From an early age, Win Htet Oo’s dream was to participate in an Olympics. He had met the 50m freestyle Olympic selection time at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, and was chosen by the Myanmar Olympic Committee to go to Tokyo.

He asked to the International Olympic Committee to allow him to compete as Independent Olympic Athlete but his requested was turned down.

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See also
New protests in Bangkok as hundreds of students demand the government's resignation
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