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Myanmar troops fire warning shots at Thai boat

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Myanmar troops fire warning shots at Thai boat

Civilian craft was carrying border patrol officers on Salween River

A protester holds the Myanmar Student Union flag as others make the three-finger salute during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on Friday. (Photo by Stringer via AFP)
A protester holds the Myanmar Student Union flag as others make the three-finger salute during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on Friday. (Photo by Stringer via AFP)

Myanmar’s military fired warning shots at a civilian boat carrying Thai border patrol officers, security sources and a resident said on Friday, amid heightened tensions in border areas since the junta seized power nearly three months ago.

The shooting took place near the village of Tha Ta Fung in Mae Hong Son province, near the location where thousands of ethnic Karen from Myanmar fled military air strikes last month.

Thailand prevented most of the Karen from entering its territory and tens of thousands are sheltering in the jungle on the Myanmar side. Humanitarian groups say Myanmar forces have also opened fire on boats carrying aid to displaced people in recent weeks.

A spokesman for the junta did not answer phone calls seeking comment on the incident.

The Thai Ministry of Defence has said that all agencies under the ministry and the armed forces had been instructed to “be ready to handle problems and the impact from the violent situation and fighting in border areas”.

The two security sources said no one was injured in the shooting at the boat, which had hoisted the Thai flag.

“The Myanmar military unit was concerned about boats sending supplies to their opponents on the other side so they signalled the boat for inspection,” one of the sources told Reuters, adding that Myanmar officers had searched the vessel.

A restaurant owner in the area said the shots were fired into the water beside the boat on the Salween river.

“People are very frightened by these shootings and they don’t want to take their boats out,” said the 49-year-old woman who gave her name as Jumi.

The military has attempted to crush protests across Myanmar against its Feb 1 coup, killing more than 740, while fighting with ethnic groups along the border has also escalated.

Southeast Asian leaders, including Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, are due to meet in Jakarta on Saturday for talks on the crisis, which analysts fear could turn into an all-out civil war.

Some of Myanmar’s myriad ethnic armed groups, including the Karen National Union (KNU), which controls territory on the Thai border, have vowed to back the protesters and help overturn the coup.

Padoh Saw Taw Nee, the KNU’s head of foreign affairs, said in a message the shooting showed Myanmar’s military was “very aggressive and arrogant”. 

In Yangon on Friday, protesters marched to demand that Asean leaders “stand with Myanmar people”, ahead of the weekend Asean summit.

The meeting of Asean leaders and foreign ministers has drawn widespread criticism from activists, human rights groups and protesters for including the military regime.

In Yangon — where the anti-coup movement has been more subdued in the past two weeks for fear of crackdowns — protesters returned to the streets, flashing three-finger salutes of resistance.

“Mother Suu and leaders — release them immediately!” they shouted as they marched past the Sule Pagoda. “What do we want? Democracy!”

The protesters came from different Yangon townships, some carrying signs that read “Asean please stand with Myanmar people” and “Asean do you need more blood … to make the right decision?”

Also angered by the bloc’s invitation to Min Aung Hlaing was the so-called National Unity Government — a group of ousted lawmakers attempting to run a shadow administration.

On Thursday, they called on Interpol to arrest the senior general — the same day Myanmar state media announced the lawmakers in hiding were wanted for high treason.

Amnesty International’s Emerlynne Gil called Asean’s handling of Myanmar the “biggest test in its history”.

“The Indonesian authorities and other Asean member states cannot ignore the fact Min Aung Hlaing is suspected of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole,” she said.

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