Officials Worried About COVID-19 Spread As Myanmar Migrants Plan Protests In The North

Sompong Chingduang

The Immigration Bureau (IB) is in talks with Myanmar migrants to deter them from organising protesting in Thailand against the neighbouring country’s military junta, fearing such actions will worsen the local COVID-19 situation.

Authorities are on alert for more unrest in the Myanmar border town of Tachileik after anti-coup protesters in the neighbouring country reportedly vowed to step up rallies following reports of several activists being shot and killed by security forces in Myanmar over the weekend.

Thousands of Myanmar citizens have been protesting against the coup that overthrew the government of Aung San Suu Kyi on 1st February.

IB commissioner Pol Lt Gen Sompong Chingduang said he was ordered by national police chief Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk to inspect border areas in the upper North to ensure Thailand does not experience the fallout from the protests in Myanmar.

Pol Lt Gen Chingduang is leading an inspection team consisting of senior IB officers.

The team is due to visit Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and non-border zones in Lamphun. They will work with local authorities to stem potential COVID-19 infections spilling over from the long border with Myanmar.

He said the IB has learnt that some Myanmar migrant workers in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai may be organising their own anti-junta protests in Thailand, adding it could aggravate the COVID-19 outbreak situation.

The ongoing unrest in Tachileik, a town located on the opposite side of Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai, could also escalate and force people to flee to Thailand.

This notion is coupled with concerns about an uncontrollable spread of COVID-19.

The commissioner said no more foreign labourers can be accepted to work in the kingdom after its latest round of migrant employment registration has closed.

The IB has vowed to swiftly act in pushing back people illegally entering the country.

Pol Lt Gen Chingduang said he has instructed investigators from Immigration Division 5 and the IB to monitor the movements of migrants and get in touch with their leaders in northern provinces.

The officers are expected to remind migrant workers that staging protests on Thai soil is forbidden under the law. If they break the law, they will be liable to legal action, he said.

Meanwhile, the Tachileik-Mai Sai border pass reopened yesterday after Myanmar authorities closed it in response to growing tensions stemming from the anti-junta protests in Tachileik.

It was reported that border trade resumed about 1.30pm yesterday to allow freight trucks stranded on both sides to cross.

The protests in Tachileik have been sporadic and at times have moved close to the second Friendship Bridge which connects Thailand with Myanmar.

Tensions flared after three students, core members of a local protest group, were arrested by police.

On Saturday, the protesters rallied near the bridge, preventing more than 100 vehicles from crossing the border.

This prompted the Thai Border Committee (TBC) to coordinate with its Myanmar counterpart to resolve the issue.

TBC chairman Col Samrit Chattharawattanasakul said an arrangement was made for stranded drivers to help them cross on foot, noting authorities on both sides will return the vehicles at a later time.

Businesses on both sides have been monitoring the border situation. Pagaimas Viera, deputy chairwoman of the Chiang Rai chamber of commerce, said anti-junta protesters often converged near the second Friendship Bridge.


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