Thousands of Myanmar migrants flee Thailand

MAE SOT, Thailand, AP

Thai authorities arrested more than 700 illegal Myanmar migrants at a border town Thursday, but only after thousands of others tipped off about the swoop fled the country, police said.

Witnesses said 4,000 to 5,000 Myanmar workers hired at Thai factories around Mae Sot, 370 kilometers (230 miles) northwest of Bangkok, went by foot or truck to the river border with Myanmar late Wednesday and waded across. Myanmar is also known as Burma.

Police Maj. Gen. Chanwut Watcharapoot, deputy commander of Thai immigration police, confirmed that factory owners sent their workers back to Myanmar before Thursday’s operation, which involved 60 officers. He said those arrested would be deported quickly.

One unidentified Myanmar woman was found dead by other migrants in a field early Thursday. Police in Mae Sot suspected that she was raped and killed by other workers during the exodus. An estimated one million migrants from poorer neighboring countries Laos, Cambodia and particularly Myanmar have come to Thailand to do manual labor on farms, in textile factories and assembly plants and at construction sites. Since late last year, Thailand has deported tens of thousands of illegal Myanmar migrants, but many have sneaked back. Thai employers value them as a cheap source of labor but authorities regard them as a security risk.