Myanmar junta deepens violence with new air attacks in east

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An injured ethnic Karen villager from Myanmar rests as she is treated after crossing the Salawin river via boat at Ban Mae Sam Laep Health Center, Mae Hong Son province, Thailand on Tuesday March 30, 2021. The weekend strikes by the Myanmar military, which sent ethnic people to seek safety in Thailand, represented another escalation in the violent crackdown by Myanmars junta on protests of its Feb. 1 takeover. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

MAE SAM LAEP – The military launched more airstrikes Tuesday in eastern Myanmar after earlier attacks forced thousands of ethnic Karen to flee into Thailand and further escalating violence two months after the junta seized power.

Thailand’s prime minister said the villagers who fled the weekend airstrikes returned home of their own accord, denying that his country’s security forces had forced them back.

But the situation in eastern Myanmar appeared to be getting more, not less, dangerous.

The Karen National Union, the main political body representing the Karen minority, said the airstrikes were the latest case of Myanmar's military breaking a cease-fire agreement and it would have to respond.

The attacks came as protests continued in Myanmar cities against the coup Feb. 1 that ousted an elected civilian government and reversed a decade of progress toward democracy in the Southeast Asian country. Hundreds of civilians have been killed by security forces trying to put down opposition to the coup.

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday ordered non-essential U.S. diplomats and their families to leave Myanmar, expecting the protests to continue. The U.S. earlier suspended a trade deal and imposed sanctions on junta leaders as well as restricted business with military holding companies.

Tuesday's air raids in eastern Myanmar killed six civilians and wounded 11, said Saw Taw Nee, head of the KNU's foreign affairs department.

Dave Eubank, a member of the Free Burma Rangers, which provides medical assistance in the region, provided the same information on casualties.