U.N. envoy seeks Thai help to halt deterioration of Myanmar crisis

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha meets with the U.N. Secretary-General's special envoy on Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, January 17, 2022. THAILAND GOVERNMENT HOUSE/Handout via REUTERS

BANGKOK, Jan 17 (Reuters) – A United Nations envoy on Monday called on Thailand’s support to prevent a deterioration in the crisis in neighbouring Myanmar and welcomed assurances that refugees fleeing military operations would be protected by the Thai government.

Noeleen Heyzer, the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy on Myanmar, met with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to court support for international efforts to help displaced people and press Myanmar’s junta to commit to a five-point peace plan it agreed to with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Myanmar’s military has longstanding ties with Thailand, which experts say has been measured with its criticism of the junta, concerned that it could get flooded with refugees if the army steps up operations against opponents.

Myanmar’s military has been fighting on multiple fronts since seizing power last year, cracking down with deadly force on protests while intensifying operations against ethnic minority armies and newly formed militias allied with the ousted government.

The junta has defended the operations as necessary to fight “terrorists”.

Prayuth, a retired general who led a coup in 2014, said Myanmar’s problems were complex and its situation should be addressed “gradually with understanding and through building trust with Myanmar’s leader.”

Prayuth told Heyzer Thailand had a “humanitarian area” and refugees were returned only on a voluntary basis.

Several international organisations have told Reuters they have no access to that area.

Ratchada Thanadirek, a government spokeswoman, declined to comment on the access issue, but said Thailand provides assistance based on international humanitarian principles.

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