By Saw Yan Naing
Thai officials have denied entry to 216 ethnic Karen refugees from Burma who fled from a Burmese military offensive against an armed Karen rebel group, according to an official of the Karen Refugee Committee.
The group, including women and sick children, traveled by boat along the Salween River in order to seek secure shelter at the Thailand-based refugee camp.
Saw Tu Tu, an official of the northern Karen Refugee Committee, told The Irrawaddy, "216 refugees came by two boats to enter the refugee camp on Thai soil, but local Thai authorities didn't allow them in."
He said that Thai authorities said they didn't believe the attack was still going on in the Karen refugee villages in Karen state.
"Thai authorities said they didn't hear any sounds of gunfire, and there was no fighting there," he said.
Mahn Sha, the general secretary of the Karen National Union, said, "They [Karen refugees] can not survive in the jungle anymore. They are out of food and medicine. Many children and old women were sick during their travel. They climbed many mountains in the rain without shelter."
The group was sent back to the Ei Tu Hta refugee camp in Karen state near Mae Hong Son District in Thailand. Karen groups have recently fled from nine villages in northern Karen State, a Karen Refugee Committee leader said.
Saw Peter, an official of Ei Tu Hta camp, told The Irrawaddy, "It is overcrowded in Ei Tu Hta camp. There are insufficient houses, toilets and medicines there."
"Security is also one of the main points we are worried about, because the camp is located between Burmese military forces," he added.
There are 586 houses in Ei Tu Hta refugee camp and more than 3,200 people. The population is currently suffering from malaria and diarrhea, according to Saw Peter. The camp was established in 2006.
More than 4,000 villagers are currently hiding in the jungle in the area, according to the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People.
Burmese troops have increased military operations in Taungoo, Nyaunglebin and Papun districts since the end of April.