Thousands of people tried to escape from Myanmar to Thailand over the weekend after Myanmar warplanes attacked their villages near the border.
The villages being bombed were held by Karen ethnic guerrillas who had attacked a military post in the wake of the Feb 1 coup by Myanmar’s army.
Thai authorities on Monday denied forcing back over the border more than 2,000 refugees who had fled the air attacks.
However, a local official said it was government policy for the army to stop refugees at the border and deny access to outside aid groups.
Mark Farmaner, head of Burma Campaign UK, told Reuters that thousands of people had been forced to return to the Ee Thu Hta displacement camp on the Myanmar side of the border. Another activist group gave the number as over 2,000.
Video shot by a Karen villager and published by Reuters showed refugees boarding boats under the watch of Thai soldiers.
“Look, Thai soldiers told villagers to go back. Here, see old people have to go back. Look there, there are lots of Thai soldiers,” a Karen villager is heard saying. Authorities stopped Reuters reporters from accessing the area.
Thichai Jindaluang, governor of Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province, told reporters the refugees were not being pushed back and that they were in a safe place on the fringes of the border.
“Thai authorities will continue to look after those on the Thai side while assessing the evolving situation and the needs on the ground,” foreign ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said.
Human rights groups and the European Karen Network criticised the Thai government.
“Thailand’s heartless and illegal act must stop now,” said Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher on Thailand for Human Rights Watch.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Monday the government was prepared to accept refugees and denied claims that Thailand was supporting the Myanmar junta.