Thailand sends aid to war-torn country, but critics say it will only help junta

A Myanmar’s truck driver walks by his truck carrying aid before they leave the customs checkpoint near the Thai border with Myanmar, in Mae Sot

Thailand delivered its first batch of humanitarian aid to war-torn Myanmar yesterday, in what officials hope will be a continuing effort to ease the plight of millions of people displaced by fighting.

But critics charge that the aid will benefit only people in areas under the Myanmar military’s control, providing it with a propaganda boost while leaving the vast majority of displaced people in contested areas without access to assistance.

Myanmar is wracked by a nationwide armed conflict that began after the army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021 and suppressed widespread nonviolent protests that sought a return to democratic rule. The fighting has displaced millions of people and battered the economy.

Thailand sent ten trucks over the border from the northern province of Tak, carrying some 4,000 packages of aid to three towns in Kayin State, also known as Karen State, where it will be distributed to approximately 20,000 displaced people.

The parcels contained aid worth around 5 million baht ($138,000), mostly food, instant beverages and other basic items such as toiletries.

More than 2.8 million people in Myanmar are displaced, according to U.N. agencies, most by fighting that arose after the army’s takeover. They say 18.6 million people, including 6 million children, require humanitarian aid.

Carl Skau, Chief Operating Officer of the U.N.’s World Food Programme, said earlier this month that one in four of the displaced is at risk of acute food insecurity.

The initiative for what has been called a humanitarian corridor is being carried out by the Thai Red Cross, with funding from Thailand’s Foreign Ministry and logistical support from the army, which traditionally has played a major role in border activities.

Officials from Thailand and Myanmar’s Kayin State attended a send-off ceremony, which was presided over by Thai Vice Foreign Minister Sihasak Phuangketkeow. Myanmar’s Red Cross will handle distribution of the aid.

Drivers from Myanmar took the trucks across the 2nd Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, which crosses the Moei River on the border.

“That corridor puts humanitarian aid into the hands of the junta because it goes into the hands of the junta-controlled Myanmar Red Cross,” Tom Andrews, the U.N. independent human rights expert on Myanmar, said last week.

“So we know that the junta takes these resources, including humanitarian, and weaponizes them, uses them for their own military strategic advantage. The fact of the matter is, is that the reason that humanitarian aid is in such desperate need is precisely because of the junta.”

Andrews said the areas in desperate need are “conflict areas in which the junta has absolutely no influence or control whatsoever. So those are the areas we need to focus on.”

Large areas of the country, especially frontier areas, are now contested or controlled by anti-military resistance forces, including pro-democracy fighters allied with armed ethnic minority organizations that have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades.

Thai officials say the process of distribution will be monitored by the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management to ensure it reaches people fairly and equally. MDT/AP

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