Thailand prepares Myanmar evacuation plan

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BANGKOK, Sep 27 (Reuters) Thailand has prepared a plan to evacuate Thais from Myanmar if violence erupts there, putting three Air Force cargo planes on standby to fly them home, officials said today.

They said security forces along the Thai-Myanmar border had been told to prepare for a possible influx of refugees fleeing army suppression as happened after 3,000 people were killed in 1988 as Myanmar troops put down an uprising.

Although they were not caught up in Myanmar's largest anti-government protests since 1988, 200 Thais in the country's largest city, Yangon, were told to keep in touch with the Thai embassy and given assembly points for possible evacuation.

''The situation doesn't warrant an evacuation so far, but when it does, messages will be relayed to group leaders to meet at contact points for evacuation,'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Jarungvat said.

Facing the most serious challenge to its authority since 1988, the Myanmar junta admitted that one man had been killed and three wounded yesterday when soldiers fired warning shots and tear gas at crowds.

Protest leaders, most of them from the revered Buddhist monkhood, said at least five monks had been killed as soldiers and riot police tried to disperse the biggest crowds in a month of marches against grinding poverty and 45 years of military rule.

Thai generals, who ousted elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup last year, said they were ready to send C-130 cargo planes to bring Thais home if violence broke out in Myanmar, also known as Burma today.

Thai Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas cancelled his two-day trip to meet Myanmar generals on Thursday due to the unrest.

''We haven't talked to the Burmese military leaders since the protest started, but we hope everything will improve soon,'' Thai Supreme Commander General Boonsrang Niumpradit said.

But more bloodshed seemed inevitable as monks on Burmese-language foreign radio stations urged the clergy not to yield.

''We would like to call on the student monks to keep on struggling peacefully,'' one said on the Burmese-language service of the BBC. ''Five monks have sacrificed their lives for our religion.'' Chumporn Polrak, governor of the northern Thai border province of Tak, said security forces were braced for the influx of refugees.

''If they come, we will have to give them food and shelter, just on a humanitarian basis,'' he told a Bangkok radio station.


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