BANGKOK- More than 2,000 ethnic Karen people have fled their villages in eastern Myanmar after deadly attacks by government troops in the past week, a humanitarian group said Saturday.
Troops have shot dead several ethnic Karen people, burnt down houses, arrested villagers and forced others into labour since January 17, according to Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a group that provides humanitarian assistance to displaced people in Myanmar.
The reports could not be verified immediately, but similar attacks in recent years have forced tens of thousands of Karens to flee, many ending up in overcrowded camps across the border in Thailand.
There are no large scale offensives at this time but over 2,000 people have been displaced in attacks this week while villagers were shot to death by Burma Army patrols, FBR said in a statement.
Aid groups are bracing for a rise in refugees from military-ruled Myanmar into neighbouring Thailand and China ahead of the country's first elections in two decades this year.
Myanmar's junta, which has ruled for almost five decades, wants dozens of ethnic groups to join the political process, but most have resisted, saying they do not trust the government and have nothing to gain from taking part in the polls.
The government plans to recruit thousands of rebel fighters to join the army's border patrol units, either voluntarily or by force, and has threatened an all-out offensive on ethnic militias if they do not comply.
The Karen National Union, branded terrorists by the junta, is one of the biggest of the armed ethnic groups that have been fighting against the government for greater autonomy since independence from Britain in 1948.
Critics say Myanmar's army is also seeking to neutralise the Karen and other ethnic minorities to seize rich natural resources for logging and mining, a crucial revenue source.
(Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Paul Tait)