Source Bangkok Post

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--More than 200 Myanmar villagers -- mostly women, children and the elderly -- have begun amassing near the Thai border in Mae Hong Son's Muang district amid news of a possible air strike and renewed fighting between rebel and junta forces.

Since Friday, the villagers have been gathering near a Thai military post, known as Knoll 585, as they are barred from crossing the border, a source said yesterday. The military post is located near Huay Pu Kaeng village in the district's tambon Pha Bong.

A source with the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), a Karenni political organisation in Myanmar's Kayah State, said the presence of a number of helicopters over its base since Friday afternoon serves as a warning sign that an air strike is imminent.

After the first two helicopters showed up and began patrolling on Friday afternoon, a second set showed up followed by a drone about 8.20pm, the KNPP source said.

Fears of an air strike drove those villagers to flee their homes and head to Thailand.

Another source said new skirmishes between Myanmar's military and KNPP guerrillas erupted after about a decade of non-fighting.

A recent attack on a Myanmar military base that resulted in a number of soldiers being killed led to renewed tensions, he said.

The loss of the soldiers prompted Myanmar's military to call in reinforcements brought in by air to strike back at guerrillas.

Prior to this new fighting, military engineers were deployed to the Thai border area for a road construction project.

Mae Hong Son's border command centre yesterday confirmed there have been clashes between the Myanmar troops and KNPP guerrillas in the neighbouring country.

Amphon Klinkhachonklai, village head of Ban Huay Duea, a village about 10 kilometres from the border, said gunshots, explosions and the sound of helicopters hovering were heard early on Friday.