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Thailand seeking 'humanitarian' solution for detained Myanmar journalists

·3-min read

Thailand said Tuesday it was seeking a "humanitarian" solution for three Myanmar journalists arrested after fleeing across the border, as protesters across the coup-hit nation marched for democracy on the 100th day of military rule.

The trio's employer -- the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) -- and the Thai foreign correspondents' club urged the authorities not to deport them, warning their lives could be in danger if they returned to the coup-hit country.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, triggering a mass uprising as large swathes of the population take to the streets to demand democracy.

The junta has responded with force -- shooting protesters, arresting suspected dissidents in night raids, and targeting journalists and news outlets by shutting them down.

Thai authorities on Tuesday confirmed the arrests, while foreign ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said they were seeking a way out of the case.

"Thai authorities concerned are coordinating to find possible humanitarian solution(s) to this case," Tanee told reporters.

DVB said their three journalists -- as well as two Myanmar activists -- were arrested during a random search in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

They appeared in court Tuesday and were charged with illegal entry, according to National Police deputy spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen.

"They all denied the charge at the Chiang Mai court this morning," he said, adding that the group would be held in detention while an investigation is underway.

"Repatriation would be decided after the court's decision."

- 'The world is watching' -

DVB's chief editor Aye Chan Naing, currently in Oslo, said in a statement they are appealing to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to "intervene to help guard their safety".

"DVB strongly urges the Thai authorities to not deport them back to Burma, as their life will be in serious danger if they were to return," he said, referring to Myanmar by its old name.

The UN refugee agency said it could not comment on individual cases.

But "generally speaking, people at risk of persecution should be given sanctuary", said a spokeswoman.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand warned Tuesday if the journalists were deported, they would face "certain arrest and persecution, if not worse".

"The world is watching what the Thai authorities do in this important case for press freedom in Myanmar and the region," it said.

A well-known news organisation within Myanmar, DVB started as an exile media outlet during the previous junta, broadcasting uncensored reports on TV and radio.

It moved into the country in 2012, a year after the military dictatorship loosened its grip, but had its broadcast licence revoked in March, sending its journalists into hiding.

Despite this setback, it has continued to report, posting regular Facebook updates -- as well as broadcasting on satellite TV -- about the daily protests and crackdowns.

- 100 days of military rule -

More than 80 journalists have been detained since the February 1 coup, according to local monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners -- which has tracked a total of nearly 5,000 arrests nationwide.

Security forces have also killed at least 781 civilians in brutal crackdowns, said AAPP -- though the junta has a much lower death toll and blames the violence on "rioters".

But protesters across Myanmar on Tuesday, the 100th day since the military seized power, continued to take to the streets, with crowds in Yangon chanting: "What do we want? We want democracy!"

burs-dhc/rbu