Myanmar dissidents seize Thai hospital

RATCHABURI (AFP): Heavily armed guerrillas from Myanmar dissident group God’s Army stormed a Thai hospital early this morning and took around 700 patients and staff hostage. Up to 20 fighters from the ethnic-Karen militia, which is led by two twin boys, stormed the hospital in the town of Ratchaburi, 123 kilometres (70 miles) west of Bangkok. Seven hours into the drama, 10 elderly staff were released from the hospital and whisked away in a van. Thai Army commander General Surayudh Chulanont told reporters the gunmen warned Thai forces to keep away from the hospital and to stop firing mortars at their group along the border. “We have agreed to these two conditions,” he said. The guerrillas also called on Thailand to pressure Myanmar to halt an offensive against them and asked for medical treatment for injured comrades, officials said. Paveena Moonbutr, 21, a nurse trapped inside the hospital, told reporters on her mobile phone that the gunmen were armed with M-16 assault rifles and had rigged up remote control bombs around the building. “I saw it with my own eyes. I saw a big blue public bus drive into the front of the hospital, and three to four gunmen in uniform and some others jumped out,” she said. She said around 700 people were being held hostage in the hospital, a figure confirmed by the health ministry. “The deputy permanent secretary of the health ministry said there are around seven hundred people in the hospital,” a health ministry official told AFP. Thai police volunteer Chantas Tilokavichai said the fighters had rigged up a bomb packed with ball bearings at the entrance to the hospital and had threatened to detonate it if Thai forces tried to oust them. Television pictures taken inside the hospital by a Thai cameraman allowed in by the gunmen showed rows of patients sitting forlornly on wooden benches guarded by masked gunmen in green fatigues. God’s Army is a close ally of another group, the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors (VBSW), which held 38 hostages during a day-long siege at the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok in October. Gunshots rang out as the gunmen took over the hospital but there were no reports of casualties, health ministry spokesman Ampol Jindawattana said. Government spokesman Akapol Sorasuchart condemned the siege as a violation of Thailand’s sovereignty. “It is international terrorism,” he said. “The Army commander is in charge on the scene but final decisions will be taken by the prime minister,” he said, adding the incident was “more perilous” than the embassy siege. Police have had difficulty talking to the hostage-takers since telephone lines in the hospital were cut. The two young leaders of the God’s Army are believed by their followers to possess mystical powers and the group has pledged to fight to the death to install democracy in Myanmar.

Phuket News

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