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False report of Myanmar soldiers' deaths blamed on radio miscommunication, all safe

Thirteen Myanmar soldiers earlier reported as having been killed in a clash with unidentified armed forces on the Thai-Myanmar border were actually lost in a forest but are now safe, according to the Myanmar authorities.

Myanmar also retracted its earlier report that an armed clash had erupted on the border in southern Ranong province, at the same location where 92 Thais were arrested last year.

Army deputy spokesman Winthai Suwaree said yesterday that the Thai authorities were informed that the inaccurate report was the result of miscommunication.

The 13 soldiers were patrolling in the area at a time when a bush-fire occurred, he said.

Cracking sounds caused by the fire were mistaken as gunfire by colleagues of the patrolling soldiers listening in on the other end of radio communications. After reporting to their base, they patrolling soldiers lost contact, which led the local Myanmar authorities to seek help from their Thai counterparts after the soldiers could not be located, according to the Thai Army spokesman.

"The latest report from the Myanmar authorities was that it was a misunderstanding. They asserted that there was no armed clash in the border area and there were no deaths at all," the spokesman said.

In Ranong, Colonel Uthit Anantananont, deputy commander of the 25th Infantry Regiment's Special Taskforce, which is responsible for the border area in question, said yesterday that the 13 Myanmar soldiers were found by their colleagues' search party deep in a forest in Myanmar.

The patrol team had 15 soldiers and only two of them had managed to find their way back to the base before the search began, Uthit said. "Now the situation is considered to have returned to normal in the border area between Thailand's Ranong and Myanmar's Kawthaung," he said.

He added that a trip by the 4th Army Area commander to Ranong to look into the matter had been cancelled after the latest report from the Myanmar authorities.

Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul yesterday also confirmed that there had been a misunderstanding, saying the cracking sound of burning trees was mistaken by the missing soldiers' colleagues as gunfire.

In July last year, Myanmar authorities arrested 92 Thais in the border area opposite Ranong's Kra Buri district for encroaching on Myanmar territory. Eighty-eight of them were eventually released but the rest have been detained on weapons and drug-trafficking charges.


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