MAE SOT(Thailand) - DEFYING international calls to relent, Myanmar's junta is still hunting down activists involved in September's monk-led protests, causing scores to flee to Thailand, fugitives and aid workers said on Wednesday.
'They will not stop,' said one 36-year-old former political prisoner who arrived in the Thai border town of Mae Sot on Jan 1, after three months in hiding in Yangon, the old capital and hub of the pro-democracy demonstrations.
His account of a dramatic escape to Thailand exposes as a lie the junta's assurances to United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari in November that it had stopped its arrests.
As Dr Gambari was passing on the generals' promises to the UN Security Council, police were holding the man's mother for a week to force her to reveal the names, addresses and phone numbers of her son's friends and relatives, he said.
'Dr Gambari may tell them to stop arresting people but they just carry on,' he said.
He asked not to be named as his wife and children remain in Yangon. She has to report to the authorities every week, he said.
Having been imprisoned twice two decades ago for taking part in a failed 1988 uprising, the activist knew he would be a target of the junta's crackdown last September, and decided to go to ground immediately.
'I stayed in friends' houses - a new house each week - but the authorities got to know all the houses,' he said. 'On Dec 25, I decided I had to flee. If I had been arrested, I would have been sent to prison for a long time.'
Knowing he was on a wanted list, he evaded military checkpoints on the road to Thailand by hiding in a truck beneath crates of fresh crabs. The driver bribed soldiers not to search the vehicle, saying any delay would ruin the meat, he said.
'Like a death sentence'
Even though the crackdown started more than four months ago, a steady trickle of fugitive men, women, children and Buddhist monks are turning up in Mae Sot as their bolt-holes are slowly uncovered.
'Some people left immediately but some went into hiding and are only coming out now,' said Mr Nay Tin Myint, a senior member of the 1988 student-led uprising who spent 15 years in prison - seven in solitary confinement - before fleeing in May 2007.
Along with an exiled branch of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, he said he was helping 83 people, including 22 monks, who had fled since September.
'We have new-comers all the time,' he said.
A worker at another refugee agency in Mae Sot, who asked not to be named, said four times as many fugitives were now crossing the Thai border compared to before the crackdown.
With Bangkok refusing to allow the United Nations refugee agency to start the asylum process for new arrivals, all those who make it across the border live in constant fear of arrest and deportation as illegal migrants.
'It would be like a death sentence for me,' Mr Nay Tin Myint said. 'They have accused me of being a terrorist. I would be sent to prison for a very, very long time.' -- REUTERS