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Thais trapped by Myanmar fighting repatriated, Thai army says

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Forty-one Thai nationals, trapped in northern Myanmar amid a surge in fighting between junta troops and armed ethnic-minority groups near the Chinese border, returned to Thailand on Saturday, the Thai army said.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced across Myanmar as the military government, which seized power in a 2021 coup, battles a coordinated offensive by an alliance of three ethnic-minority groups and pro-democracy fighters.

The 41 Thais returned from Shan State at the Tachileik-Mae Sai border crossing through coordination between Thai authorities and the Myanmar army, the Thai army said in a statement.

Thai authorities are working to repatriate at least 264 Thais trapped near Laukkai city, it said.

Thai authorities have said some of those trapped in Myanmar were "victims of human trafficking" and some might be related to telecoms fraud gangs.

Southeast Asia, including Myanmar, has become a hub for telecoms and other online fraud, according to the United Nations, with hundreds of thousands of people trafficked by criminal gangs and forced to work in scam centres and other illegal online operations.

The offensive launched last month and called "Operation 1027" after the date it was launched, is the biggest the junta has faced in years.

The groups have captured several towns and military posts across the country and overrun parts of northern Myanmar in areas bordering China.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by William Mallard)