More than 15,000 people from Myanmar shelter in Indian border state - official

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FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Myanmar nationals including those who said they are police and firemen and recently fled to India flash the three-finger salute at an undisclosed location

By Devjyot Ghoshal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The number of people from Myanmar seeking shelter in India has swelled to more than 15,000, with more likely to cross over as fighting intensifies in parts Myanmar following a coup, an Indian government official said on Tuesday.

The influx into the small, northeast Indian state of Mizoram, which shares a porous, mountainous border with Myanmar, began in late February as policemen fled to avoid having to take orders from a junta trying to suppress opposition to the Feb. 1 coup.

By April, about 1,800 people from Myanmar - including several lawmakers - had crossed the border but the number has recently grown to more than 15,400, according to the vice chairman of Mizoram's State Planning Board, H. Rammawi.

"It is increasing day by day," Rammawi told Reuters by telephone, adding that many people from Myanmar were going to the homes of relatives making it difficult to track numbers.

Communities in Mizoram and some parts of Myanmar have close ethnic ties, with extended families often strung across both sides of the border.

About 6,000 of the people from Myanmar are in Mizoram's capital of Aizawl with others scattered in five districts, according to data shared by Rammawi.

Rammawi said that residents and non-government organisations were taking care of the people but the state government had sought assistance from federal authorities.

"Medical aid and their rations are very important," he said, adding that some people from Myanmar had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

With fighting intensifying in northwest Myanmar's Chin State, opposite Mizoram, Rammawi said he expected the numbers seeking refuge in India to increase.

The Myanmar hill town of Mindat, about 100 km (60 miles) from the border, has seen some of the most intense fighting since the coup after a militia took up arms against the junta. Thousands have since fled from the town.

"More people will be coming," Rammawi said.

Several thousand villagers have fled from fighting in eastern Myanmar into Thailand since the coup.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel)

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