Two thousand villagers from Burma who have fled into Thailand in fear of starvation and a brutal military are only a fraction of the coming dry season's potential influx, international relief workers and exiles say. Observers worry that Thailand's mushrooming economic problems will encourage already weary officials to resist giving new arrivals even temporary sanctuary. Thai border officials have said that hundreds of ethnic Karen have sought shelter over the past few days in forests inside Thailand in the Umphang district of Tak province, northwest of Bangkok. 'There are many, many more who want to come when the rains finally stop. Many are trapped behind junta lines,' one veteran border watcher said. 'The rainy-season flooding of the Salween River has eased, allowing some villagers to cross into Thailand.' The Burmese junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, has waged a bitter campaign to exterminate ethnic guerillas. Refugees who flee across the border routinely complain that the junta's troops appear to have a free hand to rob, harass and even kill in areas where the population is deemed to be sympathetic to the rebels. The Burmese economy's dire decline under the junta has also made it excruciatingly hard for villagers in 'hostile' territory to scrape a living from the land. But Thailand is already home to more than 100,000 officially displaced Burmese - Bangkok shuns the word refugees which smacks of a long-term problem - in an estimated illegal population of a million, mostly Burmese, foreigners. Security officials at the border have quickly rejected the latest arrivals' claims to require a safe haven. 'There is no fighting going on there now. They are just looking for better jobs because the economy in Burma is so bad,' one official in Bangkok said. The Thai military sparked controversy by attempting to shunt Burmese back across the border during the last dry season. Although various officials later claimed they would never push anyone directly into the firing line, they also made it clear that Thailand was unwilling to see its 'refugee' population grow any bigger. The Karen National Union is still waging a bitter resistance campaign for significant autonomy from its traditional ethnic Burmese rivals in Rangoon. However, the junta's increasingly powerful forces have wiped out all its permanent bases inside the country. Any refugee traumas at the border are likely to strain Thailand's traditionally prickly relations with Burma.