Myawaddy Border Trade on the Verge of Surrender; Thai-Myanmar Relations

Myanmar Spring Chronicle – April 08 Scenes

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Myawaddy Border Trade on the Verge of Surrender; Thai-Myanmar Relations

Following the KNU/KNLA’s capture of military council installations, including camps and strategic positions near Thin Gan Nyi Naung along the Asia Road linking Myawaddy to Kawkareik, there’s a high probability—about 90 percent—that Myawaddy Town will fall under the control of ethnic armed groups.

The military council appears to acknowledge the impending loss of this vital city for Thai border trade and is making preparations accordingly. Two days ago, a Myanmar National Airline flight arrived in Mae Sot during the night, purportedly carrying civilians and presumably bank funds. However, reports suggest conflicting accounts, with some stating the flight carried only money, while others claim it returned after an hour and a half due to the absence of passengers. The Thai government has clarified that the flight contained solely civilians, without any military personnel or weaponry, disavowing any military involvement. It remains uncertain whether administrative and border trade officials from the Military Council were aboard the state-owned Myanmar airline. Presently, the bridge remains open, and immigration department staff on the Myawaddy side continue their duties.

Residents of Myawaddy, a border trade hub, face a difficult decision between fleeing or remaining. The specter of potential urban warfare looms large, with fears of airstrikes and artillery shelling leading to civilian casualties. Conversely, concerns persist about the looting of vacated homes and the risk of property damage from artillery fire or other causes. Instances of vandalism and fire outbreaks in abandoned areas further compound the dilemma, leaving residents uncertain about their next course of action.

Given the DKBA’s previous assault on Myawaddy during the 2010 election, the prospect of renewed conflict looms. Myawaddy, second only to the China-Myanmar border in trade volume, is a prized objective for the KNU/KNLA. The faction led by Saw Chit Thu, rebranded from the BGF and disassociated from the military council, holds sway near Myawaddy, overseeing legal and illicit trade along the Thaungyin River on the Myawaddy-Mae Sot border. This group controls much of the local gaming industry and serves as a base for online fraud syndicates known as Zhàpiàn. The group’s response to the evolving security landscape around Myawaddy is of keen interest.

Reports indicate that the BGF-reconstituted faction, boasting several thousand armed personnel, has mediated recent hostilities and managed captives following battalion takeovers.

While Myanmar grapples with these developments, Thailand monitors the situation closely, particularly Mae Sot’s security adjoining Myawaddy and border stability.

Thavisin, from the Pheu Thai Party, leading the government post-election, made a noteworthy statement suggesting the Myanmar military’s vulnerability and the need for dialogue over military measures. Typically, Thai officials refrain from intruding on Myanmar’s internal affairs beyond humanitarian and border security matters. This marks a significant departure, emphasizing diplomatic engagement over coercive tactics. The Thai government plans to convene on April 9 to devise a comprehensive strategy for the Myanmar issue.

Nevertheless, disparities may exist between the policies of the Thai government and military. The latter maintains a stronger rapport with the Myanmar military council, favoring border trade continuity and negotiated settlements in border areas over military intervention. Conversely, the Thai military, with its entrenched political involvement, may subtly pressure the government to maintain its current stance.