Allied rebel forces capture last battalion in Myanmar border town

Roughly 200 junta soldiers are sheltering in northern Myawaddy near a bridge to Thailand, residents said.
By RFA Burmese
2024.04.11
Allied rebel forces capture last battalion in Myanmar border town Thai soldiers keep watch at the Second Friendship Bridge connecting Thailand and Myanmar, April 11, 2024.
Pimuk Rakkanam/RFA

Updated April 11, 2024, 05:17 p.m. ET.

Anti-junta rebels and allied forces on the Thailand-Myanmar border have driven out the military's last battalion from a major trade hub in Myanmar's Kayin state, the ethnic Karen National Union said in a statement on Thursday. 

The Karen National Liberation Army -- the armed wing of the Karen National Union, or KNU -- the Karen National Defense Organization, and allied forces overran junta Battalion 275's base in Myawaddy at around 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, the KNU said.

Myawaddy is now fully controlled by rebel forces, said the KNU, bringing an end to their assault on junta positions in the town which began on April 8.

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An anti-junta fighter who took part in the ground assaults told RFA Burmese that rebels captured the battalion's base after junta troops refused to surrender.

"Initially, we attempted negotiations for their surrender, but when those efforts failed, we initiated the attack," said the fighter who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. "Upon our assault, they retaliated, and the operation lasted for more than a day ... [before] we successfully took full control of the battalion [base]."

The fighter said rebels had seized a large cache of weapons and ammunition, and are now "engaged in clearance operations" within the area.

At around 10 a.m., military fighter jets conducted two airstrikes in the vicinity of the battalion's base, said residents of Myawaddy, who added that "access to the area is restricted due to road closures," but government offices and police stations "appear to be functioning as usual."

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Myanmar soldiers are seen on the Myanmar side of a bridge across the Moei River linking to the district of Mae Sot, April 11, 2024. (Nava Natthong/AP)

Sheltering near border bridge

One resident said junta soldiers who retreated from the attack were sheltering near the No. 2 Friendship Bridge. The bridge, which connects Myawaddy to Thailand’s Mae Sot, is located 10 kilometers (six miles) from the two countries’ main immigration passageway and is mainly used for transporting cargo and goods.  

"They [junta troops] didn't surrender. They withdrew to Myawaddy’s No. 2 bridge,” said the resident, who declined to be named. “There are about 200 soldiers, including some injured, in the truck station near that bridge.”

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Members of the Karen National Liberation Army and People’s Defense Force examine two arrested soldiers after they captured an army outpost, in the southern part of Myawaddy township in Kayin state, Myanmar, March 11, 2024. (METRO/AP)

Another resident told they observed troops from Battalion 275 along with "nearly 100 family members" near the bridge, which Thai authorities closed to traffic in the afternoon.

"Now Bridge No. 2 is shut down," he said. "The junta’s troops and accompanying family members remain stationed at the bridge right now, and the other side has not accepted them yet."

In a statement issued later on Thursday, the KNU said junta soldiers who retreated to Bridge No. 2 "intended to seek refuge in Thailand, but were blocked and have become trapped."

Several sources in Myawaddy told RFA that the commander of the military's No. 44 Light Infantry Division was among junta troops trying to cross the border, and that Colonel Saw Chit Thu, the secretary general of the junta-aligned Karen Border Guard Forces was "coordinating their withdrawal to Thailand." They said "more than 1,000" residents of Myawaddy fled to Thailand to escape the fighting.

When contacted by phone, Saw Chit Thu told RFA that he was "unable to respond at the moment," without providing further details.

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A Thai military personnel (R) checks the bag of a Myanmar national after he cross over into Thailand, at the Tak border checkpoint in Thailand's Mae Sot district on April 11, 2024. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP)

The junta has yet to issue an official statement about the latest fighting in Myawaddy and attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun went unanswered Thursday.

Pro-junta media reported that Battalion 275 had "temporarily withdrawn" from Myawaddy, but said the town is still under the control of the military.

Thai response to border conflict

Allied forces seized junta Battalions 355, 356 and 357 in nearby Thin Gan Nyi Naung town on April 5, as well as parts of a trade route on the Asian Highway, forcing 67 junta officers, 410 junta troops, and 617 family members to request evacuation through Mae Sot’s airport in Thailand on Sunday, according to the KNU. Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs complied on humanitarian grounds.

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Thai military personnel stand guard overlooking the Moei river on the Thai side, near the Tak border checkpoint with Myanmar, in Thailand's Mae Sot district on April 10, 2024. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP)

Thailand's Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin later instructed Thai security forces and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to strictly prohibit Burmese aircraft from entering Thai airspace amid intense fighting in Myanmar, according to BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated media outlet.

BenarNews cited Srettha Thavisin as saying that Myanmar’s conflict is an internal matter. He told the Royal Thai Army and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that, in the event of ongoing conflict, they are instructed to inform Thailand's Chief of Defence Forces that the utilization of Thai airspace would be unacceptable, as Thailand does "not want tensions to escalate."

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Karen children walk along the riverbank at the Thai-Myanmar border in Mae Sot as Thai soldiers stand watch, April 11, 2024. (Pimuk Rakkanam/RFA)

Residents were queuing up at Friendship Bridge No. 1 to cross into Thailand as usual as of Thursday morning, according to people living in Myawaddy.

A Thai immigration superintendent quoted by Reuters said the number of people crossing into Mae Sot from Myawaddy had doubled to almost 4,000 a day.

Translated by Kalyar Lwin. Edited by Joshua Lipes, Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.

This story has been updated to include additional details about the capture of junta Battalion 275 as well as comments by Thailand's Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, as reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated media outlet.

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