Rebels push over 600 junta personnel out of Myanmar-Thailand border town

Junta troops requested emergency patriation through the Thai border, Thai officials say.
By Kiana Duncan for RFA and RFA Burmese
2024.04.08
Rebels push over 600 junta personnel out of Myanmar-Thailand border town A Myanmar National Airlines plane carrying family members of the junta on the night of April 7, 2024.
Citizen Journalist

Updated April 8, 2024, 02:04 p.m. ET.

Myanmar junta forces, pushed out by rebel groups at Kayin state's border township of Myawaddy, have requested to be evacuated with their family members through a Thai border town, Thailand’s foreign ministry said on Monday. 

“After receiving the said request, and upon considering the urgency of the situation and the possibility of an evacuation of Myanmar personnel and their families to safe areas, a decision was made at the government level to approve the request from Myanmar on humanitarian grounds,” said the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement. 

Around 617 personnel have requested evacuation, including 410 soldiers and 207 family members, according to Thai media

Allied rebel armed groups in Kayin state, which border’s Thailand Tak province, have suspended some of the junta’s local government offices in the major trade hub township of Myawaddy since Saturday, said a local businessman.

“At Friendship Bridge No. 1 also, immigration is issuing papers for people to cross [over the border], working as usual,” he said, declining to be named for security reasons. “The usual police, Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs and Bureau of Special Investigation were not seen at Friendship Bridge No. 1.”

Friendship Bridge No. 1 connects the Thai city of Mae Sot with Myanmar’s Myawaddy and has been run by Myanmar’s junta since it reopened in 2023 after a three-year hiatus. 

The Karen Nation Union, working with guerrilla armies, or the People’s Defense Forces, and the Border Guard Forces on Saturday’s maneuver, has not issued any updates about their hold on Myawaddy since the Thai ministry’s announcement. 

The group announced on Saturday it captured Thin Gan Nyi Naung village in Myawaddy district, still 12 kilometers (seven miles) from the border. In 2023, it seized a mountain overlooking Myawaddy, and took control of the city’s Asian Highway in December. 

While these liminal successes at the border could mark significant economic and security changes, there are other strategic trade routes and military positions the junta still has a tight grasp on, said Dulyapak Preecharush, an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Thailand’s Thammasat University.

“Now, the opposition groups have more power than the [junta] in this area and will become the powerful stakeholder there,” he said. “However, despite the Tatmadaw's [the military of Myanmar’s] failure in defending the city [Myawaddy], other military camps in Kayin state and its headquarters of Southeastern Regional Command in Mawlamyine have not been captured.”

Non-political aid

According to the Thai foreign ministry, one flight arrived from Myanmar at Mae Sot’s airport on Sunday. The ministry did not elaborate, but said the junta has since requested that remaining flights for Monday and Tuesday be canceled.

A meeting will be held at the Government House on Tuesday to “assess the situation” and “determine a course of action for Thailand,” the statement continued. 

The Karen Nation Union, or KNU, and Myanmar nationals in Mae Sot told RFA that the junta had sent the Myanmar National Airlines plane to Mae Sot to bring back the troops, but negotiations between the Myanmar and Thai sides appeared to have "failed" and the aircraft left without any soldiers.

A former military officer, who requested not to be named for security reasons, said that the junta "did what they should do" as a governing body, but described its management of the situation as poor.

"They lack military tactics and an effective distribution of power," he said. "Their management style is based on old principles and is ineffective.”

KNU spokesperson Padoh Saw Taw Nee also suggested that the Myanmar National Airlines plane returned with no one on board due to a breakdown in negotiations between the junta and Thai officials.

He said of the surrendered junta forces that the KNU "didn't force them to cross the border and that they are allowed to return."

The junta has yet to release a statement on efforts to repatriate its troops and attempts by RFA to contact junta spokesperson Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun went unanswered Monday.

Thailand's neutrality

Thailand’s Ratchamanu task force, based in Tak province, has stressed the country’s firm neutral stance among all warring factions in Myanmar.

“In line with humanitarian principle, Thailand would not take side with Myanmar troops nor ethnic forces but we give assistance where applicable,” Task Force Commander Col. Nattakorn Reuntib told RFA. Soldiers, regardless of their political association, would be disarmed, given basic assistance and repatriated, he added.

Thailand’s foreign ministry has not responded to RFA’s inquiries as of this writing. 

This development – the ethnic armies having more control over the border – could prompt Thailand’s officials to re-examine their operations in Mae Sot, said political analyst Panitan Wattanayagorn.

“Who controls the bridge must control immigration,” he said, adding that new groups may be more flexible on the border than the junta was. “The Thai officers must renegotiate with the new groups to make sure there is no real surge or increase in terms of crossing borders illegally.”

Fearing more clashes, residents flee

Meanwhile, following the fall of Thin Gan Nyi Naung village to rebel forces, sources told RFA that residents of the area began leaving their homes on Sunday in anticipation of renewed fighting.

A resident of Myawaddy township said that junta troops have tightened security on the streets.

“The situation is complicated downtown," the resident said. "Wealthy families and businesspeople have left their homes. Those living near the General Administration Office have fled.”

The resident was unable to provide an exact number of people displaced from central Myawaddy.

Access to the township has been cut off, while district level offices and ward administration offices have been closed since Sunday, residents said.

Junta troops and soldiers from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army are patrolling in convoys and conducting inspections in some areas of the town, they added.

RFA attempted to contact Saw Khin Maung Myint, the junta's spokesperson for the Kayin state government, for an update on the situation in Myawaddy, but received no response.

Edited by Elaine Chan, Taejun Kang and Joshua Lipes.

This story has been updated to include additional information about the Myanmar National Airlines flight to Mae Sot and residents fleeing Myawaddy in anticipation of renewed fighting.

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