Thailand warns Myanmar’s rivals against using its soil for harm: ministers

But an expert said ministers’ comments may not be enough to restore public confidence in border security.
By Kiana Duncan and Pimuk Rakkanam for RFA
2024.04.24
Mae Sot, Thailand
Thailand warns Myanmar’s rivals against using its soil for harm: ministers Minister of Defense Sutin Klungsang (R), Minister of Foreign Affairs Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara (C) and Minister of the Interior Anutin Charnvirakul (L) give a press conference at Mae Sot International Airport on April 23, 2024.
Kiana Duncan/RFA

Thailand has warned Myanmar’s junta and rebel groups against using its territory for “their own sake,” Thailand’s defense minister said, amid fears that fighting in eastern Myanmar could spill over the Thai-Myanmar border. 

Over the weekend, Myanmar junta forces battled anti-junta insurgents in the Myanmar border town of Myawaddy, opposite the Thai town of Mae Sot, a major conduit for trade between the neighbors.

The escalating violence in Myanmar has sent refugees fleeing across the border into Thailand. Junta air strikes on Saturday and Sunday, in response to the capture by rebels of junta strongholds in Myawaddy, sent about 3,000 people over the Thai border seeking safety.

“Today, we were able to have a discussion and send a message to the other side [Myanmar junta and ethnic groups] regarding whether there are planes to be flown in the area,” Thailand’s minister of defense,Sutin Klungsang, told a conference with other senior Thai government officials on Tuesday. 

“We would have the capacity to intercept those planes. It was a friendly message, but meant as somewhat of a warning.”

Myanmar’s neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have tried to promote a resolution of the crisis in Myanmar which began when the military overthrew an elected government in early 2021. But Myanmar’s generals have largely ignored ASEAN’s efforts. Thailand has established a committee to handle the crisis but political analyst Panitan Wattanayagorn believes this only indicates that previous mechanisms are not working.

“It suggests to you that the normal mechanism at the office for the National Security Council doesn’t work, it’s quite problematic,” Panitan told Radio Free Asia on Wednesday.  

He said Thai government statements on protecting sovereignty, and on humanitarian aid and neutrality may not be enough to restore public confidence in border security and reactions were too slow and general.

“This is not enough to calm down the panic or the worries of the people, of the traders, of the international community and ASEAN,” he said, emphasizing that Thailand’s defense system also needed to be improved. 

“We need to move more quickly to exert our power and push the position to get more things done.”

Thai media outlets reported more clashes in Myawaddy as of Tuesday, but Thai government ministers said they were hopeful that the situation was returning to normal.

On Wednesday, there were reports that the anti-junta Karen National Liberation Army had withdrawn “temporarily” from Myawaddy following a counteroffensive by the junta.

“The situation has improved in the past couple of days and we are happy to see it under the good care of the agencies on the ground,” said Minister of the Interior Anutin Charnvirakul at Tuesday’s conference. “We look forward to the normalcy that will come in the days ahead.”

Anutin added that tourists could safely visit Mae Sot and that border trade was still flowing. 

“This is Thai sovereign territory and we are well-prepared to respond to any eventuality,” he said.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Mike Firn. 

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