Rebels claim they drove out last junta battalion in Myanmar border town

About 200 junta soldiers are sheltering in northern Myawaddy near a bridge to Thailand, residents said.
RFA Burmese and BenarNews
Rebels claim they drove out last junta battalion in Myanmar border town Myanmar soldiers are seen on the Myanmar side of a bridge across the Moei River linking to the district of Mae Sot in Thailand's Tak province, April 11, 2024.
Nava Natthong/AP

UPDATED at 5:40 p.m. ET 2024-04-11

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. Thursday, the KNU said.

Myawaddy is 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.

An anti-junta fighter who took part in the ground assaults told Radio Free Asia Burmese, a news service affiliated with BenarNews, 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 because of 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.”

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 about 10 km (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.”

Another resident told troops from Battalion 275 were observed 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 Col. 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.

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 last week, as well as parts of a trade route on the Asian Highway, forcing over 600 junta troops and their families to request evacuation through Mae Sot’s airport in Thailand on Sunday. Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs complied on humanitarian grounds. 

Meanwhile, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin instructed security forces to strictly prohibit Myanmar military aircraft from entering the nation’s airspace as fighting intensifies across the border.

“I have already instructed the military and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to send a clear message that if there are internal problems (in Myanmar), do not let them spill over. We will have to call the commander-in-chief to say that if there is fighting, we will not allow the use of Thai airspace,” Srettha told reporters in Bangkok on Thursday. “We do not want tensions to escalate and we must be careful with everything we do – they are our neighbors.”

The Thai leader called the conflict in Myanmar is an internal matter, adding Thailand would not interfere despite recently allowing an aircraft expected to carry Myanmar government personnel and their families to land in Mae Sot district.

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.

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.


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