Myanmar closes Thai border checkpoint amidst conflict

Airstrikes hit Friday morning, residents on the border say.
Pimuk Rakkanam for RFA
Mae Sot, Thailand
Myanmar closes Thai border checkpoint amidst conflict A Thai soldier mans a machine gun on Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge No. 1 in Mae Sot, April 25, 2024.
Pimuk Rakkanam/RFA

Myanmar shut a main border crossing with Thailand early Friday as junta forces carried out airstrikes in nearby areas, Thai officials and nearby residents told Radio Free Asia, a news service affiliated with BenarNews.

Insurgent forces captured most of the eastern border town Myawaddy this month but they were forced to withdraw days later under the threat of junta airstrikes. Junta troops regained control of a main battalion headquarters  in the town on Wednesday. 

Residents of the Thai town of Mae Sot, across the Moei river from Myawaddy, said they heard explosions early Friday, apparently coming from junta  airstrikes to the south of Myawaddy.

A turboprop aircraft was heard flying over Palu, to the south of Myawaddy and nearly 10 explosions were heard, according to residents on the Thai side.

Separately, a Thai immigration official said crossings from Myanmar over the main border bridge had stopped and it was not clear who was in control on the Myawaddy side.

“People from Myanmar cannot come yet, but they can cross back from here,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

Trucks that normally deliver goods to Myanmar via a second bridge, which is used mainly for cargo, have been unloading their shipments at small river crossings instead.

A Karen militia force commander with extensive business interests and a history of close ties with the junta helped free about 200 junta troops who had been cut off by insurgent Karen National Liberation Army troops in fighting this month, Thai media reported.

 The commander, Col. Saw Chit Thu, who broke away from the main Karen guerrilla organization in the 1990s, has close ties with Chinese investors who have funded casinos and online scamming rackets on the Myanmar side of the border. The United Kingdom imposed sanctions on him in 2023 linked to suspicions of involvement in human trafficking and other rights violations.

Saw Chit Thu, who denies wrongdoing, had this month raised doubts about his alliance with the junta, saying he was no longer supporting junta forces, but according to media reports, he had acted to protect his business interests in helping junta forces re-take control of Myawaddy.

Democracy and rights activists have long denounced Saw Chit Thu and his militia, the Karen National Army.

“Saw Chit Thu is a rights-abusing militia commander who has gotten rich via a horrid mix of abuses of deported migrants, human trafficking of persons to scam centers, gambling, sexual exploitation and prostitution, and worse,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Human Rights Watch in Asia. 

“I think no one should be surprised that he suddenly betrayed the [Karen National Liberation Army] by rushing back into the arms of his [State Authority Council] junta overlords who have been complicit in Chit Thu’s massive profits at the expense of the Karen people.”


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