TAK: The Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) of Thailand has cut off the supply of electricity across the Moei river to two border towns in Myanmar where groups of Chinese businessmen have made huge illegal investments, at the request of the Myanmar government, Thai official sources said.
Both officlal border crossings between Mae Sot and Myanmar remain open to travellers and cargo trucks.
The two border towns are Shwe Kokko, opposite Thailand's Ban Wang Pha in tambon Mae Charao, Mae Ramat district, and Ban Le Le Ko, opposite Mae Ku Mai Tha Sung, the Moo 3 village in tambon Mae Ku, Mae Sot district. Both are in Myanmar's Karen State.
Chinese businessmen were reported to have invested more than US$1.5 billion in casinos, entertainment complexes and housing estates at Shwe Kokko. Le Le Ko is another border town where Chinese investors had reportedly made similar investments.
The sources said on Tuesday the Myanmar government had stopped supplying electricity to the two towns and asked Thailand to do likewise. The PEA, in response, had also stopped supplying them with power from midnight.
It was not clear whether the action was linked to a memorandum of understanding signed by Thailand, China and Myanmar on joint suppression of drugs, cross-border criminals, online gambling and call centres, the sources added.
A Thai businessman involved in cross-border trade said residents oft Shwe Kokko had prepared for the blackout, buying power generators for their own use.
At Government House on Tuesday, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said PEA cut off electricity to the two border towns at the request of the Myanmar government, after the power supply contract between Thailand and Myanmar expired.
Supply would resume if the contract was extended. It was not known how long that would be, Gen Anupong added. He had briefed the prime minister, he said.
The border checkpoints at both friendship bridges across the Moei river linking Mae Sot and Myawaddy remained open to travellers and cargo trucks as usual on Tuesday.
Banpot Kokiatcharoen, a major exporter in Mae Sot and adviser to the Tak Chamber of Commerce, said the cutting of power to the two Myanmar border towns would not affect cross-border trade or lead to a border closure, as some people apparently feared. He said people affected by the lack of power could petition the Myanmar government.
Chaiwat Withitthamwong, chairman of the Tak Industrial Council, said representatives of the PEA had called a meeting of people in the public and private sectors and explained to them why electricity was cut off. He said the Myanmar embassy had informed them the power supply contract would not be extended.
Sources at several security units believed local Myanmar people would not be much affected, as they were accustomed to living without electricity. However, the Chinese investors in the two towns, especially those running entertainment venues, would suffer.
Thai and foreign workers, as well as the Chinese investors, might look for new locations, including Mae Sot, to do business, they said.