Myanmar troops retreat to Thai border bridge
text size

Myanmar troops retreat to Thai border bridge

Thai military says any fleeing soldiers allowed to cross must be disarmed first

Myanmar soldiers, armed and taking cover, are seen under a bridge adjacent to Tak province on Thursday. (Photo: Assawin Pinitwong)
Myanmar soldiers, armed and taking cover, are seen under a bridge adjacent to Tak province on Thursday. (Photo: Assawin Pinitwong)

MYAWADDY - Some 200 Myanmar military personnel withdrew to a bridge connecting the border town of Myawaddy to Thailand on Thursday following a days-long assault in the area by anti-junta Karen rebels.

Myanmar’s military-run government is battling armed rebel groups on several fronts and has suffered a string of defeats in frontier areas.

The retreat of junta troops in Myawaddy, which is adjacent to Mae Sot in Tak province of Thailand, signals the potential loss of another key border trading outpost that has direct highway access to parts of central Myanmar.

Myawaddy is also home to the “special economic zone” of Shwe Kokko. The infamous “scam city” operates under the protection of the Kayin State Border Guard Force, a breakaway Karen group that had allied itself with the Myanmar army but severed those ties in January, Frontier Myanmar reported.

On Thursday, around 200 fleeing soldiers were gathered at a border crossing into Thailand, said Saw Taw Nee, spokesperson for the Karen National Union (KNU), an anti-junta group leading the assault on Myawaddy.

Thai authorities temporarily shut down the second Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge linking Myawaddy with Mae Sot after the fleeing junta troops took shelter at the bridge there.

The local news outlet Khit Thit reported Thai authorities were in talks with the soldiers to decide whether to grant them refuge.

A spokesperson for the Myanmar junta did not respond to calls for comment.

The KNU has been involved in an armed struggle against the central government of Myanmar, formerly Burma, for nearly seven decades. It said last week that its troops had attacked a junta camp near Myawaddy, forcing some 600 security personnel and their families to surrender.

Border crossings in the area were open for civilians who have been coming into Thailand from Myanmar in large numbers, said Pol Col Borwornphop Soontornlekha, Superintendent of Immigration in Tak.

“Usually there are about 2,000 people who cross into Mae Sot from Myawaddy each day but the last three days the number was almost 4,000 per day,” Pol Col Borwornphop told Reuters.

The Thai military has stepped up security on its side of the border, deploying army vehicles equipped with roof-mounted machine guns.

Col Nathakorn Rueantip, commander of the Ratchamanu special unit that is responsible for the Tak border with Myanmar, told Thai PBS on Thursday that the last stronghold of Myanmar government troops in Myawaddy was under attack.

He said the priority of his unit was to ensure safety of Thai people and their property. His unit would also provide humanitarian help to refugees, and should any escaping soldiers be among them, they would be disarmed first, Col Nathakorn said.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said on Thursday that fighting near the border with Myanmar cannot be allowed to spill into Thailand’s airspace.

At least 2,000 people have been displaced within Myanmar by the latest round of fighting between the Karen rebels and the military, according to the civil society group Karen Peace Support Network.

Myanmar’s military carried out the 2021 coup that deposed the elected civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now in jail after being convicted of various offences.

In recent months the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar army is known, has faced a series of setbacks against a loose alliance of ethnic rebel groups and the civilian militia movement known as the People’s Defence Force.

Do you like the content of this article?