May 28, 2024

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Burma: Fall of a key city on the Thai border deals a heavy blow to military rule

Burma: Fall of a key city on the Thai border deals a heavy blow to military rule

The Burmese military has completely withdrawn from Myawaddy, a strategic border town for trade with Thailand. A new major defeat was inflicted by the army, which had already been struggling for months in the north and west of Burma.

• Read more: Burma: Second day of fighting in Thai border town

• Read more: Thailand says it is ready to welcome 100,000 Burmese refugees

AFP reporters at a Thai border post heard a dull thud from Burmese territory after a plane flew overhead on Thursday morning. The previous evening, they had seen hundreds of Burmese people queuing to seek asylum in Thailand.

On Thursday afternoon, some like Sadie, 26, anxiously awaited the arrival of family members as the visit to Mae Sot, Thailand, subsided.

“I'm patient,” he told AFP, checking his phone for news about his fiancée, who was staying in Burma.

Thailand shares a 2,400-kilometer border with Myanmar, where a 2021 military coup against the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi reignited conflict with ethnic minorities.

Militants from the Karen National Union (KNU) and other groups opposed to military rule attacked Myawaddy this week.

The city is important to the cash-strapped military, with trade reaching more than $1.1 billion in the 12 months to April, according to Myanmar's commerce ministry.

“We defeated Battalion 275 (of the Burmese army) last night at 10 p.m.,” KNU spokesman Padoh Saw Taw Nee told AFP on Thursday, adding that about 200 soldiers had retreated to the bridge connecting Myawaddy to Mae Chot and that the KNU now controlled the entire KNU town.

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Air strikes

On Thursday, Thai soldiers stood vigil with armored vehicles at the border in temperatures of 37 degrees Celsius.

AFP journalists heard a plane flying towards Maiwadi at around 10:30 am local time (03:30 GMT), followed by a loud noise.

Residents of Myawaddy told AFP that the army was carrying out airstrikes but that they did not see any KNU fighters on the streets.

A complete capture of the city would be a humiliating defeat for the military regime, which has suffered repeated setbacks on the battlefield in recent months. This prompted criticism of top officials from his supporters.

“Prepare Us”

“It is still too early to determine who really controls Myawaddy,” Independent Burma analyst David Matheson told AFP.

AFP journalists noted that at “Friendship Bridge No. 2”, on the Thai side, trucks usually carrying medicines, consumer goods and construction materials to Burma were stopped.

Checkpoints were open on both sides of the border, but no cargo vehicles were passing through, a Thai official on the ground said.

On Thursday evening, from a hill above, Myawaddy loomed quietly, a mix of people on motorbikes strolling through farmland, the noise of a construction site and the ringing of Buddhist monastery bells.

The Thai government must prepare for the influx of people fleeing the conflict in Burma, MP Khannawe Sueupchung told AFP during a visit to Mae Chot.

“We have to prepare. We have to plan. We cannot ignore the situation inside Burma.

reinforcements

The Burmese regime is sending reinforcements towards Myawaddy, military sources told AFP on Thursday, but it was unclear when or how they would get there, as some local roads remain in enemy hands.

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Residents living near the town of Gionedo on the main highway to Myawadi told AFP they saw dozens of trucks and tanks with equipment and hundreds of soldiers on board.

The junta did not comment on the situation surrounding Myawadi.

Analysts say the military is keen to avoid losing another key city after the humiliating surrender of some 2,000 soldiers in Lao Cai, on China's northern border, in January.

According to military sources, three generals have been sentenced to death for surrendering.

According to the United Nations, more than 2.5 million Burmese have been displaced since the conflict sparked by Aung San Suu Kyi's ouster.

“It has become difficult to live in Burma now,” testified a young visitor to Mae Sot. “I feel free after coming to this page.”

Thai officials say they are preparing to welcome 100,000 Burmese.