Thailand closely watches battle for Myanmar border town

by Admin
Thailand closely watches battle for Myanmar border town

Thailand is staying alert as conflict in Myanmar continues, according to Thai government officials who visited Thailand’s border with Myanmar this week.

The comments come as renewed fighting continues between anti-junta ethnic groups and the military for control over Myawaddy, a crucial trade hub just across the border from Mae Sot.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since a military coup in February 2021. The country has devolved into armed conflict with civilian, political and ethnic groups opposing junta rule.

The conflict has shifted in the past year. The Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, has suffered a series of defeats to opposition groups. One of Myanmar’s oldest ethnic armed groups, the Karen National Union, or KNU, announced in April it had forced the surrender of military soldiers controlling Myawaddy.

Thailand shares a 2,414-kilometer (1,500-mile) border with Myanmar and could be at risk of a border spillover should the conflict escalate.

On Tuesday, Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara visited Mae Sot.

Parnpree first surveyed a Thai immigration crossing before holding a news conference with Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and Defense Minister Sutin Klungsang, at Mae Sot International Airport.

“We’ve been visiting people in the area to give them confidence that things are being handled well and to hear what issues they may have. For Thai sovereignty we are ready to protect,” Parnpree told reporters.

Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-nukara visits the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge in Mae Sot, Thailand, on April 23, 2024. (Tommy Walker/VOA)

Thailand’s officials appear calm about the situation, but Mae Sot is literally only a few kilometers across the border from Myanmar’s war. Armored military vehicles can be seen near the Thailand-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, with soldiers on patrol. Last week there were reports of bullets from the conflict entering Thai territory, and Thailand’s air force has been monitoring Myanmar’s aircraft for any possible incursions.

“In the past there have been incidents including bullets and some sort of encroachment. That is the past in a different context. Today, we are following every issue closely,” Parnpree said.

The reduced control of Myawaddy by Myanmar’s military is seen as a humiliating blow to the junta because billions of dollars’ worth of cross-border trade passes through the town each year.

Footage found online that reportedly was posted by junta soldiers shows a Myanmar infantry battalion raising its flag at a recaptured base Wednesday morning. The KNU says its forces retreated after Myanmar’s Karen Border Guard Force — which is aligned with the junta — allowed military soldiers to reoccupy the base.

Since then, the fighting has continued with the loud thuds and explosions of outgoing weapons fire heard several miles away in Mae Sot.

Members of the Thai military monitor the border in Mae Sot, Thailand, on April 24, 2024, after fighting erupted in nearby Myawaddy, Myanmar. (Tommy Walker/VOA)

Members of the Thai military monitor the border in Mae Sot, Thailand, on April 24, 2024, after fighting erupted in nearby Myawaddy, Myanmar. (Tommy Walker/VOA)

Even though Myanmar’s post-coup conflict has spanned more than three years, Thailand’s approach to Myanmar changed only after Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin took office in the last year, according to one political analyst.

“I think they want to be the broker; they want to promote dialogue, and the Srettha government wants to play a leading role moving forward,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political expert on Thailand, told VOA.

“I think they have a broader foreign policy objective about rebalancing and repositioning Thailand as a leader for ASEAN on Myanmar,” he said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “I think they are willing to do what it takes to [be in a] leading role and are open to options. Myanmar is a top priority for Thailand.”

Thailand has taken on a bigger humanitarian role toward Myanmar in recent months and has agreed to build shelters to receive refugees escaping Myanmar.

Parnpree will also lead a new special committee aimed at dealing with the crisis.

Since the fight for Myawaddy erupted, thousands of people from Myanmar have fled across the 200-mile Moei River, which acts as a natural border separating Thailand and Myanmar. If Myawaddy remains an active war zone, Thailand could see more people fleeing across its border.

At the Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, the medical staff are struggling to cope with the influx of injured patients.

“Three hundred to 400 patients have come from Myawaddy,” Khun Wai, a medical officer at the clinic, told VOA. “Some have got war injuries from the fighting. We currently have 140 beds, so our doctors and medics are very busy right now. In Myanmar, many families have fled to Thailand.”

Inside the facility, the conditions are grim. Patients are crammed in hallways, waiting for treatment. The sweltering heat adds to the discomfort.

In one ward, a handful of young soldiers who fought on both sides of the war have physically succumbed to the brutalities of war. Several have had legs blown off from landmines; others have severe burns to their skin. One man has bandages covering the stitches in his chest after being shot.

The halls of Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand, overflow with patients who have been injured from the conflict in Myanmar, April 26, 2024. (Tommy Walker/VOA)

The halls of Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand, overflow with patients who have been injured from the conflict in Myanmar, April 26, 2024. (Tommy Walker/VOA)

More than 60% of Myanmar’s territory is under the control of ethnic and opposition groups, according to the National Unity Government — the anti-junta shadow government — that has long said it must be involved in any new aid initiatives from Bangkok.

Tun Aung Shwe, the NUG representative to Australia, spoke with VOA earlier this year.

“To make a substantial impact, the Thai government’s involvement should prioritize collaboration with the NUG and its allies. Without this engagement, despite good intentions, the efforts might not yield the desired positive outcome,” Shwe said.

Thailand’s government has been criticized for liaising only with Myanmar’s military council in the past, but now Thailand’s foreign ministry said initial discussions have taken place to act as a mediator among the opposing groups.

This hasn’t always been the case.

Thailand endured its own military coup in 2014, which was led by then-army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who ruled Thailand for nine years.

Military relations have changed since then, Thitinan said.

“I think Srettha is more open to more stakeholders,” he said. “The Thai military [is] on the border now; the Royal Air Force [is] staying vigilant. … This wasn’t happening under Prayuth’s time.”

Source Link

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.