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Myanmar: Ethnic rebels declare control over key border town as 200 military personnel flee

Since ousting the democratic government in a 2021 coup, Myanmar's military-led government has been battling insurgencies on several fronts by ethnic rebels and suffered several defeats. The loss of Myawaddy, the country's most active trading post with Thailand, is a major setback for the junta.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Naypyidaw (Myanmar) Published on: April 11, 2024 17:55 IST
Myanmar's junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing
Image Source : REUTERS (FILE) Myanmar's junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing

Naypyidaw: Myanmar's anti-junta resistance declared that it won control over the critical border town of Myawaddy, adding to the string of wins, in a days-long assault that forced about 200 Myanmar military personnel to retreat. Myanmar's military-run government is battling insurgencies on several fronts and has suffered a series of defeats since the rebel groups launched a coordinated offensive near the Chinese border.

The retreat of junta troops in Myawaddy, adjacent to the Thai town of Mae Sot, signals the potential loss of another key border trading outpost with direct highway access to parts of central Myanmar. Saw Taw Nee, the spokesperson for the Karen National Union (KNU), an anti-junta group leading the assault, said about 200 fleeing Myanmar soldiers gathered at a border crossing into Thailand. Thai authorities were in touch with the soldiers to provide refuge.

"Today KNU-led joint resistance forces captured the remaining military base in Myawaddy," Kyaw Zaw, a spokesperson for Myanmar's National Unity Government, told Reuters. "This is a crucial victory for our revolution since Myawaddy is an important border town for the junta, one of the main (sources of) income from border trade".

Another thorn for the Myanmar junta

The assault on Myawaddy began last week after the KNU said it had attacked a junta camp near the town, forcing some 500 security personnel to surrender, along with their families. The military has already lost control of areas along Myanmar's borders with Bangladesh, China and India, while suffering a significant loss of manpower that has pushed it to introduce a draft for the first time.

Myawaddy is Myanmar's most active trading post with Thailand, and the fighting there has alarmed officials in Bangkok, who fear a large number of people fleeing across the border. Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said Tuesday that Thailand can accommodate about 100,000 people in safe areas on a temporary basis.

The army has been defeated by the rebels over the last few months in northern Shan state, where it surrendered control of several border crossings with China, and in Rakhine state in the west, and is facing active challenges elsewhere. The ethnic Karen have seized all army outposts and have vowed to chase all retreating soldiers.

The Border Guard Force units in Kayin state are nominally affiliated with the military but announced last month they were cutting their ties and establishing themselves independently under the name of the Karen National Army. This army played a heavy role in the negotiations between the military and the resistance.

Who are the Karens?

The Karen are the third biggest ethnic group in Myanmar, making up about 7 per cent of its 58 million population. Like other minority groups living in border regions, the Karen have sought greater for greater autonomy from Myanmar's central government for decades, with the KNU and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army.

Although the Karen are among the most experienced of the armed ethnic groups, they lack the heavy weapons some other rebel organizations have and also suffer from factionalism. The Karen make up a large part of the 87,000 refugees from Myanmar who live in nine long-term refugee camps in Thailand after fleeing previous rounds of fighting.

It is pertinent to mention that thousands of people from Myanmar sought refuge in several northeastern states, particularly in Mizoram, after escaping their country following a military coup in February 2021. This prompted India to fence the 1,643-kilometer-long India-Myanmar border in another step to boost the country's security and abolish the Free Movement Regime (FRM) between the two countries.

(with inputs from agencies)

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