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Fighting erupts in Myanmar border town as military digs-in

Thailand wants to speak to all sides in Myanmar’s conflict and is prepared to accept 100,000 refugees
A Karen woman carries a baby as others rest in Myawaddy district in Karen state on June 2, 2021, after they fled from their village due to ongoing fighting between the Myanmar army and Democractic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) as the country remains in turmoil after the February 2021 military coup.

A Karen woman carries a baby as others rest in Myawaddy district in Karen state on June 2, 2021, after they fled from their village due to ongoing fighting between the Myanmar army and Democractic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) as the country remains in turmoil after the February 2021 military coup. (Photo: AFP /STR)

Published: April 10, 2024 11:27 AM GMT
Updated: April 10, 2024 12:46 PM GMT

Fierce fighting erupted in Myawaddy on the Thai border on April 10 where the rebel Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) is attempting to oust the remaining forces loyal to Myanmar’s junta who have dug in, bolstered their positions, and refused to surrender.

KNLA troops and the People’s Defence Force (PDF) overran strategically important Myawaddy amid a dry season offensive on April 6 prompting hundreds of junta soldiers and their families to flee into Thailand where they surrendered their weapons.

However, PDF sources said about 400 military soldiers from the 275th Battalion were defending their base on the western outskirts of the provincial center and were hoping reinforcements would be diverted to the border area from elsewhere in the war-torn country.

“The fighting is happening right now,” a PDF source told UCA News, adding that aerial bombardments of Myanmar’s fourth largest city were common. “It’s mayhem. The KNLA are in control of nearly all the city but there are pockets of resistance.”

On the outskirts of Myawaddy, sources said homes were burning after the military bombed suburban areas while the No 1 Friendship bridge linking the town with Mae Sot in Thailand was heavily armed and controlled by the KNLA.

They said the military’s 275th battalion, 14 kilometers from the Thai border, had expanded the fight and was using heavy artillery, grenade launchers, and air strikes to fire into the heart of the city while the KNLA was attempting to lay siege.

In Myawaddy, banks, markets and most businesses were closed, and Internet and phone line connections were cut for the city’s 200,000-strong population amid traffic jams and cars lining up to cross into Thailand.

The influx of more refugees has triggered a rise in rents and hotel room shortages in Mae Sot town, reports say.

The supporters of the military, led by General Min Aung Hlaing want Myawaddy declared a “no war zone” but that’s unlikely given the battlefield success of the KNLA and some 20 other ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in recent months, according to the Karen Information Center.

The EAOs and PDF – the armed wing of the shadow and exiled National Unity Government – have made unprecedented gains and effectively encircled Yangon and the capital Naypyidaw. 

At a hastily convened cabinet meeting on April 9, to address the changing war dynamics in Myanmar, Thailand Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said Thailand wants to speak to all sides in the conflict, which erupted in early 2021 when General Min Aung Hlaing seized power toppling an elected government.

Srettha’s government has also said it was prepared to accept 100,000 refugees from Myanmar, although hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the conflict and conscription have already crossed the border. Cambodia’s former prime minister Hun Sen has also offered to mediate.

Meanwhile, junta officials said the first batch of 5,000 conscripts has completed basic military training in Naypyidaw, Yangon, Mandalay and elsewhere including Mon, and Shan states. The junta wants to conscript 5,000 men and women a month for the next year.

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