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Last Myanmar military base in Myawaddy falls to rebels

Reinforcements dispatched by junta to save Battalion 275 are ‘too little too late’
A member of a Myanmar militia carries a weapon on the Myanmar side of the Moei river, as seen from Thailand's Mae Sot district on April 11.

A member of a Myanmar militia carries a weapon on the Myanmar side of the Moei river, as seen from Thailand's Mae Sot district on April 11. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 11, 2024 05:59 AM GMT
Updated: April 11, 2024 08:20 AM GMT

The last Myanmar military hold-out in Myawaddy, Battalion 275, has fallen to anti-regime forces after a fierce five-day battle forced surviving soldiers to flee across the border into Thailand, before a deployment of about 400 reinforcements could arrive.

Reports said Battalion 275 capitulated after relentless attacks on the base — on Myawaddy’s western flank and about 14km from the Thai border — by the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the People’s Defence Force (PDF).

A PDF source said the surrender of Battalion 275 came as a relief given the military — also known as the Tatmadaw — dispatched a column of reinforcements into Myanmar’s southeast led by 10 armored personnel carriers (APC) late on April 10. Their whereabouts is unknown.

“There are 10 APCs and 22 trucks with about 22 soldiers in each plus a lot of heavy armament heading towards Myawaddy from Yangon but this is too little too late,” she said. “Hopefully the situation in Myawaddy will ease. The bombings have stopped. It’s been a very difficult week.”

The fall of Myawaddy caps a five month dry season offensive by 20 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) — including the KNLA — and the PDF, the armed wing of the opposition National Unity Government (NUG), who have recorded spectacular battlefield successes around the junta.

KNLA-PDF forces secured most of Myawaddy last Saturday but heavy fighting persisted forcing thousands to flee into Thailand amid aerial bombardments ordered by the military. Banks, markets and most businesses were closed. Internet and phone lines were cut.

“The bombings have stopped,” the PDF source said. Pictures seen by UCA News show the Myawaddy bus station — popular among military draft dodgers fleeing into Thailand — had been completely destroyed by the bombings.

Initially, there were about 400 soldiers at the Battalion 275 base, although one report said that number had grown to about a thousand by April 10. The PDF source also said that hundreds of soldiers had defected and sided with KNLA-PDF during the final assault.

Myawaddy is also an important transit point, sharing the border with Mae Sot on the Thai side, where some US$1.1 billion worth of trade a year passes through and has proved an important source of revenue for the junta which seized power in early 2021.

EAO-PDF militias have cut the ruling junta off from Myanmar’s borders and must decide whether to pursue the military into the centre of the country, the Barmar heartland and the corridor that links Yangon with Naypyidaw.

In Myanmar, the dry season typically ends near the end of May when fighting traditionally subsides amid torrential rains and soldiers from all sides dig-in and bolster their positions.

“The militias don’t have much time. They can either press home the advantage and attack Yangon and the capital or wait till November and the next dry season,” one analyst said. “Either way the EAOs and the PDF have proved they can defeat the military.

“That should cause a rethink, particularly among regional governments who have been prepared to tolerate the junta, its generals and the horror show they have been responsible for over the last three years. The junta can not win this,” he said.

Thailand has said it was open to talks with all sides given the changing military dynamics while former Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen has offered to negotiate with junta’s chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, in a bid to resolve the conflict.

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