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Myanmar military ‘requests assistance’ to land in Thailand

Junta lays on evacuation flights through Mae Sot after Myawaddy falls to resistance forces
Myanmar junta military soldiers parade during a ceremony to mark the country's Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw on March 27 amid a growing armed resistance movement.

Myanmar junta military soldiers parade during a ceremony to mark the country's Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw on March 27 amid a growing armed resistance movement. (Photo by AFP)

Published: April 08, 2024 08:46 AM GMT
Updated: April 08, 2024 12:44 PM GMT

Specially chartered flights from Yangon by Myanmar’s military landed in the northwest Thai frontier town of Mae Sot after ethnic militias captured the adjacent provincial town of Myawaddy, which sits across the border, amid fierce fighting.

The ATR-600, operated by Myanmar National Airlines (MNA), had sought permission to evacuate 617 Myanmar nationals, including 67 military officers, 410 non-commissioned officers, and family members, who had fled the fighting into Thailand.

The first evacuation flight took off late on April 7 with just 20 people on board, but more flights would be required as the ATR-600 can only seat 78 passengers.

An urgent request for the first landing was sent from the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok to the Thai foreign ministry over the weekend and was seen by UCA News. One report said that the ATR-600 was currently stranded in Mae Sot.

A People’s Defence Force (PDF) source said there were disputes among the passengers as “many of the military’s soldiers don’t want to return to Yangon because they fear retribution for losing Myawaddy” and the Thai military cannot force them to board.

The Myanmar embassy requested a 72-hour window in Mae Sot for “landing and refueling” as well as a “waiver for landing, navigation, overflight and airport services charges.”

The last flights were scheduled to return to Yangon by April 9.

MNA chartered flights took off after the Karen National Union (KNU) captured Myawaddy — a key transport route between the Thai border and Yangon — on April 6 with more than 600 troops and their families surrendering to the ethnic militia and the PDF.

“All the fighting has subsided in Myawaddy. It’s very quiet and the KNU is now focused on negotiating with Thailand and Thai border control,” the PDF source told UCA News.

About 20 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and the PDF, the armed wing of the opposition National Unity Government (NUG), have made unprecedented battlefield gains over the last five months, in a brutal three-year civil war.

The Myawaddy-Mae Sot border crossing has also emerged as a strategic hub where thousands of people under 35 years of age have fled military conscription by crossing into Thailand. In March, three batches of Myanmar soldiers also fled and surrendered to Thai authorities.

“There’s a lot, hundreds of junta soldiers on the Thai side of the border and Hlaing wants them back but you can’t blame them for not wanting to go,” the PDF source said.

Junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing is a hardliner who sparked the civil war after seizing power from an elected government in early 2021.

In January, six brigadier generals were sentenced to death following their surrender to anti-regime forces in northern Shan State.

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