Residents flee Myanmar into Thailand as fighting intensifies

More than 1,000 in Myawaddy have crossed into Mae Sot in a single day.
By RFA Burmese
2024.04.10
Residents flee Myanmar into Thailand as fighting intensifies Myawaddy residents line up at Friendship Bridge No. 1 to cross into Thailand on April 9, 2024.
Citizen journalist

More than 1,000 residents on Myanmar’s border have fled to neighboring Thailand since Wednesday morning amid escalating armed clashes and junta airstrikes near the important trade town of Myawaddy, residents told Radio Free Asia. 

Airstrikes were conducted all of Tuesday night, and one jet fighter dropped at least eight bombs in an hour early Wednesday morning, a woman in Myawaddy told RFA on condition of anonymity for security reasons. 

“The explosions were louder than before in the town,” she said.

One man in Myawaddy said normally only about 100 people use Friendship Bridge No. 1 between Myawaddy and the Thai border city of Mae Sot in one day. 

“But this morning, there were more than 1,000 people,” he said, declining to be named for security reasons. “Of course, they are worried about the battle. So, all are fleeing to their relatives in Mae Sot.”

A Myanmar citizen who fled to Mae Sot said junta helicopters hovered over the crammed bridge as people streamed across the border while bombs exploded nearby.

“Smoke was seen in the sky,” he said. “All the people ran into Mae Sot. A huge crowd could be seen at the border bridge.”

Thailand’s army has increased security in Mae Sot, according to Myanmar nationals living there. Thai military vehicles and soldiers observing the border were seen under Friendship Bridge No. 1. 

Myawaddy’s trade zone

The Karen Nation Union, or KNU, and allied guerrilla armies began their attack on junta troops in Myawaddy on Saturday.  

On Sunday, junta troops requested evacuation of over 600 soldiers and their families through Mae Sot, as well as administrative documents, according to Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Soldiers patrol.jpg
Thai soldiers patrol near Friendship Bridge No. 1 in Mae Sot on April 10, 2024. (RFA)

One flight left Mae Sot International Airport on Sunday night, but subsequent flights scheduled for Monday and Tuesday were canceled at the request of Myanmar’s military. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Myanmar’s junta have not released any information on how many boarded the flight. 

Karen National Union joint forces stormed the junta’s Infantry Battalion 275 – located two miles from Myawaddy – on Tuesday, but junta forces have put up a strong resistance, the Myawaddy man told RFA. 

Junta airstrikes demolished some homes near a highway bus station close to Infantry Battalion 275, civilians living in Myawaddy said.

Forces aligned with the junta have been patrolling Myawaddy’s downtown area, residents said. While most government offices have closed, the junta’s immigration office was issuing border passes on Wednesday to those who wanted to enter Thailand.

The Karen National Union would become much more powerful if it captures Myawaddy and gains control of the area’s crucial border trade, according to Than Soe Naing, a political commentator.

“It is about to capture the special trade zone,” he said. “If Myawaddy township is captured, the resistance forces and people in Myanmar could enjoy new opportunities for the resistance forces and civilians.”

RFA was unable to contact KNU spokespersons Padho Saw Kale Sae and Padho Saw Taw Nee by telephone on Wednesday to ask about Wednesday’s fighting.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn. 

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