Thailand ready for any scenario on Myanmar border, foreign minister says

Thousands of new civilians have been displaced following the rebel capture of Myawaddy, according to the Karen health department.
By Kiana Duncan for RFA
2024.04.12
Thailand ready for any scenario on Myanmar border, foreign minister says A Thai soldier mans his position on the 2nd Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge in Mae Sot, on the Thailand-Myanmar border, April 13, 2024.
Pimuk Rakkanam/RFA

Updated April 12, 2024, 04:23 p.m. ET.

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has discouraged Myanmar’s junta from further violence in the border region after the army lost a major border town, the Thai foreign minister said Friday.

Allied rebel forces, including the Karen National Liberation Army, or KNLA, captured a final junta battalion base in Kayin state’s Myawaddy on Thursday morning, effectively gaining control of the city and causing thousands to flee into the border region. 

“We have sent a message to the [Myanmar junta], as a matter of fact, that we do not want to see violence there,” Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said at a press conference in Mae Sot on Friday afternoon. “We are also talking to ASEAN by way of statement, as well, but certainly to get everyone back on track to the five-point consensus,” he said, referring to the 2021 plan which included a call for a ceasefire and dialogue between all parties in Myanmar.

The takeover has caused neighboring Thailand’s armed forces to deploy soldiers alongside Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridges, which regulate both people and goods and connect Myanmar’s Myawaddy to Thailand’s Mae Sot. Thailand is prepared to accommodate four different affected groups, the foreign minister said. 

This includes junta soldiers, 200 of which could be seen on Thursday and Friday, sheltering in northern Myawaddy near Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge No. 2.

“At this point, there is no indication yet that they want to cross over,” Parnpree said. “For Thailand, we have no issue addressing any type of entry into the country on a strictly humanitarian basis.”

Parnpree said that if the soldiers request entry, they must first disarm and don civilian clothing before they can cross the border.

"Then, they will be allowed to enter Thailand as ordinary citizens," he said. "In accordance with U.N. directives and humanitarian principles, we will not send them back to a dangerous place.”

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Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara (C) walks next to media representatives as he visits the Tak border checkpoint on the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge in Thailand's Mae Sot district April 12, 2024. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP)

Thailand allowed 600 junta personnel, including soldiers and their families, to be sent back to Myanmar through Mae Sot by plane on Sunday.

Parnpree said that in the event further conflict erupts, Thai nationals living near the border would be given shelter and access to necessities, while preparations have been made and assistance provided to Myanmar nationals to escape to safety. 

According to the Karen Department for Health and Welfare, fighting in Myawaddy district has displaced 2,000 new people into Thailand’s Tak border province. These people are in need of food, shelter and medicine, a spokesperson said. About 30 people have been injured, but the number of casualties is still unknown.

New fighting

Despite Parnpree's call to end the violence, residents of Myawaddy told RFA Burmese that the KNLA and other rebel forces, including the anti-junta People's Defense Force, or PDF, carried out attacks on the soldiers, who had "dug in" at the bridge.

“At around 7 p.m., the PDF dropped two bombs into the area of Friendship Bridge No. 2  with a drone ... and both bombs exploded," said one resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing security concerns. "The junta soldiers trapped at the truck terminal near the bridge returned fire."

The resident said junta soldiers near the bridge fled to the bank of the Moei River, which separates the two countries, and tried to cross into Thailand, "but the Thai army was patrolling along the bank and wouldn't allow them in."

He said the junta later conducted two airstrikes on the base formerly occupied by its soldiers in Myawaddy.

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Myanmar resident wait for immigration check point cross at the 1st Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge in Mae Sot in Thailand's Tak province April 12, 2024. (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

RFA was not immediately able to independently confirm the drone attack or the airstrike, or whether there were any casualties resulting from the fighting.

A member of the PDF, who also declined to be named, told RFA that the junta has sent a convoy of armored vehicles from Hpa-an township to Myawaddy as part of a bid to retake the town.

The military regime has not released any statement regarding the situation in Myawaddy.

Attempts by RFA to reach Colonel Min Kyaw Thu, the junta's security and border affairs minister for Kayin state, and junta spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun for comment went unanswered Friday.

State of trade

Parnpree also said Friday that trade between the two countries has already been impacted by the conflict in Myanmar. Thailand closed the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge No. 2 on Thursday, stopping the flow of commodities across the border, and the foreign minister said it will not be reopened until "peace is restored."

According to the junta’s ministry of commerce, the value of trade through Myawaddy between April 2023 and February 2024 amounted to US$1 billion, down by more than 40% from US$1.9 billion a year earlier.

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Myanmar nationals walk on the Thailand-Myanmar Friendship bridge to cross over into Thailand, towards the Tak border checkpoint in Thailand's Mae Sot district, April 12, 2024. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP)

Traders in Myawaddy told RFA that the Myanmar kyat had already lost value to the Thai baht and said they expect the price of goods imported from Thailand to soar.

While trade also flows across the border from Thailand via the Myanmar towns of Tachilek, Kawthaung, Htee Khee and Mawdaung, Myawaddy sees the largest volume by far, they said.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Joshua Lipes, Mike Firn and Elaine Chan.

This story has been updated to include additional comments by Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara related to allowing junta soldiers to cross the border and the state of trade at the border, as well as details on the latest fighting between rebel forces and junta soldiers sheltering at Friendship Bridge No. 2.

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