Asia Pacific

Thai Soldiers on Alert as Myanmar Border Clashes Enter Second Day

Thai armored cars patrolled the town of Mae Sot Wednesday as the deep boom of artillery thundered across the border in Myanmar, where the junta and an ethnic armed group fought for a second day near a vital trade hub.

Hundreds queued to enter Thailand at the immigration checkpoint in Mae Sot, many fleeing the latest round of fighting to rock Myanmar since the military seized power from a democratically-elected government in 2021.

Thai soldiers took up positions underneath the friendship bridge linking the town with Myanmar trade hub Myawaddy, the silhouettes of their counterparts from the Myanmar army visible across the sparse 200 meters of dirt and dried river dividing the nations.

And above the soldiers, hundreds walked across the friendship bridge and into the safety of the kingdom.

“I’m scared, so I decided to cross to the Thai side,” Khu, 49, from Myawaddy, told AFP as she clutched her pet dog to her chest.

She said she had obtained a visa to remain in Thailand for seven days but did not want to return until the fighting stopped.

A Thai soldier, beginning his watch as light fell and who declined to give his name, said the sounds of conflict were the most intense he had heard in fifteen years stationed in Mae Sot.

Jafal Sweardik, 14, had just crossed over with his family from near Myawaddy, where he said the sounds of artillery and gunfire had cast a shadow over the Eid festivities.

“It was horrible, very scary,” he told AFP, adding he was looking forward to being reunited with family on the Thai side to share an Eid feast of curry and rice.

Vital Trade Hub

Fighters from the Karen National Union (KNU) said Saturday they had seized a military base around 10 kilometers (6 miles) west of Myawaddy and that more than 600 soldiers, police, and their families had surrendered.

The junta has not responded to requests for comment on the KNU claim of the surrenders at the Thingannyinaung base.

More than $1.1 billion worth of trade passed through Myawaddy in the 12 months to April, according to the junta’s commerce ministry — a vital source of revenue for the cash-strapped military.

Residents told AFP fighting started around Myawaddy on Tuesday, sending people fleeing across the border, but that KNU fighters did not appear to have entered the town.

“There was fighting the whole of last night and in the morning as well,” a resident told AFP on Wednesday, requesting anonymity for security reasons, as they hid in a basement.

“We can hear artillery sounds and explosions from our place. Planes are flying over,” they said.

“My mother and other siblings fled to Mae Sot this morning. I’m now guarding our house with my uncle.”

A truck driver on the road to Myawaddy in Myanmar said he had heard planes flying and the sound of artillery fire on Wednesday.

He said other drivers told him that authorities in the town had blocked traffic from entering from the Myanmar side.

A Place to Stay

In neighboring Thailand, one Mae Sot resident told AFP they saw eight Thai military vehicles heading towards the border on Tuesday night.

“Many people have entered Mae Sot from the other side [Myanmar],” they said.

“I saw many online posts looking for a place to stay.”

The number of people passing Thai immigration from Myanmar had increased to around 4,000 per day in recent days, an immigration official told AFP, up from the usual number of around 1,900.

He added authorities were reinforcing the number of immigration officials to address the possibility that arrivals would rise further in the coming days.

Thailand shares a 2,400-kilometer (1,490-mile) border with Myanmar, with the clashes coming as the Thai foreign minister said Tuesday the kingdom was prepared to accept 100,000 people fleeing.

Earlier Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and high-level Thai officials met to discuss the border issue.

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