Asia Pacific

Myanmar Troops Withdraw From Border Town Following Clashes

Myanmar junta troops stationed in an embattled border town have withdrawn from their positions, a spokesman for a Myanmar ethnic armed group and a Thai official told AFP on Thursday.

“We took [Myanmar military battalion] 275 at 10 pm last night,” Padoh Saw Taw Nee, a spokesman for the Karen National Union, told AFP, adding 200 or so soldiers had withdrawn to a bridge that connects Myawaddy to the Thai border town of Mae Sot.

A Thai border official told AFP the town of Myawaddy had “fallen” on Wednesday night, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to the media.

AFP cannot independently verify the KNU claim as reporters are unable to access Myawaddy.

Days of fighting around the trade hub of Myawaddy near the Myanmar-Thailand border saw hundreds of people queuing on Wednesday to cross into the kingdom, with many expressing fears over the clashes.

AFP reporters at the border heard a thudding sound over the border in Myanmar after a plane flew over around 10:30 am local time (0330 GMT) Thursday.

Residents earlier told AFP fighting started around Myawaddy on Tuesday, but people in the town said on Thursday there had been no sounds of clashes overnight.

“Fighting has stopped since around 8 pm last night,” one Myawaddy resident told AFP.

“KNU have not entered the town yet, although we saw the news that they got local military command 275 on Facebook. We are still hiding at home,” the resident said, requesting anonymity for security reasons.

The border hub is vital for the cash-strapped junta, with an estimated $1.1 billion worth of trade passing through Myawaddy in the 12 months to April, according to the Myanmar commerce ministry.

Myanmar’s military — which took power in a 2021 coup — is reeling from a series of defeats in the north and west of the country, leading some of its opponents to believe it can one day be toppled.

Thailand Prepares

On Wednesday, the Thai town of Mae Sot saw hundreds of people queue at the immigration checkpoint before walking over the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge into the kingdom.

Underneath them, Thai soldiers scanned the sparse 200 meters separating the two nations.

Commander of Thai’s 3rd Army, Lieutenant General Prasarn Saengsirirak, told local media late Wednesday the army was “intensifying” its patrols along the Mae Sot border.

“We will provide humanitarian assistance but if there are stray bullets crossing to Thailand, we will retaliate with a light to heavy response,” he said.

Thailand — which shares a  2,400-kilometer (1,490-mile) border with Myanmar — has said it is prepared to accept up to 100,000 people displaced by the clashes.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin met with high-level Thai ministers about the situation on the border earlier this week.

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

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