A high-ranking police official in Thailand warned on Monday that the country would take strong action against those who provide support to ethnic armed groups based along its border with Burma.
“Our government does not have a policy of providing arms to ethnic armed groups on Burma’s side of the border, and we will take drastic actions against anyone supporting or trafficking arms to those groups,” Thailand’s assistant national police chief, Lt-Gen Rapipat Palawong, told reporters in the Thai border town of Mae Sot.
Mae Sot has long been a hotbed of Burmese political dissent, attracting exiles, refugees and armed groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic army that has waged war with the Burmese government for decades.
Sources in Mae Sot said that Rapipat’s warning had sent shock waves through the KNU and other border-based armed groups that depend on contacts on the Thai side of the border for supplies of food and arms.
“Not just weapons, but even food must now be transported very carefully from Mae Sot to KNU units [inside Burma],” said a local source close to the Karen rebels.
A Thai journalist in Mae Sot said that the police warning came in response to a recent increase in the number of arms trafficking cases in the town. On Friday, Thai authorities arrested two people in the town on suspicion of trafficking arms and ammunition to the KNU.
Rapipat also instructed local police forces in Mae Sot to clamp down on the smuggling of vehicles into Burma and drug-related issues along the border.
The KNU was dominated for three decades by its longtime leader Bo Mya, who was president from 1976-2000. The KNU was for many years able to fund its activities by controlling black market trade across the border with Thailand, and through local taxation. After the failed 8888 Uprising of the Burmese people in 1988, the Burmese military government turned to China for help in consolidating its power. Various economic concessions were offered to China in exchange for weapons. The Burmese Army was massively expanded and began to offer deals to groups fighting the government. The groups were offered the choice of cooperating with the military junta or being destroyed.
The Karen National Liberation Army (abbreviated KNLA) is the military branch of the Karen National Union (KNU), which campaigns for the self-determination of the Karen people of Burma. The KNLA has been fighting the Burmese government since 1949.