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Thailand Cuts Internet Connections to Southeastern Myanmar Scam Hub

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Thailand Cuts Internet Connections to Southeastern Myanmar Scam Hub

(CTN News) – Local media reported last week that Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has cut off internet and phone connections to an area of northeastern Myanmar known for large-scale online fraud operations.

On May 9, an NBTC official informed a news conference that internet cables and mobile phone connections between Thailand and Shwe Kokko in Myanmar’s Kayin (Karen) State had been severed. According to the report, online scammers in Shwe Kokko received unlawful connections.

Shwe Kokko, a town in Myawaddy Township across the border from the Thai town of Mae Sot, has recently grown into a neon-lit haven for casinos, online scam enterprises, and other shady and illegal activity.

The majority of the scam operators in Shwe Kokko began with casino developments in the late 2010s before diversifying into telecom fraud schemes that have recruited hundreds of workers, many of whom are from China, with promises of high-paying jobs, only to effectively enslave them upon arrival.

The Irrawaddy published an interview with a young Myanmar worker who was duped into working at Shwe Kokko. He estimated that about 30 scam companies were operating in the town, each employing “at least 100 people,” many of which took place in compounds with prostitution, narcotics trafficking, and gambling. The activities, performed via bogus emails and SMS messages, “mainly targeted European and U.S. citizens, particularly elderly persons who are easy to swindle.”

Shwe Kokko’s growth framework is a joint venture agreement between the Myanmar unit of the Hong Kong-registered Yatai International Holding Group and a company owned by the Karen Border Guard Force (BGF), which controls a stretch of territory in eastern Kayin State.

The reporting on the NBTC official’s comments did not specify whether the commission had cut down the connections or if this was the responsibility of Thai internet service providers and local government. It also did not specify if the action or injunction extended to KK Park, another hub of online scam operations in Myawaddy Township.

It is uncertain whether Thailand’s delayed decision to ban internet connections to Shwe Kokko will impact the town’s scammers.

Thailand’s Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) claimed to have disconnected power to Shwe Kokko in June.

While the action drove many to cross the border into Thailand to purchase generators, it failed to hinder the internet fraud organizations, who just utilized some of their massive profits to invest in alternate sources of electricity.

The number of scam operations in Shwe Kokko may have increased due to China’s crackdown on similar operations along the border with Myanmar.

Interestingly, the Thai order was preceded by a BGF directive issued on May 3, which required the departure of foreign individuals involved in internet enterprises by the end of October.

“Foreigners who unlawfully cross the border must depart the country as they entered. The directive, written in English, Burmese, and Chinese, states that if found after October 31, effective action will be taken.

According to The Irrawaddy, a spokeswoman for the BGF expressed dissatisfaction with internet scammers operating from their areas. “We have repeatedly told them to leave,” a representative told the newspaper.

The BGF’s intentions remain unclear, similar to its decision to cut ties with the military earlier this year. According to a recent United States Institute of Peace assessment, the group earns $192 million annually from scammers and other enterprises in Shwe Kokko.

Half of this money is transferred to the Myanmar military. (It is unclear whether this agreement applies following the BGF’s separation from the military.)

Given how much it stands to lose from a true crackdown, the BGF decision must be viewed in light of recent developments, particularly the conflict between the Myanmar military and the Karen National Union (KNU) over control of Myawaddy town on the Thai border.

The BGF, led by Col. Saw Chit Thu, supported both sides in the battle for the town, including assisting the military in retaking it when the KNU briefly held it. Its policies aimed to retain the town’s autonomy amidst evolving conflict dynamics in Kayin State.

This means that any attempt to crack down on scam operators in its border area is accompanied by a covert goal to preserve the Saw Chit Thu’s autonomy and the criminal business operations that support it.

Arsi Mughal is a staff writer at CTN News, delivering insightful and engaging content on a wide range of topics. With a knack for clear and concise writing, he crafts articles that resonate with readers. Arsi's pieces are well-researched, informative, and presented in a straightforward manner, making complex subjects accessible to a broad audience. His writing style strikes the perfect balance between professionalism and casual approachability, ensuring an enjoyable reading experience.

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