CHIANG MAI – Thailand’s 3rd army has been put on “high alert” on its northwestern border with Myanmar after fighting between neighboring government soldiers and a group previously affiliated with a local liberation army caused the closure of a major trade route.
On Sunday, the Bangkok Post newspaper reported Thai Lt. Gen. Preecha Chan-o-cha as saying that the clashes had broke out 4-5 kilometers from the Thai border, at one point rocket-propelled grenades and mortars fired in the center of the neighboring town of Myawaddy.
Myawaddy is in southeastern Myanmar, separated by the Moei River from the bordering Thai town of Mae Sot – the most important trade point between the two countries.
The rebels are believed to be from the Buddhist Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), which signed a ceasefire with the Myanmar government in 1994 in exchange for military and financial assistance on the proviso that it support offensives against the Karen National Union – the political wing of the predominantly Christian Democratic Karen National Liberation Army which the DKBA broke away from in December 1994.
The KNLA, one of the larger insurgent armies in Myanmar, has been fighting for the self-determination of the Karen people – several ethnic groups which have resided primarily in conflict-torn Karen State, in Myanmar’s south and southeast – since 1949.
Mae Sot District Chief Preecha Jaipetch told the Bangkok Post that five people had died in the clashes, while 10 others were injured – understood to be from both sides.
The pass between the two towns was closed at the request of the Myanmar military early Saturday, but reopened late afternoon after fighting subsided, reported the newspaper.
The Thai army has since been placed on “high alert” by Army Chief and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has ordered reinforcements along the border in case the conflict returns.
The Bangkok Post reported “sources” as saying that hostilities between Myanmar troops and Karen had been escalating in the area since August when the DKBA started blocking and demanding “tax” payments on goods coming into the country from Thailand.
It said that on the back of the violence Myanmar’s army had started to stop all Karen factions in uniform or carrying guns from entering urban areas – Karen troops then responding by banning Myanmar soldiers from doing the same.
The Post report said that the latest clashes had been caused by breaches of the “bans.”