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Karen Guerrillas Seize Key Myanmar Military Outpost

On Thursday, April 11, 2024, guerrilla forces from the Karen ethnic minority in Myanmar claimed a significant victory by seizing the last of the army’s outposts in Myawaddy township. This event marks a pivotal moment, potentially paving the way for the complete takeover of Myawaddy town, a crucial trade hub with Thailand. The operation was spearheaded by the Karen National Union (KNU) and its military wing, along with other pro-democracy groups, following a week-long siege that culminated in the capture of the Infantry Battalion 275 garrison located approximately 4 kilometers west of the town center.

The capture of Myawaddy would represent another substantial defeat for Myanmar’s military, which has been struggling to maintain control against various resistance forces. Since October, when three other ethnic rebel groups initiated an offensive in the northeast, the military has faced setbacks across several regions, including losing control over border crossings with China in northern Shan state and facing active challenges in Rakhine state.

This ongoing conflict in Myanmar escalated after the military coup in February 2021, which overthrew the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. This led to widespread protests and demands for a return to democratic governance, which were met with severe suppression.

Myawaddy, strategically situated opposite the Thai district of Mae Sot across the Moei River, serves as Myanmar’s busiest trading post with Thailand. The conflict has raised concerns in Bangkok over the potential influx of refugees, prompting Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara to express readiness to accommodate up to 100,000 people temporarily. Mae Sot has historically been a refuge for thousands of Myanmar villagers during previous conflicts.

The situation escalated as the KNU, after taking control of all military outposts in the township, vowed to pursue any remaining soldiers. The KNU urged the public to cooperate and not to fear, signaling a significant shift in control within the region. Furthermore, retreating soldiers have been reported hiding near the No.2 Myanmar-Thailand Friendship Bridge, seeking refuge in Thailand.

The conflict in Myawaddy has involved various military and paramilitary units, including the Border Guard Force units of Kayin state, which recently declared their independence from the Myanmar military to establish the Karen National Army. This new entity has played a crucial role in negotiating and maintaining peace in the region, promising to protect Myawaddy from further conflict.

As resistance continues, and the local population braces for the outcomes, the international community remains watchful of the developments in this critical border region. The capture of Myawaddy not only underscores the growing challenge faced by Myanmar’s military but also highlights the enduring struggle of the Karen people, who constitute the third-largest ethnic group in Myanmar and have long sought greater autonomy from the central government.

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