The military junta suffers another defeat with the military loss of the important border town of Myawaddy. Troop morale is falling.

A Thai soldier guards the bridge to Myawaddy, Myanmar, in the border town of Mae Sot.

A Thai soldier guards the bridge to Myawaddy, Myanmar, in the border town of Mae Sot, where soldiers are trying to escape. Photo: Steven Note/dpa

SEDAN taz | The rebels, who have been advancing toward the city of Myawaddy in southeastern Myanmar for days, apparently took the important border town on Thursday. Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) fighters, in alliance with People's Defense Forces militias that emerged after the coup (PDF), say they broke the resistance of the last remaining 275th Battalion there overnight.

Eyewitnesses confirmed it to the agencies. According to rebel reports, 200 soldiers retreated to a bridge crossing the Moie border river to the neighboring Thai town of Mae Sot. Apparently they want to escape.

Thailand has already strengthened its military there. At the weekend, Myanmar had already sent a plane to Mae Sot with the permission of the Bangkok government to bring fleeing junta forces back to Myanmar. But according to Thai media, the plane returned without passengers.

On Tuesday afternoon, the rebels launched their final attack on the town after talks over the battalion's surrender failed. The attack caused an exodus of civilians across the border bridge. According to Thai information, the number of people entering the kingdom has doubled.

The rebels also control the road to Myawaddy.

Last weekend, rebels captured a battalion base at Thin Gan Nyi Naung, a few dozen kilometers west of Myawaddy. The 400 defenders who had previously controlled access to the border town surrendered along with 200 family members. The rebels captured numerous weapons and ammunition.

Myawaddy has around 60,000 inhabitants and is the most important border city with Thailand in terms of trade volume. In recent years, numerous casinos and cyber fraud factories have sprung up in the city, from which the military is believed to have made money.

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The city can only be reached from the interior via a single main road. Now that the rebels control them, the army, which is under pressure across the country due to its multi-front war, has been unable to reinforce its troops and has only been able to carry out a few airstrikes.

90,000 refugees from Myanmar, the former Burma, have been living on the Thai side of the border for decades. Many belong to the Karen minority, many of whom are Christians. The Karen National Union (KNU) and its military wing KNLA have been fighting the central government since the country's independence in 1948 and are the oldest ethnic rebels in the country.

Old rebels, young activists: a successful alliance

The KNU and KNLA have provided military training to many underground activists in the cities since the 2021 coup. In contrast, city residents, some of whom are well educated, have helped ethnic rebels not only to increase its own weapons production using 3D printers, but also to build powerful drones.

A week ago, the new capital, Naypyitaw, strategically located in the interior of the country by the military, was attacked by the rebels for the first time with a dozen drones. The targets were the airport and the headquarters of the coup leader Min Aung Hlaing.

The military said it shot down all the drones. Still, the unprecedented attack was a psychological blow to the junta. Because it shows your loss of control. It is becoming increasingly defensive, among other things because the morale of the soldiers is declining and, among other things, because the poverty of the population has increased in view of the economic crisis caused by the coup.

On the contrary, highly motivated rebels, who do not receive any support from foreign powers, have since been able to seize many weapons. The junta is now trying to bolster its troops through conscription. But this also leads some recruits to fall into the arms of the rebels.

On Thursday, rebels in northern Myanmar, allied with the Kachin Independent Army (KIA), said they had captured a major military base. From there, the military controlled access to the city of Hpakant, the most important place for the extraction of valuable jade. The successful offensive of anti-dictatorial rebels began in Shan State at the end of October.

Thailand expects many more refugees

According to Myanmar's renowned human rights organization AAPPB, a total of 4,882 civilians have been killed by the military and 26,510 arrested since the February 1, 2021 coup, with 20,337 still in custody. Since then, 164 people have been sentenced to death. There is no information on military losses on either side, but they are likely to be in the tens of thousands. According to the UN Emergency Relief Agency in Ojá, there are currently more than 2.8 million internally displaced people.

Thailand's Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said this week that his country is willing to accept (an additional) 100,000 refugees from Myanmar. However, refugees are typically not allowed to leave the border region and have few legal job opportunities. This makes them easy to exploit.

According to Thai media reports, the border town of Mae Sot, where a large number of refugees from Myanmar live, is the most popular parking spot for Thai police officers. Because it is easy to extort money from Myanmar refugees here.