Asian Highway reopens as conflict simmers

Asian Highway reopens as conflict simmers

A disputed stretch of Asian Highway 1 (AH1) reopened on Friday, according to the Border Guard Force (BGF), after fighting settled between the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and government troops in the area.

Maj. Naing Maung Zaw of the ethnic Karen BGF said that the route connecting the towns of Kawkareit and Myawaddy in Karen State is now accessible between 5am and 5pm daily, but warned travellers to stick to the main road.

“Our only request to travellers is to avoid straying off the road – there are landmines scattered about and we are still in the process of clearing them,” he said.

Meanwhile, a local resident in Kawkareit, Aung Toe, said traffic flow between the two towns was back to normal on Friday morning.

“The situation in Kawkareit is calm this morning,” he said. “The roads have reopened so we have vehicles from Myawaddy arriving via both the Asian Highway and the old mountain road.”

Fresh fighting between government forces and DKBA broke out on 2 July, forcing stretches of the highway to close as Burmese authorities prepared to ceremonially open the new highway later this month.

Aung Toe said 116 local villagers in the area fled their homes amid the fighting and were provided shelter at a Buddhist monastery in Kawkareit.

Maj. Saw Lonlon, the DKBA’s external relations coordinator, said rebel army officials had met with representatives of the BGF, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Burmese army on 7 July, but that no agreement or resolution had been reached.

“Our only viable solution is to negotiate, but there was no conclusion to the meeting. Maj. Phaw Doh of the Karen National Union (the political wing of the KNLA) pledged to help mediate the situation and the situation has been resolved to an extent,” said Saw Lonlon.

“We were told that the Burmese army began withdrawing their troops on Wednesday but we can’t know for sure. As of now, we are still hearing gunfire.”

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The Asian Highway is a UN-initiated network of land arteries that are projected to one day connect the Far East with Europe and the Middle East. The AH1 is one of those routes – running 20,000 kilometres from Tokyo to Istanbul via Thailand, Burma and India.

The Burmese section of the AH1 is one of the least developed parts of the pan-continental project. The road enters Burma in the east at Myawaddy on the Thai border, then snakes over the mountain range to Rangoon, heading up to Mandalay via Naypyidaw, before departing to India via the border town of Tamu.

But several ethnic militias are active in Burma’s eastern border areas as a comprehensive peace process drags on, and control over the lucrative trade route remains far from certain.

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