Asian Highway reopens despite artillery assaults

Asian Highway reopens despite artillery assaults

The mountain road that winds between Kawkareit in Karen State and the Thai-Burmese border town of Myawaddy reopened on Sunday after clashes between Burmese government forces and Karen rebels had forced its closure three days before.

The move comes following negotiations at the weekend between the Burmese military, the Karen regional government, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), the Border Guard Force and the Karen National Union.

Despite the agreement to reopen the road — which forms part of the pan-continent Asian Highway linking East Asia to Europe — armed clashes continued on Sunday around Kawkareit between government forces and the DKBA, with the Burmese army launching artillery assaults on Karen rebel positions.

A DVB reporter in the area said on Sunday that this stretch of the Asian Highway 1 (AH1) remains quiet with little traffic making the slow journey from the Thai border across the mountain range towards Hpa-an and Rangoon.

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The Burmese army has bolstered its presence along the AH1 as it prepares for an official opening ceremony later in July.

The Burmese section of the AH1 is one of the least developed parts of the pan-Asian project. The road enters Burma in the east at Myawaddy, 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 border areas as a comprehensive peace process drags on, and control over the lucrative trade route remains far from certain.

The 60-kilometre section of AH1 between Myawaddy and Kawkareit is currently under construction. It is a notoriously dangerous stretch of road – even excluding the infrequent militia checkpoints – as it generally measures no more than three metres in width, meaning only one lane of vehicles may pass at a time. However, it is a major trade route and all the armed groups in the region have wrestled for a piece of its potential.

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