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The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army closed down Thai-Burma border checkpoints in eastern Karen State on Monday as tensions escalate between the group and Thai authorities.
Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board placed a one million baht bounty on the DKBA’s leader Na Kham Mwe in April for what they say is his role in the drug trade.
Major San Aung, a DKBA battalion commander, said the group issued orders to its troops to close down checkpoints alongside the border across from Thailand’s Tak province.
“We sent out an order to our units to close every [checkpoint] – some of them didn’t received the order in time – over 10 checkpoints have been shut down now,” said San Aung.
“We ordered our troops to not allow people to pass through,” said the major.
Farmers and merchants primarily use the checkpoints.
According to an AFP report, Thai authorities have reached out to their counterparts in Burma to help in the arrest of Na Kham Mwe.
“I am ready to travel [to Burma] to discuss this issue and its coordination because this issue [drugs] has caused so much suffering to Thais,” said Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobumrung, according to the AFP.
The Thai government also issued a warning last week concerning alleged threats made by the DKBA that were aimed at residents living in Thailand.
The DKBA denies the allegation that the group or their leader are involved in the drug trade. The rebel army extended an invitation to Thai authorities and international anti-narcotics agencies to travel to their territory in eastern Karen state to inspect areas that were considered suspect.
While the group closed several checkpoints, most major crossings remain open in the area; however, the DKBA has expressed their intent to close more checkpoints if necessary, including the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge in Mae Sot.
“We also attempted to close down the bridge checkpoint. We are seeking [authorisation] with the [Burmese Army’s Southeastern Regional Military Command],” said the major. “There has been no response yet, but [Burmese] troops’ numbers have increased in the area,” he said.
“We don’t want our country to lose face with their neighbours. We asked for permission from our authorities first, but they haven’t responded officially. If [Na Kham Mwe] tells us to shut it down by any means possible, then we’ll have to obey the order.
The armed group grabbed headlines for such actions in the past when they captured Myawaddy on the Thai-Burma border in 2010. Fighting erupted between the DKBA and government troops after the rebel group refused to form government-controlled Border Guard Force units.
While the group only briefly captured the township, the move demonstrated their ability to successfully engage militarily with the Burmese army.
“We are not afraid to wage a just war with anyone – if the Thais are going to oppress us with unjust means, then we will have to protect ourselves,” said San Aung.
A merchant in Myawaddy, across the border from Mae Sot, said the situation in the township remains calm.
“The situation is normal. Merchants can still cross the bridge as usual although security under the bridge has been increased,” said the merchant.