Thailand’s claims that the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army’s attack on Burmese government positions along the shared border damaged bilateral trade has been rubbished by the group.
The governor of Tak province in western Thailand, Samat Loifa, said this week that the eruption of fighting along the border had hurt the Thai economy, affecting both trade and tourism.
Fighting flared in the Burmese border town of Myawaddy earlier this month before spreading south to Payathonzu. Both towns are key border trade points, but were more or less emptied as some 20,000 refugees fled into Thailand.
But Samat’s claim has been countered by a senior official in the breakaway Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), who said that the closure of the Myawaddy crossing several months ago was the trigger for the drop in trade between the two neighbours.
“The fall of the Thai economy is not because of us,” said the commander. “The [Burmese junta] had blocked the border checkpoints with Thailand before the fight with us – they are imposing economic sanctions on Thailand with help from China.”
Thailand is to date Burma’s top foreign investor, although that position is rapidly being eroded by soaring investment from China. Thailand however relies on Burma for 20 percent of its electricity consumption, whilst importing a range of commodities from the pariah.
A dispute between the two governments emerged in July this year after Burmese authorities closed their side of the Myawaddy crossing, citing Thailand’s construction of a defensive wall to stop erosion on its side of the river, although Burma said it would have the opposite effect on its side.
Thai Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot complained at the time that the closure would damage border trade, which had reached nearly $US800 million in 2009.
Samat also accused the DKBA and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), who last week said they would fight alongside one another against the Burmese army, of taking food rations from the refugees.
“This is not the first time we’ve heard rumours like this,” said Saw Hla Ngwe, joint secretary of the Karen National Union, the political wing of the KNLA. “The refugees barely get anything for themselves let alone to share with [us].”