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Scam operations in Myawaddy relocate to Laos and Cambodia

Cyber scam operations in Myanmar’s Shwe Kokko, located 20 km north of Myawaddy in Karen State, have reportedly begun to move to Laos and Cambodia since the Border Guard Force (BGF) issued a warning earlier this month for all foreigners to vacate the cyber scam compounds in areas under its control by Oct. 31. 

Sources on-the-ground in Myawaddy, along the Thai-Myanmar border, have reported that cyber scam compounds are still active with foreigners working in the BGF-controlled Shwe Kokko Yatai New City Project despite its directive. 

“The crucial aspect is ensuring that they leave within six months, as it demonstrates international cooperation,” said Naing Maung Zaw, the spokesperson for the BGF, which recently rebranded itself as the Karen National Army (BGF/KNA).

Anti-human trafficking groups based in Thailand have raised awareness about the proliferation of cyber scam compounds along the Myanmar border since a rebel offensive against the military started along the China border on Oct. 27. 

Operation 1027 was launched by the Brotherhood Alliance in northern Shan State with a stated aim to shut down cyber scams at the behest of Beijing. Many relocated to Myawaddy Township, where several cyber scam compounds have increased in size.

“To fight these scamming businesses, we are ready to cooperate with the international community,” Padoh Saw Taw Nee, the Karen National Union (KNU) spokesperson, told DVB.

The KNU took control of the military’s last outpost in Myawaddy on April 11 vowing to crack down on cyber scams along the Thai-Myanmar border. It left the outpost under BGF/KNA control, but 12 days later it was handed back to the military.

A Myanmar-based human rights activist told DVB that many cyber scam workers – themselves human trafficking victims – have been forcibly relocated from Myanmar, via Thailand to Laos and Cambodia. 

“The thing we have to be very careful about in such a move is that these online money scams are not going to disappear, they are going to grow even more,” said the anti-trafficking activist on the condition of anonymity. 

Job recruiters in Myawaddy Township have increased efforts to find new employees in Myanmar, where the economy has been on a downward trajectory since the 2021 military coup. Job ads on social media platforms such as Telegram and Facebook entice educated, English-speaking, computer savvy Myanmar nationals with the promise of a high salary. 

One recent hire at a cyber scam compound said that he was offered a six-month work contract and a flight to Cambodia. He was told his salary would range from four to six million kyat ($909-1,363 USD) depending on his work performance. 

The BGF/KNA is reportedly receiving $192 million annually from cyber scam operations. Half of this amount allegedly goes into the coffers of the military regime in Naypyidaw, as documented by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in a report last month. 

The Shwe Kokko Yatai New City Project in Myawaddy Township of Karen State has gained notoriety for being a crime hub for human trafficking victims from all over Asia and Africa. The U.N. estimated that 120,000 people have been trafficked to Myanmar and forced to work at cyber scam compounds, including those inside Shwe Kokko.

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