More than 80 Myanmar junta troops stranded on Thai side of border

RFA Burmese and BenarNews
More than 80 Myanmar junta troops stranded on Thai side of border Myanmar junta soldiers man a security hut in Kawkareik district in eastern Myanmar’s Kayin state in this photo released April 7, 2021.
Free Burma Rangers via AFP

Updated at 7:52 a.m. EDT on 2023-09-15

Between 80 and 100 heavily armed Myanmar junta soldiers have been stranded on Thai soil for more than a week after they crossed the border, prompting a Thai lawmaker to demand an explanation from his government for why they were allowed into the country – and why the Thai public hasn’t been informed.

“That kind of violation of Thailand’s state sovereignty by close to 100 Myanmar soldiers is a national issue, not a border matter,” lawmaker Kannavee Suebsang, from the opposition Fair Party, told the Bangkok Post.

There were conflicting accounts and explanations given for the unusual situation.

Kannavee told Radio Free Asia, a news organization affiliated with BenarNews, that the Myanmar troops had crossed the border on Sept. 3 after they were repulsed by an attack by Karen National Liberation Army, or KNLA, troops on their Htee Kalae Pae camp in Kyainseikgyi township of Kawkareik district in Kayin state.

Rebel fighters on the border have prevented the Myanmar soldiers from returning to their base, he said. Kannavee said residents informed nearby Thai soldiers about the presence of Myanmar soldiers in Le Tong Khu village, though no action was taken, the Post reported.

After social media posts about the presence of Burmese soldiers, a Thai army team engaged in negotiations between the soldiers from Myanmar army and the ethnic armed group to stop preventing the Burmese troops from returning to Myanmar, the Post reported.

The Burmese soldiers are from battalions 561, 339 and 559 of the Southeast Region Command, and they have been in Thai territory since Sept. 3, a KNLA official said. 

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Thai lawmaker Kannavee Suebsang of the opposition Fair Party delivers a speech in the Thai Parliament in an undated photo. [Thai Parliament]

Conflicting accounts

A spokeswoman for the Royal Thai Army dismissed Kannavee’s claim that Thai soldiers allowed Burmese troops to enter the country. 

The Thai army’s Naresuan Task Force, which patrols border areas in Tak and Mae Hong Son provinces, “keeps vigilant of the border with civilian government agencies,” said Maj. Gen. Sirichan Ngathong. “We did not find them,” she said.

“In reality, people commute along the borderlines and natural trails, so the Naresuan Task Force follows the traffic attentively with the border command centers in Tak and Mae Hong Son province to ensure sovereignty is not violated,” she said.

The displaced Burmese soldiers are in a temporary safe zone and will return to yanmar voluntarily when the situation there is safe, she said.

But officers with the Karen National Union, the KNLA’s political wing, said the junta soldiers did not flee from fighting, and instead had intentionally crossed the border to attack rebel positions from the Thai side.

“They sneakily entered by using routes from Thailand in the past,” said Maj. Saw Win Myint of the Venom Commando Army, a special unit under the Karen National Defense Organization, one of two military branches of the KNU.

“It will be the same now,” he said. “They will do it to prepare offensives or defensives or not to lose their base. It is impossible to cross into Thailand while fighting.”

RFA could not reach junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment. The Tak district administration department did not respond to email inquiries.

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Myanmar junta soldiers man a security hut in Kawkareik district in eastern Myanmar’s Kayin state in this photo released April 7, 2021. [Free Burma Rangers via AFP]

In another take, pro-junta analysts said Burmese soldiers may have entered Thailand by mistake. 

“If they entered officially for joint military operations or exercises, then it would be official,” said Thein Tun Oo, executive director of Myanmar’s pro-military Thayninga Institute of Strategic Studies. “If not, [then] the crossing was an accident.”

A Myanmar activist in Thailand told RFA that if Myanmar troops crossed the border and fled into Thai territory due to the fighting in Kayin state, it was because Thai military personnel allowed them to do so.

“They are on good terms, so they were allowed to do so,” he said. “But it may be difficult for Burmese troops to enter Thailand because the parliament has raised questions, and the opposition has criticized it.” 

When fighting raged along the Thai-Myanmar border in 2022, a Myanmar Air Force's fighter jet intruded into Thai airspace, prompting discussion in the Thai Parliament, he added.

Although the Thai opposition MP said in the parliament that the border crossing was a violation of Thailand’s state sovereignty, the Thai military will not take any effective action since it has a good relationship with Myanmar, said Than Soe Naing, a political analyst.

Kannavee “pointed out that Myanmar is violating their sovereignty,” he said. “It may be uncomfortable for the Thai army, but I don’t think the Thai army will step up to tighten security.”

This story has been updated to correct that in 2022 a Myanmar Air Force fighter jet intruded into Thai airspace.


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