The Latest on Southeast Asia: Junta Recapture of Myawaddy

On April 11, 2024, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) seized Myawaddy, disrupting the junta’s control of one of the most significant trade corridors between Thailand and Myanmar. Trade flows into and out of Myanmar are increasingly constricted as the junta has progressively lost control over more border crossings. The junta, recognizing the vital importance of Myawaddy as one of its last remaining economic lifelines, launched an all-out effort to recapture the city.

Conflict in Myawaddy, directly across the river from Mae Sot, Thailand, threatened to spill over the Thailand-Myanmar border, prompting concern from the Thai government. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, accompanied by Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara, visited Mae Sot on April 22 to assess the situation and evaluate aid plans for Thais and Burmese affected by the ongoing conflict. 

On April 24, less than two weeks after the capture of Myawaddy, the KNLA withdrew from the city ahead of an approaching junta counterattack. The Karen National Army (KNA), formerly the Karen Border Guard Force, supported junta troops in reoccupying Myawaddy. Despite this setback, ethnic armed organizations throughout the country continue to make significant progress against the junta, including in Rakhine State where the Arakan Army threatens to take the state capital Sittwe. The ongoing escalation of offensives against junta positions since Operation 1027 places the junta on increasingly unstable footing. 

The ongoing offensives throughout Myanmar’s border regions contribute to a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. In the battle for Myawaddy, refugees crossed the river into Mae Sot to avoid the conflict. The ongoing refugee crisis complicates ASEAN’s response to the situation. During the January 2024 ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ retreat, which happened after Myawaddy’s fall but before its recapture by the junta, Laos, the incumbent ASEAN chair, emphasized the importance of the Five Point Consensus to create peaceful solutions. This sentiment was echoed by Thai foreign minister Parnpree who encouraged the junta to avoid a violent response against Myawaddy.

Despite hopes that the junta’s controversial participation in the foreign ministers’ retreat would lead to more engagement, the regime continues to refuse any progress toward the Five Point Consensus. The junta is making bigger blunders out of desperation—for instance, its widely unpopular conscription law has further soured public opinion against it and prompted many young Burmese to flee the country. As it is further backed into a corner by compounding resistance successes and worsening civil unrest, it remains unclear if junta leadership will fracture or seek a negotiated offramp.

Japhet Quitzon is a research associate with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

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