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Blow for Myanmar’s military as rebels say hundreds have surrendered at key border town | Myanmar

Written by World News

Myanmar’s embattled military is on the brink of losing control of one of the country’s major border crossings, in another humiliating defeat to the junta.

Hundreds of soldiers have surrendered in the town of Myawaddy, near to the border with Thailand, according to opposition groups, while Myanmar junta authorities asked Thai officials for permission to land an evacuation flight across the border on Sunday. Thailand said it granted the request on humanitarian grounds, but clarified on Tuesday that it carried only cargo and no personnel, according to media reports.

Myawaddy, in Karen state, is one of the most important border crossings in Myanmar and crucial to the flow of goods between the country and Thailand. It has been controlled by the military for decades.

The likely loss of the township will be just the latest embarrassing blow for the military, which has also lost control of swathes of territory in the north of the country, along the border with China and India, as well as areas of western Rakhine state.

Thai prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, told Reuters the military junta was weakening.

“The current regime is starting to lose some strength … but even if they are losing, they have the power, they have the weapons,” Srettha said.

A commander of an anti-coup group, known as a People’s Defence Force, who spoke from a frontline neighbouring Karen state told the Guardian 617 soldiers and their relatives had surrendered, including 67 officers. Only between 40 and 60 military troops were yet to surrender, he estimated.

The commander, whose areas of operations cover Myawaddy, estimated at least 75% of the township was under resistance control. Among the large weapon hauls seized were four howitzer artillery guns, he said.

Earlier, the Karen National Union, an ethnic armed group that has long fought against the military for independence for ethnic Karen, and which is aligned with the wider pro-democracy resistance, reported that hundreds of military soldiers had surrendered on Friday from a battalion based in Thingan Nyi Naung, a village 12km from Myawaddy.

Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup in February 2021, ousting the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, a move widely opposed by the public and which plunged the country into spiralling conflict. Many civilians took up arms and formed people’s defence forces to fight against the junta’s brutal rule, with some receiving support from older, more established ethnic armed organisations such as the KNU.

The military has struggled to control such opposition and suffered relentless losses since 27 October, when a powerful bloc of ethnic armed groups abandoned an informal ceasefire and launched a coordinated operation in northern Shan State. This placed the military, which was already stretched thin across multiple fronts, under far greater pressure and, as it began to lose ground, other groups elsewhere in the country stepped up their attacks.

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The commander who spoke anonymously to the Guardian said some of the troops that surrendered over recent days had previously surrendered in northern Shan state in early January. They were granted safe passage and then relocated to Myawaddy, only to surrender a second time, he said.

The military is struggling with poor morale and a lack of manpower, and has introduced mandatory conscription to try to boost its troop numbers – a policy that has horrified young people and led many to flee military-controlled areas.

Soldiers who surrendered would go through a verification process, and those who wanted to return to military-controlled territory would mostly be allowed to go, the commander said.

The remaining soldiers in Myawaddy who were yet to surrender had previously agreed to do so but reversed their decision when reinforcements arrived in the area, he said.

“Despite the reinforcements, they’re unable to hold that position for long,” he said. “We can overrun them any time we want.”

But the commander added it was likely the military would target the area with aerial bombings. “It’s very difficult to predict their moves. [Junta chief] Min Aung Hlaing is considered a mad dog. There is nothing he dare not do.”


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