Myanmar rebel group says it withdraws from key town on Thai border

By Thomson Reuters Apr 23, 2024 | 11:01 PM

(Reuters) – A Myanmar rebel group has withdrawn its troops from a town along the Thai border following a counteroffensive by soldiers of the ruling junta from whom the rebels had this month wrested the key trading post, an official said on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Karen National Union (KNU) said the “temporary retreat” from the town of Myawaddy came after the return of junta soldiers to the vital strategic area that is a conduit for annual foreign trade of more than $1 billion.

“KNLA troops will … destroy the junta troops and their back-up troops who marched to Myawaddy,” Saw Taw Nee told Reuters, referring to the group’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army, one of Myanmar’s oldest ethnic fighting forces.

Fighting had flared as recently as Saturday in Myawaddy, forcing 3,000 civilians to flee as rebels fought to flush out Myanmar junta troops holed up for days at a border bridge crossing.

Many of those civilians have since returned, the Thai government has said, adding that it had also urged Myanmar to keep the fighting from spilling across the border.

Photographs posted on some pro-junta social media groups showed a handful of soldiers raising the Myanmar flag at a military base the KNU had controlled just days before, and where the rebel group had raised its own banner.

The junta, which has mounted a counter-offensive to retake Myawaddy, was able to enter the area with the help of a regional militia that had stood aside when the KNU laid siege to Myawaddy early in April, according to Saw Taw Nee.

Officials from the militia group, the Karen National Army, and the junta did not respond to telephone calls from Reuters to seek comment.

Three years after its coup ousted a democratically-elected civilian government, Myanmar’s junta is under unprecedented pressure, having lost control of a string of key frontier areas to rebel groups.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)