The fall of Myawaddy is important

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The town of Myawaddy has always assumed much greater importance than its small size would suggest.
That the town has now fallen to forces led by the Karen ethnic army, indicates that in the current civil war, new battle lines have been drawn.
I have been visiting Mae Sot across the border since I first arrived in Thailand more than 20 years ago.
During that time Myawaddy thrived.
In the late 1980s, an estimated 40 percent of Myanmar’s gross domestic product (GDP) passed through Myawaddy, much of it moving illegally across the border.
A bridge for heavy goods vehicles, a cargo terminal and speeded-up customs procedures that have resulted in legal trade worth $1bn passing across the border every year.
On Thursday, as the remnants of the military fighting force fled to the cargo terminal requesting safe passage to Thailand, and air strikes hit the city, containers of food and tankers of fuel were still travelling across the bridge from Thailand.
That trade is desperately needed by an economy that has taken a beating since the February 2021 coup.


Despite its small size, the town of Myawaddy has always held much more significance.

Situated on Myanmar’s eastern frontier and overlooking the Thai town of Mae Sot on the other side of the Moei River, it has served as a hub for numerous ethnic and democratic organizations involved in the long-running struggle against multiple military regimes.

However, despite occasional minor clashes, it has stayed under government control for the entire duration. The ethnic armed groups residing in the vicinity have understood that any attempt to upset the power balance in the city would jeopardize a crucial economic hub for the entire country of Myanmar.

The town’s current fall to the Karen ethnic army’s forces shows that new fronts have been drawn in the ongoing civil war.

Though thousands of residents are escaping into Thailand, the town has not been completely destroyed by the fighting over the past month. They fear that, now that ground troops have left, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s military will retaliate with airstrikes.

Since my arrival in Thailand over twenty years ago, I have been making cross-border visits to Mae Sot.

However, it wasn’t until May 2008 that I entered Myawaddy for the first time, sneaking over the border with Al Jazeera colleagues while posing as tourists to cover a national referendum planned by a rival military regime in an attempt to appease demands from around the world for democratic reforms in Myanmar.

We discovered a community devoid of basic amenities and populated by people who harbored strong doubts about the military government’s ability to genuinely enact democracy.

However, a small window of opportunity created by the referendum ultimately led to the 2015 elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) easily won.

Myawaddy prospered during that period.

An estimated 40% of Myanmar’s GDP, primarily from illegal cross-border trade, went through Myawaddy in the late 1980s.

New infrastructure has been added more recently. A cargo terminal, a bridge for large cargo vehicles, and expedited customs processes have allowed $1 billion worth of lawful trade to cross the border annually.

Food containers and fuel tankers were still being transported across the bridge from Thailand on Thursday, when air strikes hit the city and the remaining military fighting force fled to the cargo terminal, requesting safe passage to Thailand.

Following the coup in February 2021, the economy has suffered greatly, making that trade extremely necessary.

However, fighting has forced millions of people within the nation from their homes, so it was difficult for me to picture Myawaddy serving as the entry point into Myanmar as I sat beneath Friendship Bridge No. 2 and heard fighter jets taking off and landing. Armed groups were also seen patrolling the streets.

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