Myanmar’s Junta Recaptures Town That Was a Significant Gain for Rebels

The Myanmar junta has recaptured the town of Myawaddy, an important trading hub on the border with Thailand, reversing a key victory for resistance soldiers who seized it nearly two weeks ago then were forced to withdraw, a spokesman for the rebel Karen National Union said on Wednesday.

The seizure of Myawaddy by junta troops followed the defection of a well-armed local militia known as the Border Guard Force, which had briefly switched sides and joined ethnic Karen rebels and allied pro-democracy forces in taking the town on April 11.

After rejoining forces with the junta, the militia on Tuesday helped to free trapped regime soldiers and retake their battalion’s base on the edge of town, where they raised Myanmar’s national flag, said Padoh Saw Taw Nee, the spokesman for the Karen National Union, a political leadership body.

“In light of this critical situation and to avoid falling into the enemy’s trap, we must temporarily withdraw our Karen National Liberation Army joint forces from Myawaddy,” Mr. Saw Taw Nee said in an interview.

The seizure of the town by resistance forces had been the rebels’ most significant victory to date as a broad alliance of armed ethnic groups and pro-democracy fighters have fought to oust the senior generals who seized power in a coup in 2021.

In recent months, resistance forces have seized dozens of towns and military outposts in the Myanmar’s border regions.

But Myawaddy, across the Moei River from the Thai town of Mae Sot, was an especially big prize, given its role as a hub for imports and exports, with $1 billion in trade last year.

The regime sought to regain Myawaddy by sending a convoy with reinforcements from army bases less than three hours away.

But faced with frequent ambushes and assaults by guerrilla fighters along the highway, the convoy still had not reached Myawaddy 12 days later, Mr. Saw Taw Nee said.

He said that rebel troops withdrawn from Myawaddy would join the battle against junta forces along the highway.

The regime’s spokesman, Gen. Zaw Min Tun, did not respond to repeated calls from The New York Times.

While the resistance held Myawaddy, the army bombed civilian targets in the town including roads and a bus station, killing at least seven people and injuring 30, said Ko Zack, the leader of an ambulance team.

For decades, ethnic armed groups fought for autonomy for their individual regions. But since the coup, many of the groups have joined forces with the aim of ousting the junta and replacing its leadership with a federal democracy.

“Our mission extends beyond the confines of Myawaddy,” Mr. Saw Taw Nee said. “Our objective is not merely regime change to replace the current rulers of the country. We aim for systemic change, transforming all corrupt systems within the nation.”

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