A faction of Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) has threatened to suspend border trade between Mae Sot and Myawaddy townships in response to the Thai government placing its leader on a list of “five most wanted people” over alleged links to the drugs trade.
“We have an order to close border trade already,” said Maj San Aung of the DKBA. “We will close it in the next two to three days. We have already informed the [Burmese] government about this.”
Even if the Burmese authorities do not close their border, we will shut it from our controlled areas because this order comes from our high officials, he added.
The DKBA has a stronghold of bases along the Thai-Burmese border from Umpiem to Waw Lay by Kawkareik Township, Karen State. Thai goods mainly cross the frontier through gates run by rebel troops before being transported to different part of Burma.
DKBA leader Saw Lah Pwe held a press conference on Tuesday at his base in Myawaddy Township. Both Burmese and Thai media groups heard him denounce as “groundless” the accusations from Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung on April 20 that he was a drug dealer.
He accused the Thai authorities of risking border stability and invited a delegation to investigate his base, adding that if they uncovered nothing that his name should be struck off the wanted list. Otherwise, he threatened to bring the matter to an international tribunal.
Chalerm responded by telling Thai Channel-3 TV that there was no other way to resolve the dispute apart from the DKBA leader turning himself over to the police in Thailand.
Border trade was still crossing normally on Wednesday, but the Thai authorities have tightened security and even deployed tanks near to the Burmese side.
The Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board offered a total reward of 12 million baht (US $388,000) for the capture of 25 suspected criminals. A bounty of one million baht ($32,000) was offered for Saw Lah Pwe, according to an announcement on April 20.
But he told The Irrawaddy soon after the report came out that, “I never do [drug trafficking]. I have no desire to be rich in that way. [The Thai authorities] hurt not only my image, but also the image of my people and my state. They look down on us.”
Saw Lah Pwe broke away from the mainstream DKBA with around a quarter of its estimated 6,000 troops in late 2010. He reached a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese authorities in November 2011.