Two Border Guard Force (BGF) soldiers refused The Irrawaddy permission to approach a border crossing between Myawaddy and Mae Sot, Thailand on foot on Monday, saying the area was closed. The closure reportedly followed efforts by the army to clamp down on vehicle smuggling across the Thai border.
According to Kyaw Than, an automobile trader who accompanied an Irrawaddy reporter to the area, however, the border crossing was normally open.
Local sources told The Irrawaddy that the Myanmar Army had ordered the BGF to close one of the area’s two border checkpoints, which have become a major route for smuggling illegally imported cars.
At another, disused border checkpoint that is also used to smuggle cars into the country, where on most days thousands of vehicles can be seen lined up on the Thai side of the border across the Moei River, no cars could be seen lined up on Monday. Both sides appeared empty, except for a few Myanmar laborers looking for work.
Kyaw Than said he was one of the many car buyers who traveled to the border crossing to buy smuggled cars. To see the cars, buyers must cross the river to where the cars are parked on the Thai side. When a deal is made, a Thai seller brings the car to the Myanmar side. The BGF soldiers then ask for a payment for permission to cross through the border checkpoint. Most traders do business with BGF personnel, he said. BGF soldiers even offered a service to drive the black market cars to the homes of buyers. Until recently, the Myanmar Army and police did not dare to take action against the BGF, he said. “They rule in Myawaddy. No one dares to make a problem for them,” Kyaw Than said.
Most of the smuggled cars are second-hand vehicles from Japan and Thailand. Some are stolen cars from other countries, but buyers are not concerned about that, he said. People looking for cheap cars travel to Myawaddy from all over Myanmar. Officially, the government only allows imported cars to enter the country via ports, but it has not been able to control the smuggling of vehicles across the Thai border.
Tension between BGF, Army
On Saturday, the Myanmar Army made surprise checks of two BGF bases — including two border checkpoints —without asking permission from BGF leaders. Some BGF leaders were reportedly upset about the army’s move, but decided not to complain about it.
Regarding the army’s action, BGF spokesperson Naing Maung Zaw told The Irrawaddy that, “We are all soldiers. We should respect each other. But, they [the Army] did not respect us.”
Myanmar Army and BGF leaders held a meeting in Myawaddy yesterday, according to BGF sources. The army ordered the closure of one major border checkpoint that had become a major conduit for car smuggling.
The situation was tense in some locations where BGF personnel were fully armed. Some residents of Myawaddy said both sides were to blame for the problem. “Normally [the town’s] restaurants are crowded, but not today,” Kyaw Than said.