Myanmar air force chief General Htun Aung has apologised to his Thai counterpart after a Myanmar military fighter jet intruded into Thai airspace on Thursday, just a day after coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing met a Thai army general to discuss stability and anti-terrorism in areas along the Myanmar-Thailand frontier.
On Thursday afternoon a Myanmar air force MIG-29 intruded around four to five kilometers into Thai air space, flying over parts of Phop Phra District in Tak Province while launching airstrikes against anti-regime resistance forces based near the Myanmar-Thai border.
The Royal Thai Air Force responded by scrambling two F-16 fighter jets to patrol over the border district. The intrusion of the Myanmar jet and the sound of the explosions from the airstrikes caused panic in two Thai villages near the border, prompting residents to take shelter in bunkers, while schools evacuated their students.
A source said Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha spoke with Royal Thai Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Napadej Dhupatemiya about the intrusion into Thai air space and asked him to lodge a protest via Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Thai air force attache at the Thai embassy in Yangon, the Bangkok Post reported.
ACM Napadej later phoned General Htun Aung about the Myanmar air force incursion. The general apologised and said there would be no recurrence of the incident, said the source.
On Wednesday, Min Aung Hlaing had rolled out the red carpet for a Royal Thai Army general to discuss stability and anti-terrorism in border areas among other issues.
Junta-controlled newspapers said Min Aung Hliang received a Thai military delegation headed by Lieutenant General Apichet Suesat of the Royal Thai Army in the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw. The delegation was in the country to attend the 34th meeting of the Thailand-Myanmar Regional Border Committee hosted by Myanmar. The meeting was held in the Shan State capital Taunggyi, but the Thai delegation was invited to meet Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw.
Lt-Gen Apichet Suesat is the commander of the Third Army Region (TAR) that comprises border areas in northern Thailand neighboring Myanmar.
The TAR is one of the most active commands dealing with the fallout from the conflict in frontier areas inside Myanmar following last year’s coup, as well as dealing with illegal migrants from Myanmar who slip across the border into Thailand in search of work.
Thailand shares an over 2,400 kilometers-long frontier with Myanmar. Cross-border trade contributes significantly to the economies of both countries.
Min Aung Hlaing’s meeting with the Thai delegation comes as the military regime is facing daily attacks from ethnic armed organizations (EAO) and anti-coup resistance forces based along the Myanmar-Thai border. The junta has responded with the increased use of air and artillery strikes.
In 2021, Lt-Gen Apichet told the Bangkok Post that there is an agreement with the Myanmar military where the Thai army will shoot off a flare to alert them when stray shells or bombs land on Thai territory.
“But if there’s no let-up of stray shells, we will shoot back. The gesture should not be misinterpreted as the army taking the side of minority groups. We are out to protect Thai citizens,” said the Lt-Gen.
Since Sunday, there has been fierce fighting in Karen State’s Myawaddy Township, where ethnic Karen EAOs and resistance groups are trying to seize a strategic junta outpost near the Myanmar-Thai border.
Min Aung Hlaing’s reception of the Thai delegation can also be seen as his attempt to show the world that Thailand and the junta maintain a cordial relationship, even as other countries in Southeast Asia shun his regime for its brutal crackdowns that have killed over 2,000 civilians since the coup.
Thailand has taken a softer approach to the junta than other countries. While the world condemned the February 2021 coup, Deputy Thai Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said it was “their internal affair”.
And while the regime’s plan to hold an election in 2023 has been denounced internationally, Thailand’s newly-appointed special envoy to Myanmar, Pornpimol ‘Pauline’ Kanchanalak, said last month that the world must take the junta’s commitment to hold elections “at face value” and that “condemnations, sanctions, ostracization” of the regime “have reached diminishing returns.”
Regime media reported that Min Aung Hiang and Lt-Gen Apichet Suesat discussed and exchanged views on enhancing the friendship and cooperation between their militaries, stability in border areas, increasing co-operation in the rule of law and control of narcotics, and the successful implementation of peace and development and anti-terrorism in border areas.
They discussed also how the Thai military could help facilitate the return of striking civil servants, students and young people who are sheltering in areas along the border to avoid being arrested.
In 1988, after the failed pro-democracy uprising, thousands of Myanmar dissidents flocked to border areas. The then Thai army chief General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh flew to Yangon and met with the then junta, breaking the international isolation imposed on the regime for its killing of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators.
In return, Thai companies received lucrative logging contracts, fishing rights and deals in the hotel business. Chavalit agreed also to repatriate student activists who had fled to Thailand after the massacres, whether they wanted to return or not.