Myanmar’s Karen Border Guard Force Denies Knowledge of Chinese Who Entered Thailand Illegally

By Nyein Nyein 14 July 2020

The Karen Border Guard Force said there are Chinese experts and investors based at its casinos in Myawaddy, Karen State, but claimed to have no knowledge of 16 Chinese people arrested by Thai police for illegal entry on Sunday in Mae Sot, a Thai border town.

Thai police arrested 16 Chinese who snuck into Thailand by swimming across the Moei River, which is the boundary between Myanmar and Thailand, Thai media reported on Sunday. The Chinese detainees said they had been working at casinos in Myawaddy until the casinos were forced to close due to COVID-19.

According to the reports, of the 16 Chinese, 10 had no passports. The six who were carrying passports had no Thai entry stamps or other documents permitting entry into Thailand. The Thai police are investigating the 16 men, after detaining them, and would contact the Chinese Embassy, according to Thai Rath news.

In fact, the BGF commander said, the casinos in Myawaddy have been closed for four months due to COVID-19, and its workers have been provided with very limited amounts of financial assistance for food, as businesses has dried up.

“The casinos were shut in February; at that time the employees were paid half of their salaries, but now it has been reduced to 1,500 Thai baht [65,242 kyats] for each employee for food,” said Colonel Saw Chit Thu, the leader of the BGF, which is now backed by the Myanmar military. The BGF was formed in 2010 from a splinter group of the former Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which is itself a faction of the Karen revolutionary group the Karen National Union.

Businesses have been hit hard and some have not been able to pay staff during the casino closures. An estimated 20,000-30,000 employees in those casinos are out of jobs due to COVID-19, he added.

Regarding the claim by the Chinese who illegally crossed into Thailand that they worked in casinos in Myanmar, Saw Chit Thu said his casinos’ employees are mostly local Myanmar people.

“I am not aware of those Chinese [that you mentioned], but our employees working in our five or six casinos are mostly locals. We accept foreigners—Thais and Chinese—as investors or experts only,” he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

He added that the BGF has strictly controlled the border crossing since COVID-19 cases were reported both in Myanmar and Thailand, and only some food items, mostly vegetables and meats, are allowed to be sent through their checkpoints. People are not allowed to cross.

“We regularly monitor our border checkpoints, both with our staff and flying drones,” Saw Chit Thu said.

Thai news media reported that the Chinese detainees’ illegal entry into Thailand is a violation of Thailand’s Communicable Disease Act as well as Tak Provincial orders.

In order to contain the spread of COVID-19, since late March, Thailand and Myanmar have only opened the second Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge in Mae Sot-Myawaddy, where Myanmar migrants are allowed to return home, after undergoing mandatory health checks and quarantine. All bilateral trade must pass through this border post, while the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge 1 is still closed.

Thailand’s land borders remain closed to foreigners.

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