New Mon State Party Agrees to Close Thai-Myanmar Border Crossings to Curb COVID-19

By Lawi Weng 27 April 2020

In an effort to boost cooperation with the Myanmar government to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country, the New Mon State Party (NMSP) has asked migrants returning from Thailand to re-enter Myanmar via Myawaddy in Karen State, and will keep all of the border crossings under its control in the Three Pagodas Pass area closed.

About 20,000 migrants who have lost jobs in Thailand are expected to return to Myanmar at the end of this month. The government is preparing facilities for their return in Myawaddy, so all migrants must return via the border checkpoint there, the NMSP said in a statement on Saturday.

“To control the coronavirus and prevent an epidemic, we inform migrants that they need to come back via the Myawaddy border crossing. For border crossings [under the party’s control], be sure not to let anyone cross and keep them locked,” the NMSP instructed its border officials in the statement, which was issued by the party’s headquarters.

Some migrants have continued to re-enter Myanmar via border checkpoints controlled by the NMSP in Palangjapan and Guu Bar villages, even after the crossings in the Three Pagodas Pass area were officially locked down.

The Mon State government earlier instructed the NMSP to keep its border crossings closed, and ordered migrants to return via Myawaddy, as the government wants all migrants to return via a single route.

“We heard that many migrants crossed the border illegally, without obtaining permission from the government, in the Three Pagodas Pass area. Now our priority is to prevent coronavirus; to ensure they return legally, therefore, we ask the NMSP to cooperate by informing migrants that they must come back via Myawaddy,” the state government told the NMSP in a letter dated April 21.

Several times, the party has negotiated with the government to allow migrants to return via border crossings under its control. The party’s image suffered recently, as the government accused the NMSP of allowing migrants to cross the border illegally in exchange for payments.

Nai Banyal Leir, a leader of the NMSP, said via a video chat service that the party was doing its best to negotiate with the government on behalf of migrants crossing the border in the Three Pagodas Pass area.

“After the government shut down the border crossings in Myawaddy and Three Pagodas Pass, there were still some migrants arriving at our border crossings,” he said.

Some 160 migrants returned this month via the NMSP-controlled border villages of Palangjapan and Guu Bar. Unable to cross the border at first, they spent many nights in a rubber plantation, short of food.

“They had big problems when they arrived at the border. The local villagers they did not want those migrants to stay in the village. The authorities did not allow them to cross the border so they could go and stay in Three Pagodas Pass. We had to negotiate with the government on their behalf,” he said.

The government thought the NMSP was allowing migrants to pass through in exchange for money, Nai Banyal Leir said.

“This hurt our party’s image and dignity,” he said.