The Thai Army has deployed more troops at border towns around Mae Sot, in northern Thailand’s Tak Province, due to escalating tensions with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) after a faction leader was accused of being a drug trafficker.
Thai Army chief Gen Prayut Chan O Cha told Thai Rath news on May 3 that his soldiers are taking extra care by the frontier and the number of troops in the area has been increased. “We are already there, but the situation is not yet risky,” he said.
The move comes after the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) placed Saw Lah Pwe, the leader of the Brigade 5 breakaway faction of the DKBA, in the top five of its list of Thailand’s 25 most wanted drug dealers.
The Thai authorities have already issued a public alert for people who stay near the border in Mae Sot to be on their guard. Locals say that they want the Thai government to solve the problem quickly in order to maintain stable border trade.
“We are not going to provoke or attack them first. This case belongs to law enforcement but if they are convinced they are right and attack us then it is not our fault,” Prayut told Thai Rath news. “At the moment we are not sure how to solve the problem but we have a duty to protect the citizens of Thailand.”
Border tension increased after the DKBA closed certain gates between the two countries in areas under its control from Umpiem to Waw Lay in the area of Kawkareik Township of Karen State. Thai goods cross the border here before being transported to different parts of Burma.
Maj San Aung from the DKBA told The Irrawaddy on Friday that his troops are also piled up at the border and they have been closely watching the activities of the Thai armed forces on the other side.
“We will try to solve this problem in a peaceful way first. But if they keep accusing us our troops could take the extreme path,” said San Aung.
The DKBA has invited the Thai government and even the international Drug Enforcement Administration to investigate the alleged trade of narcotics at their bases, but Bangkok has not taken them up on this offer, according to rebel sources.
Saw Lah Pwe said that the Thai government should remove his name from its most wanted list and he would even go to an international tribunal if found guilty after an investigation at his bases in Myawaddy Division.
The Thai media has been intensely covering the incident. When reporters asked Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung to provide evidence of Saw Lah Pwe’s guilt, he replied that he has evidence but would not say what it was.
Chalerm said that the DKBA leader should turn himself in to be arrested in Thailand in order to solve the problem. He added that Saw Lah Pwe would be killed if he stayed in Burma.
Border trade is still crossing normally at the government-controlled Friendship Bridge at Mae Sot. However, trade has been stopped in DKBA areas, according to Burmese businessman in Myawaddy.
The ONCB offered a reward 12 million baht (US $388,000) for the capture of its 25 most wanted drug traffickers on April 20, with a bounty of one million baht ($32,000) for Saw Lah Pwe.
Saw Lah Pwe, otherwise known as Na Kham Mwe, 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.