Myanmar Rebels Take Key Trading Town, but Counteroffensive Looms

Resistance forces seeking to oust Myanmar’s military regime captured a key trade town on the Thai border this week, one of their most significant gains since the junta seized power in a coup more than three years ago. But thousands of residents were fleeing on Friday as the regime’s troops prepared to mount a counteroffensive.

The town, Myawaddy, which is now held by rebels belonging to the Karen ethnic group, is a hub for imports and exports, with $1 billion in trade last year. Its fall comes as resistance forces have seized dozens of towns and military outposts in recent months in border regions near China and Bangladesh. Rebel groups have also launched drones that hit the capital, Naypyidaw, and military bases when top junta generals were visiting.

“A major border trade hub that serves as Myanmar’s gateway to mainland Southeast Asia has fallen to the resistance,” said Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based security analyst with the Jane’s group of military publications. “This is huge.”

The regime’s spokesman, Gen. Zaw Min Tun, declined to take repeated calls from The New York Times. But he acknowledged to the BBC Burmese service on Thursday night that junta troops had evacuated their main base in Myawaddy and that soldiers from two resistance groups, the Karen National Liberation Army and the Karen National Army, “are present” in the town.

Residents stood in lines for hours at the southeastern border with Thailand on Friday as they sought safety in the Thai town of Mae Sot before the junta launches its expected counteroffensive. Thai officials have said that they will take as many as 100,000 refugees.

“I don’t believe the Myanmar military will easily give up on control of Myawaddy,” said Ma Khin Lay Nge, 33, as she waited in line at the bridge over the Moei River, which links the two border towns. “Even if they do, I fear they will destroy it without regard for civilian lives, as they see the people as their enemies.”

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