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Karen BGF leader threatens to close border

The Moei River, which forms part of the border between Burma and Thailand (Photo: Wenying Seah / DVB)

The leader of the Karen Border Guard Force (BGF) has threatened to close the Burmese border in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi and Tak provinces if Thai authorities enforce official border-crossing hours on all routes, including paths used by gamblers.

Gen Saw Chit Thu, leader of the Karen BGF, made the threat at a press conference close to the border, across from Mae Sot District of Tak Province on Friday.

He said if Thai authorities strictly enforce 5.30am to 8.30pm border crossing hours on all routes from next Wednesday, the BGF would close the entire border in Tak and adjoining Kanchanaburi.

“I don’t want that to happen. But as talks did not lead to an understanding, it will be closed,” Saw Chit Thu said.

“Local Thai and Myanmar [Burmese] people understand each other and live together. They have good ties, like siblings. Today, the soldiers have been replaced. I don’t know why there must be a policy on border crossings along natural paths that have been in use for decades.”

Official border-crossing hours are enforced at the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge checkpoint in Mae Sot, but people on both sides of the Moei River, which forms the border, regularly cross the frontier along natural passages around the clock.

Local residents said gamblers also use these paths to visit casinos close to the border in Myawaddy.

Saw Chit Thu said strict enforcement would have a big economic impact. Thai authorities should review the policy.

Otherwise, the BGF would close the border from the village of Ban Mae Tawor in Tha Song Yang District of Tak to the Three Pagodas border pass in Kanchanaburi Province, he said.

“All passes and all piers would be closed. There would be no business done. We, the Karen people, can live simply on rice and fermented fish,” Saw Chit Thu said.

The BGF closed dozens of border piers for days in March in protest at Thai authorities’ requirement that all fuel exports be carried by trucks across the Friendship Bridge, not delivered by boats or pipelines across the Moei River. The rule was relaxed, but Thai energy authorities re-imposed the restriction late last month.

Thai authorities in Mae Sot have not officially announced that strict border crossing hours will be enforced on all routes from Wednesday, but they have been making preparations to implement it.