Deteriorating situation in Myawaddy adds to pressure on generals who seized power in a 2021 coup.

Some 200 Myanmar soldiers have withdrawn to the so-called Friendship Bridge connecting the border town of Myawaddy to Thailand amid a relentless assault by anticoup forces.

The retreat is another indication of the rising pressure facing the generals who seized power in a coup in February 2021, leading to an uprising against their rule.

In a statement on Facebook, the Karen National Union (KNU), the ethnic armed group that has been leading the attack on Myawaddy, said its forces had defeated the 275 battalion, the remaining major military force in the town, in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Saw Taw Nee, a KNU spokesperson, told the Reuters news agency, that about 200 soldiers had gathered at the bridge, while the Myanmar news outlet Khit Thit reported that Thai authorities were in talks with the soldiers to decide whether to grant them refuge.

Myawaddy is a strategically important town just across the border from Thailand’s Mae Sot. Television footage from the Thai side of the border showed plumes of black smoke rising into the air.

The generals have been under growing pressure since an October offensive by a powerful alliance of ethnic armed groups reinvigorated the opposition and led to large clashes across the country. The military has lost control of hundreds of military posts and several towns in border areas.

Over the weekend, about 600 Myanmar soldiers and their families fled Myawaddy amid reports the military had requested Thailand to allow them into the country to fly to safety.

At least 2,000 people have been displaced within Myanmar by the latest surge in fighting, according to the civil society group Karen Peace Support Network.

State-run media have not reported on the escalating conflict on the eastern border.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar published photos of new recruits starting their training after the military in February activated a long-dormant conscription law.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the military of forcibly recruiting more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslim men and boys from across Rakhine State since February.

“It’s appalling to see Myanmar’s military, which has committed atrocities against the Rohingya for decades while denying them citizenship, now forcing them to fight on its behalf,” Shayna Bauchner, the Asia researcher at HRW said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The junta should immediately end this forced recruitment and permit Rohingya unlawfully conscripted to return home.”


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