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7 Jun 2023

Sebastian Strangio, Diplomat (US)

Myanmar: Thailand cuts power supply to Lay Kay Kaw and Shwe Kokko as China urges military junta to step up efforts to combat scam operations

"Thailand Cuts Power Supply to Criminal Hub After Request From Military Junta" 7 June 2023

Early yesterday morning, Thailand’s Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) cut the power supply to two small regions of southeastern Myanmar at the request of the country’s military junta.

The contract to deliver electricity across the border to Lay Kay Kaw and Shwe Kokko in Myawaddy township, Karen State, expired yesterday, and as The Nation reported on Monday, PEA informed Somchai Kitchareanrungroj, the governor of Thailand’s Tak province, that it had been asked by Myanmar’s military not to renew the contract.

The primary culprit here is Shwe Kokko, a notorious hub of gambling, online scam operations, and other criminal activity that lies just over the border from Mae Sot. Financed by Chinese criminal syndicates and controlled by the Karen Border Guard Force (BGF), Shwe Kokko initially focused on casinos and online gambling. But like other Chinese criminal groups operating in the interstices of state jurisdictions in mainland Southeast Asia, it has since diversified into telecom scams that have lured hundreds of workers, many of them from China, with promises of high-paying jobs only to effectively enslave them upon arrival. [...]

On May 31, China’s ambassador Chen Hai met with the junta’s Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Soe Htut and urged him to step up efforts to combat crime, online fraud, and gambling in the Thailand-Myanmar border region. This followed Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s visit to Myanmar last month, during which he pushed the junta to crack down on cross-border crimes. According to The Irrawaddy, Qin said that China “attaches great importance to and is determined to crack down on” these activities. [...]

The Karen BGF has prepared backup electricity to replace the Thai supply, The Nation quoted a regional military officer as saying. The officer said provincial authorities and security officials are preparing to deal with an influx of Myanmar people and foreign workers after supplies are cut. So far there has been no apparent closure of the bridge linking the two countries, according to BenarNews. [...]

Part of the following timelines

Myanmar: Chinese firms allegedly associated with criminal networks partner with local armed groups in developing special economic zones, analysts say

Southeast Asia: Workers are lured into slavery in online scam centres; victims say they were beaten, electrocuted, & sold to other 'fraud factories'