Thailand Cuts Power to Myanmar Border Gambling Zone

Posted on: June 6, 2023, 02:14h. 

Last updated on: June 6, 2023, 02:23h.

Thailand’s electricity authority cut off power to two towns just across the border in Myanmar’s Kayin (Karen) State on Monday night. The area is home to Yatai New Town, a reputed hotbed of new casino developments, illegal online gambling and scam operations, and human trafficking.

Myanmar, Yatai New City, Kayin State, Shwe Kokko, Lay Lay Kaw
Kayin State Border Guard Force troops in Shwe Kokko, Myanmar, in 2019. The military group is a partner in the controversial Yatai New City project. (Image: Frontier Myanmar)

The decision was taken by the Thai government at the behest of the Myanmar junta. Thailand is one of the few countries in the world that maintains strong diplomatic ties with Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, whose military government has been accused of widescale human rights abuses. Thailand is also ruled by a de facto military junta.

It’s not clear why Myanmar authorities wanted to kill power in area, which encompasses the town of Lay Kay Kaw, as well as Shwe Kokko, around which Yatai New City, a Chinese-led investment project, is being built.

Crime Hub

Shwe Kokko has developed into hub for human trafficking, illegal gambling, drug trafficking, and cyber scams in recent years. The semi-lawless border area has been carved up by different armed insurgent groups over decades of civil war, which makes it hard to reach for the ruling junta in Naypyidaw, the country’s capital.

A local resident of Shwe Kokko, who did not want to be named for security reasons, confirmed to Radio Free Asia Tuesday that the power was out in the town.

Meanwhile, Lay Lay Kaw, about 25 miles away, was built in 2015 as a “town of peace” to commemorate the Burmese military’s negotiations with the Karen National Union (KNU), the oldest ethnic armed resistance organization in the country.

The town has been in de facto control of the KSU ever since. After the 2021 coup that brought the current junta to power, it became a haven for dissidents and democracy campaigners wanting to evade the military.

Subsequent searches conducted by the military in Lay Lay Kaw have resulted in clashes with local armed groups.

Yatai New City

The $15 billion (allegedly) Yatai New City project began construction in 2017 as a joint venture between the Kayin State Border Guard Force and the wealthy Chinese businessman She Zhijiang.

The former consists of ex-insurgent groups now on the payroll of the military junta. The latter was revealed in October 2010 to be a fugitive from Chinese justice wanted on illegal gambling charges. She was arrested in Thailand last August and is facing extradition to China to face criminal charges.

Yatai New City was billed as a high-tech business hub, a “smart city” of “science and technology, gambling and entertainment, tourism, culture, and agriculture,” according to planning documents.

It claimed to be a special economic zone (SEZ), backed by the Chinese government as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative. But the development isn’t an official SEZ and has been denounced by the Chinese government.