Tue, Jun 6, 2023 11:59 AM
By JINTAMAS SAKSORNCHAI, Associated Press
BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai state enterprise that has been exporting electricity to neighboring Myanmar has cut off power to two border towns with notorious casino complexes that allegedly host major organized crime operations, Thai officials said Tuesday.
The towns of Shwe Kokko and Lay Kay Kaw in Myanmar host gambling and entertainment complexes developed by Chinese investors that are accused of being centers where people from other nations are tricked into taking jobs and then put into virtual captivity and forced to work in call centers conducting internet scams. There also are allegations that the complexes are centers for drug and human trafficking.
Power from Thailand’s Provincial Electricity Authority to the complexes in Myawaddy township in Kayin state was cut at midnight on Monday, said Montsak Kaew-orn, a police chief in Thailand’s neighboring Mae Sot district.
He said business in the affected towns seemed to be carrying on with no disruption because the owners of the complexes had prepared for the situation and could probably operate for the next few weeks using their own generators.
Thai Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda, speaking to reporters in Bangkok, said the power to the two towns was cut because the supply contract expired and Myanmar’s government declined to extend it. Thailand is ready to resume supplying power should Myanmar decide to renew the deal, he said.
Myanmar’s military government has not publicly explained its position on the matter. However, the Global New Light of Myanmar reported that Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai met on May 31 with Home Affairs Minister Lt. Gen. Soe Htut and high-ranking police officers for talks on regional issues, including online fraud and gambling on the Myanmar-China and Myanmar-Thailand borders and "enhancement of cooperation in the fight against transnational crimes."
The casino complexes are operated in what amount to autonomous development zones controlled by Chinese investors in cooperation with the Border Guard Force, a militia belonging to the area’s ethnic Karen minority.
Lawlessness, especially drug trafficking, flourishes in Myanmar’s border region because the central government is unable to fully exercise authority there. Many groups such as the Karen have armed groups seeking political autonomy, but some factions ally with criminal gangs instead of fighting the government. The government tolerates that as a way of keeping the militias on its side.
Thailand public broadcaster Thai PBS reported that power at Shwe Kokko went out for about 30 seconds before being restored at its main buildings, while the outer parts of the town remained dark. KK Park, a casino complex linked to cyberscam forced labor by escapees of Chinese, Malaysia and other nationalities, showed no signs of a blackout at all, the report said.
Montsak, the police chief, said the Karen Border Guard Force is still in negotiation with Myanmar's government to renew the power contract.
“If the negotiation is not fruitful, we might start to see some impact in one or two weeks,” he said.
Reports last week said the Myanmar government asked Thai authorities to cut the power supply to the casino areas, prompting an inter-agency meeting on the Thai side to discuss the possible impacts, such as a disruption of cross-border business or increased illegal entry.