Thaksin lined up to mediate peace in Burma. Ex-Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra emerged as a key broker in possible peace talks amidst the escalating conflict in the war-torn country beyond Thailand’s western border. It may signal a potential breakthrough or at least the beginning of the end to a bitter struggle.

News has emerged this week that ex-Premier Thaksin Shinawatra is engaged in mediating between the warring parties in Burma. In Bangkok, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maris Sangiampongsa, has confirmed that Mr Thaksin is acting on a ‘personal level’ at the behest of the junta in Nay Pyi Taw. It comes as the forces of the National Unity Government, including its People’s Defence Armed Forces (PDF) and veteran ethnic armed military factions power forward on the battlefield. In addition, it appears that the withdrawal by the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and People’s Defence Armed Forces (PDF) from Battalion 275 headquarters in Myawaddy in April may indeed have been strategic.

Ex-Premier Thaksin Shinawatra (centre) has emerged as a potential peacemaker in the civil war in Myanmar, which has been raging since the February 1st, 2021, coup d’état staged by the Tatmadaw, the country’s feared military (right). Intelligence emerging this week shows channels of communication are now open between the government in Bangkok and the National Unity Government.

It appears that the rebel groups were requested to do so by the Thai government. In short, the fear was that the township of Myawaddy would have been destroyed. At the same time, massive disruption including a huge refugee wave would have been caused along Thailand’s border with Burma near Mae Sot in Tak.

The Karen National Union and its armed forces made the decision to back away from occupying Myawaddy in mid-April. It came after back-channel communications with Thai government officials. As reported at the time, the retreat was indeed ‘strategic’. 

PM Srettha suggested that Myanmar’s generals ‘make a deal’ at that time. In the long run, the junta cannot win the bitter civil war and will be defeated

Meanwhile, their forces have hampered and attacked advancing Burmese Tatmadaw forces sent to reclaim the strategically important township. Simultaneously, rebel forces are advancing in the west where the junta’s headquarters is presently under threat.

Certainly, the situation in Burma has shifted from the status quo as the National Unity Government-aligned forces have made impressive battlefield advances since October 2023.

This prompted Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, in late April, to suggest that the generals in Nay Pyi Taw make a deal. He was speaking with Reuters.

‘The current regime is starting to lose some strength,’ Mr Srettha said in the interview. ‘Maybe it’s time to reach out and make a deal.’

It comes with the latest front opening in Rakhine State where the powerful Arakan Army is advancing on the junta’s western headquarters. The regime of General Min Aung Hlaing is in a bind.

The China gas pipeline runs through the command centre in Ann. In addition, a major pump station for the 793 km project is located near the town.

In the meantime, in a sign of maturity and judgement, the Karen National Union has begun consolidating its presence across the border from Thailand.

At length, many international observers view the task facing the National Unity Government and its People’s Defence Armed Forces (PDF) as herculean, despite its recent battlefield successes.

Skill and dexterity with which Burma’s National Unity Government has maintained its unlikely federal coalition of democratic activists and ethnic groups

In turn, they have also been forced to acknowledge the skills and dexterity with which the popular national movement has maintained its alliance with battle-hardened ethnic political and military forces fighting alongside youthful democratic volunteers from across Burma.

The news emerging from Burma since February 2021 is the popular support for a new federated country governed along democratic lines.

Nevertheless, in Karen State where Myawaddy is located, the Karen National Union is well aware of the challenges posed. In particular, the activities of the Karen National Army (KNA), led by Saw Chit Thu.

Key problem is dealing with warlordism and this will require authorities in Bangkok to confront the dubious role being played by Thai business interests

Previously, this was viewed as something to be accepted as part of a longer struggle. The potential success of the rebels’ cause now demands a policy to deal with warlordism.

Indeed, this may subsequently require help from Bangkok

The strength of this private army was a key consideration in the rebel’s decision in mid-April to cooperate with the Thai government’s request.

The warlord, who for years fought as a junta militia, switched sides in mid-January 2024. Then in April, with junta forces routed from the 275th battalion headquarters near Myawaddy, Colonel Saw Chit Thu appeared to change his allegiance again.

Junta retakes Myawadee as it redeploys forces while rebels there have staged a ‘tactical’ retreat for now
Tyrant of Nay Pyi Taw’s days are numbered as Karen soldiers burn the hated Myanmar flag in Myawaddy

In truth, the colonel is primarily interested in preserving his Shwe Kokko casino complex in the region. The areas controlled by the warlord have become havens for illegality, particularly illegal casinos. Indeed, many reportedly moved there after similar grey area enterprises were wiped out at the end of last year.

This occurred as victorious rebels advanced in northern Shan state.

Certainly, it isan important factor in understanding the dynamic at play on Thailand’s border with Myanmar, especially when it comes to telecommunications and electricity for controversial developments.

These complexes are home to illicit activity linked to gambling, prostitution and scam centres. They are also havens for drug-making manufacturies.

These utility services are provided by commercial and business interests in Thailand.

China’s role and its commercial concerns also face scrutiny in ethnic autonomous areas in furthering criminal and illicit activities such as scam centres

In addition, Colonel Saw Chit Tu is reportedly working on an ambitious business deal with a Chinese company, Yatai. The goal is to develop a large entertainment zone in the area.

The warlord is presently sanctioned by the UK government for alleged links to human trafficking.

On one hand, it shows the potential benefit to Thailand if peace can be brought to these troubled border areas. On the other hand, it also shows that Bangkok must confront its own demons.

Under the government of General Prayut Chan Ocha, the primary focus of Thai government policy was to protect Thai commercial interests while managing stability in the region.

Undoubtedly, this is still at the core of Thai foreign policy towards Burma. However, indications of change are emerging.

Suffering and hardship inflicted on ordinary people in Burma is overwhelming. The rebel forces and National Unity Government therefore want peace also

In the meantime, the rebel forces in Myawaddy are aware of the disruption and suffering inflicted on the local population. Up to 700,000 people in that region have been displaced. In short, that is nearly half the population.

It’s the same story throughout Myanmar. Many young people have fled to the hills to fight with the People’s Defence Armed Forces (PDF). It’s not an easy option, with rigorous training demands made by the newly established force aided by seasoned ethnic fighters. At the same time, many families have also moved across the border to Thailand.

They are to be found in Thai towns like Mae Sot in Tak province, which has become nearly a Burmese town as the conflict grows.

Significantly, the impetus for this has grown since the desperate junta introduced conscription for all men of fighting age.

The Tatmadaw is losing manpower both in combat and through massive desertion from its ranks. The weakened junta cannot even supply proper food rations and support for its forces.

Junta still retains its air power with helicopter and fighter jets being supplied by Russia and China

However, it still retains formidable air power from key bases such as the one in Nay Pyi Taw.

From these bases, it sends its Mi35 helicopter gunships. In addition, the air force is equipped with Chinese and Russian fighter jets such as the Sukhoi Su-30, Mikoyan MiG-29, and JF-17 Thunder.

The rebel forces in Myawaddy withdrew in mid-April to prevent the destruction of the strategically important town.

At the same time, they left it intact with government officials and infrastructure, rather than reducing it to ashes.

Undoubtedly, this was also tied to back-channel communications opened up with the government in Bangkok.

This was acknowledged when a National Unity Government Presidential office spokesman thanked the Thai government for its support.

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed in the 2006 coup d’état, emerges as a possible peacemaker in Burma. It is an exciting possibility

Into this dynamic, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has emerged. It comes as Voice of America (VOA) recently broke the news that Mr Thaksin had met key rebel leaders.

The talks are said to have occurred during trips by Thaksin, still on parole, to Chiang Mai in March and April this year.

Furthermore, this week, newly installed Minister of Foreign Affairs Maris Sangiampongsa confirmed the reports. At length, he suggested that Mr Thaksin had been invited to interview by the junta in Nay Pyi Taw.

At the same time, Mr Maris underlined that Mr Thaksin’s activities were personal initiatives. They were ‘at a personal level and not part of the Thai government’s policy towards its neighbour,’ he told the Bangkok Post.

Thaksin’s involvement is a hopeful and very positive development. Similar interventions previously led to peace in both South Africa and Northern Ireland

Undoubtedly, the initiative by Mr Thaksin is a positive move. 

Personal initiatives like these have in the past been instrumental in resolving complex international quagmires.

For example, the resolution of the conflict in South Africa between the apartheid regime and the ANC. Similarly, in Northern Ireland.

In the latter case, both the UK and Irish governments used tested and influential intermediaries to broker an effective peace deal.

Indeed, both these cases involved implacable foes and seemingly intractable or impossibly complex problems.

However, the response in Bangkok has been undeniably mixed. 

Mr Thaksin has been attacked by conservative pro-Chinese forces of the elite political firmament while also drawing fire from the Move Forward Party. In that case, Rangsiman Rome, a respected MP with a strong interest in Myanmar, has questioned Thaksin’s unauthorised role.

Nevertheless, in such affairs, this is exactly what is required.

In April, Move Forward Party’s Pita Limjaroenrat called for real engagement with the National Unity Government and its proxy forces. That advice was heeded

In April, former Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat urged the Thai government to open up channels of communication with the National Unity Government. In short, it appears his good advice was accepted.

Crumbling Burmese junta sends a plane to Tak to rescue retreating soldiers. They failed to show up

Indeed, it appears that Mr Thaksin may be joined by his erstwhile friend Hun Sen, Cambodia’s strongman, in the efforts to find peace in Burma.

It is reported that during the week, Hun Sen spoke to General Min Aung Hlaing, the de facto junta leader. Cambodia’s Senate leader, whose son retains power as Prime Minister, requested access to Aung San Suu Kyi.

The revered democratic leader in Burma has not been seen for some time. She is currently imprisoned by the junta, with fears for her health.

The National Unity Government has underlined its concern for the people of Burma. It warmly welcomes Thailand’s efforts and supports ASEAN involvement 

Undoubtedly, Thaksin Shinawatra has the imagination, experience, and decisive nature to find a way forward.

Meanwhile, the National Unity Government and its allies acknowledge the difficult situation Burma finds itself in.

The National Unity Government has expressed its endorsement of steps being taken by Thailand. Indeed, it still supports the involvement of the ASEAN community to recognise the conflict. Its top priority is the humanitarian plight of the people in the country.

In the meantime, Thaksin can indirectly influence changes to Thai foreign policy where required to facilitate progress.

This has already been seen in the restraint surrounding the fall of Myawaddy. The retreat from the town by the rebel group saved it from destruction.

Karen forces across from Tak province are consolidating their position. The rebel group has overtaken dozens of former junta control positions and outposts

However, the Karen National Union forces and the People’s Defence Armed Forces (PDF) still hamper the Tatmadaw as it tries to access the area.

Meanwhile, it has consolidated its positions across the region on the border near Thailand’s Tak province. Presently it has taken over dozens of government outposts.

Analysis suggests that the rebels have now taken over half of the junta’s 5,280 military positions in the fighting to date. Additionally, they control 60% of former junta territories in ethnic regions.

The junta is now limited to urban centres within the Bamar lowland. Nevertheless, even here units of the People’s Defence Armed Forces (PDF) are fighting fiercely. The junta regime’s support is restricted to a small minority elite. Ultimately, that is its problem. It no longer has a viable support base.

In the longer term, the position of General Min Aung Hlaing’s junta and the Tatmadaw is untenable.

Thaksin met a Shan general implicated by US law enforcement in negotiating a deal involving nuclear materials. It highlights the dangers of the situation

However, as with other peace processes, there will be a narrow path to thread.

In addition, there will be roadblocks and crises. One example of this can be seen in the fact that Thaksin met with General Yawd Serk of the Shan Army, a key political figure in Shan State.

The general was recently implicated by US law enforcement officials. The affair was linked to the trade of nuclear materials for arms.

This gives some idea of the urgent need to bring stability to such areas.

Thaksin has positioned himself to these groups as a mediator. As a former populist Prime Minister deposed by a military coup himself, who can question his credentials?

He also, previously, conducted extensive dealings with many former military figures in Myanmar’s armed forces.

Thaksin seeks authorisation to travel to Burma to meet with the junta in Nay Pyi Taw and further his peace efforts. No word on this yet from the Generals 

At this point, Mr Thaksin has reportedly requested permission to visit Burma. He is said to be seeking such authorisation.

In turn, this will require permission from the junta in Nay Pyi Taw and the parole board in Thailand. 

Indeed, it was suggested mid-week that Thaksin may be warned by his probation officers over his political activities.

At the same time, however, Foreign Minister Maris Sangiampongsa told the media that the embattled Burmese junta sees Mr Thaksin as someone who ‘can help’ with the crisis.

At this time neither Mr Thaksin nor the junta of General Min Aung Hlaing has confirmed any of these reports.

Join the Thai News forum, follow Thai Examiner on Facebook here
Receive all our stories as they come out on Telegram here
Follow Thai Examiner here

Further reading:

Junta retakes Myawadee as it redeploys forces while rebels there have staged a ‘tactical’ retreat for now

Tyrant of Nay Pyi Taw’s days are numbered as Karen soldiers burn the hated Myanmar flag in Myawaddy

Crumbling Burmese junta sends a plane to Tak to rescue retreating soldiers. They failed to show up as rebels advance

Outgoing Foreign Minister defends his two days of regional dialogue with Myanmar held in Pattaya

Hated Burmese junta regime seeks peace talks as its grip on power across the country unravels

Bangkok sends delegation to meet Myanmar’s pariah junta regime in its eerie capital Nay Pyi Taw

Rising Anger at Myanmar’s regime is leading to scrutiny of its clandestine business links with Thailand

UN official slams ‘Distorted’ international response to Myanmar after Horrific junta atrocity

Myanmar’s junta crumbles along with Russia’s war in Ukraine as US progresses in the Indo Pacific

Desperate Myanmar junta executes 4 including a former MP and pro-democracy activist by hanging

Intensive clashes in Myanmar near Tak ease leaving locals near the border rattled and on guard

A second war raging in Myanmar unlike anything seen since World War Two with over 12,000 dead

Thailand calls for Myanmar talks as besieged coup leader is barred from the ASEAN summit in Brunei

Thailand abstains as the UN calls for Myanmar’s return to democracy and a junta arms embargo to quell conflict

FM Don to attend Myanmar ASEAN summit with high stakes for Thailand as civil war there looms large

Myanmar facing all out revolution as the bloody struggle between the army and the public spirals out of control

Crisis in Myanmar threatens to escalate as Thai authorities monitor the situation on a daily basis