Thailand shuts down notorious casinos in Myanmar border towns, but they continue to operate

BANGKOK — A Thai state-owned company that exports electricity to neighboring Myanmar has cut power to two border towns where a notorious casino complex is said to be home to major organized crime operations, Thai officials said on Tuesday.

The Myanmar towns of Shwe Kokko and Lay Kay Kaw are home to gambling and entertainment complexes developed by Chinese investors, which are accused of being centers where people from other nations are lured into employment, then held in virtual captivity and held in call centers they are forced by internet scams. They also claim that the complexes are hubs for drug and human trafficking.

At midnight on Monday, the electricity supply from the Provincial Electricity Authority of Thailand to the complexes in Myawaddy township in Kajin state was cut off, said Montsak Kaew-orn, the police chief of Thailand’s neighboring Mae Sot district.

He said business in the affected cities appears to be going smoothly because the owners of the complexes are prepared for the situation and are likely to be able to operate with their own generators in the coming weeks.

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Thai Home Affairs Minister Anupong Paochinda told reporters in Bangkok that the power supply to the two cities had been cut off because the supply contract had expired and the Myanmar government had refused to renew it. Thailand is ready to resume power supply if Myanmar decides to renew the deal, he said.

Myanmar’s military government has not publicly expressed its position on the matter. However, Global New Light of Myanmar reported that Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai met with Home Minister Soe Htut and senior police officials on May 31 to discuss regional issues, including online fraud and gambling in Myanmar. -China and Myanmar-Thailand borders and “increasing cooperation in the fight against transnational crime”.

The casino complexes are operated in large autonomous development zones controlled by Chinese investors in cooperation with the Border Guard, a militia belonging to the area’s Karen ethnic minority.

Lawlessness, especially drug trafficking, thrives in Myanmar’s border region because the central government cannot exercise full power there. Many groups, such as the Karen, have armed groups seeking political autonomy, but some factions ally with criminal gangs rather than fight the government. The government tolerates this to keep the militias on its side.

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Thailand’s public broadcaster, Thai PBS, reported that power went out in Shwe Kokko for about 30 seconds before it was restored to main buildings, while the outer parts of the city remained in darkness. KK Park, a casino complex that has been linked to cyberfraudulent forced labor by fugitives of Chinese, Malaysian and other nationalities, showed no signs of power outage at all, according to the report.

Montsak, the police chief, said the Karen Border Guard was still negotiating with the Myanmar government to renew the power contract.

“If the negotiation doesn’t come to fruition, we will feel the impact within a week or two,” he said.

According to reports last week, the Myanmar government asked Thai authorities to cut power to the casino grounds, prompting an interagency meeting on the Thai side to discuss potential impacts, such as disrupting cross-border business or increasing illegal entry.