One of three resistance fighters handed to Myanmar junta ally by Thai authorities dies in military custody

One of the three members of the Lion Battalion Commando resistance force shot and captured by the junta-allied Border Guard Force (BGF) in Karen State last week died of his injuries, an information officer from his group said on Sunday. 

Saw Phyo Lay, 26, died of a gunshot wound hours inflicted by the BGF after being deported from Thailand on April 4, according to the Lion Battalion Commando spokesperson. 

He and two other members of the group—Thiha, 38, and Htet Nay Win, 31—were arrested by the Thai authorities on April 1 outside of the border town of Mae Sot in Tak Province. They were placed in a boat to cross the Thaungyin (Moei) River back to Myanmar three days later at a location opposite a BGF base in the Karen State village of Ingyin Myaing.

Residents in the area reportedly witnessed BGF troops across the river shooting at the men as they tried to escape the boat and swim to safety. They proceeded to abduct them and later transfer them to a Myanmar military base. 

“Saw Phyo Lay has died,” the Lion Battalion Commando spokesperson said. “An insider from the military told us that they tried to nurse him back to health but he died hours afterwards.”

At the time of reporting, Thiha and Htet Nay Win were being held at a junta interrogation centre in the Mon State capital of Mawlamyine, he added. 

“Eyewitnesses told us that all three of them were blindfolded, their hands tied, and they were transported lying down in a vehicle,” the information officer told Myanmar Now.

Saw Phyo Lay’s body was not returned to the Lion Battalion Commando. 

Two of the Lion Battalion Commando members are seen handcuffed and blindfolded in a car to be transferred by the BGF to the military (Supplied)

He and Htet Nay Win had initially crossed the border to Thailand to assist Thiha in obtaining medical treatment for injuries he endured during a March 25 battle against the military in the town of Kyondo in Kawkareik Township. 

The men’s deportation by Thai immigration personnel occurred despite requests for their release issued by officials including those from the Karen National Union; the ethnic armed organisation did not respond to Myanmar Now’s request for comment on the issue. 

“The Thai military tried to help us when they were arrested but the immigration department transferred them to Maj Naing Maung Zaw the next day,” the Lion Battalion Commando spokesperson said, referring to the BGF officer who was later seen transporting the three captured resistance fighters into junta custody.

A statement released by The Commoners’ Party—a Thai political party—on Sunday said that by handing over the three men to the BGF, Thailand may have violated domestic and international law, including the Geneva Convention. 

The group condemned the act and accused the Thai government of “work[ing] as ordered by the Myanmar despotic regime” and called for a public explanation for the deportation of the resistance fighters.

Clashes have been breaking out between the Myanmar army and resistance forces near the Shwe Kokko mega-development project in recent days. Groups including the Lion Battalion Commando have attacked several BGF posts near the site, which is a business partnership involving BGF leader Brig-Gen Saw Chit Thu. 

The Lion Battalion Commando released a video and statement on April 6 claiming that 80 members of the BGF and military were killed in the fighting and another 60 injured. 

An estimated 9,000 civilians from villages around Shwe Kokko were displaced by the battles, with many fleeing across the Thaungyin (Moei) River to Thailand. 

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