Myanmar’s largest border trade route has closed after three ethnic armed organisations based in northern Shan State began an offensive against the junta in the region last week.
Assisted by other resistance allies, the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA) have attacked military camps in Chin Shwe Haw, Hsenwi (Theinni), Nawnghkio, and Kutkai in Shan-China border region every day since October 27, the date for which the offensive, Operation 1027, was named.
A rice merchant from Muse, situated opposite Ruili in China, told Myanmar Now on Tuesday that the town’s border gate remains open for people, but trucks carrying goods are barred from passing through, effectively suspending imports and exports between the two nations.
“There are no more inbound and outbound goods—even if the goods did arrive we couldn’t do anything with them,” he said. “We have no more products to export. Because of the battles, we have had to stockpile food,” the rice merchant continued, adding that few food items were left for sale at the border.
On Tuesday, the Brotherhood Alliance of the AA, MNDAA and TNLA released a statement saying that it had gained “complete control” of the regime’s 80 military positions around Chin Shwe Haw, Hpawng Hseng and Hsenwi, causing a “significant number” of casualties. The groups also reported that more than 100 junta soldiers had voluntarily surrendered during the operations, choosing to “relinquish their arms” in order to “avoid loss of life.”
Saying that he had heard that a strategic bridge on the route in Hsenwi Township had been destroyed in the fighting, the Muse-based rice merchant speculated that trade would continue to be halted for weeks regardless of who claimed the territory due to the disruption to the route.
“If the junta army regains control of the area, it would take at least 15 days to even build a bailey bridge. If the revolutionary groups can control the area, rebuilding the Hsenwi Bridge is out of the question,” he explained.
Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify the condition of the bridge in question.
Hsenwi is located around 25 miles from Lashio, where the military’s Northeastern Regional Command headquarters are located. Members of the Alliance reportedly controlled the entry and exit points of the town at the time of reporting, and were trying to capture control of the administrative centre itself.
The Chin Shwe Haw border gate—the second largest after Muse—is also closed, according to another rice and corn exporter, who noted that trucks travelling from central Myanmar could not advance beyond Nawnghkio and Lashio.
He expected that commodity prices may rise as the flow of goods remains halted, noting that the price of rice had already gone up four times in the town of Laukkai, which typically brings in foodstuffs from Lashio.
When Operation 1027 was launched, the MNDAA announced that the roads connecting Lashio to Muse and to Chin Shwe Haw would be blocked to prevent the Myanmar army’s advancement, and that anyone using the roads without permission would be perceived as the enemy.
During the first six months of the 2023-2024 fiscal year—April until September—more than US$1.3 billion in trade passed through the Muse border gate, and $633 million of goods were exchanged through the Chin Shwe Haw gate, according to statistics from the junta’s Ministry of Commerce.