The Karen Border Guard Force is providing the military with frontline soldiers in exchange for business protection, allowing its “new city” project to emerge as a hub for online scams.
When Ma Moe Pyae Soe visited Shwe Kokko in February, during the Lunar New Year festival, she felt like she’d been transported to China. “Everywhere I looked, there were red festive lanterns, Chinese-language signs and Chinese people,” said the woman, who was visiting a friend in the area. She told Frontier she was also staggered at the scale of the new city of high-rise hotels and gaudy casinos that, in less than four years, had sprouted up on this obscure stretch of the Thai-Myanmar border in Kayin State.
Shwe Kokko Myaing, to give the place its full name, sits on a bend of the Thaung Yin River that divides Myanmar from Thailand. It is 16 kilometres north of the trade hub of Myawaddy, opposite the Thai city of Mae Sot. Frontier drove north of Mae Sot in late April, to view the new city from the Thai side of the river and see how it had changed since a visit to the area two years before. In place of dusty construction sites were gleaming multistorey hotels with neon signs in Burmese and Chinese, and workers were scaling the scaffolding of new buildings under construction.
The new city project – a partnership between an expatriate Chinese investor and an ethnic Karen Border Guard Force under the Myanmar military – has clearly enjoyed a reversal in…