Thailand has cut electricity supplies to a Myanmar border township home to a billion-dollar Chinese-backed development that analysts say is a front for illegal gambling and online scam operations.
Thai authorities halted the power to Shwe Kokko in Myanmar’s Karen state from midnight Monday-Tuesday, police chief of Maesod district Monsak Kaew-on told AFP.
The electricity was cut after a contract for the Thai side to supply the town ended without the Myanmar junta renewing it, he added.
Many areas along Myanmar’s lawless eastern border are awash with Chinese investment, including in casinos, mines and logging.
The sprawling Shwe Kokko complex houses hotels and casinos targeting Chinese customers and is run by the Border Guard Force (BGF), a military-aligned ethnic militia.
A spokesman for the BGF could not be reached for comment by AFP.
Shwe Kokko’s main backer is a Chinese national named She Zhijiang, according to a 2020 report by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).
His Hong Kong-registered company Yatai has portrayed the $15 billion project as part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative, but the Chinese government has denied any link.
The project was characterised by land-grabbing and an influx of Chinese nationals fleeing a crackdown on organised crime in Cambodia, according to the USIP report. These groups later set up casinos and money-laundering institutions, it said.
In August last year Thai authorities detained She for allegedly running an illegal online casino.
He had been on the run from Chinese authorities since 2012, according to Chinese media.
Myanmar’s junta has not commented on the cutting of electricity to the town.
Power outages are common in Myanmar due to a creaky and outdated electricity grid, with demand regularly outstripping supply during the sweltering summer months.
On May 31 the junta-appointed home minister met China’s ambassador to Myanmar, state media reported.
They discussed “online fraud and gambling on the Myanmar-China and Myanmar-Thailand borders”, and “enhancement of cooperation in the fight against transnational crimes”, according to the Global New Light of Myanmar.
Karen state has been riven by conflict since Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948, with ethnic rebels fighting the military and each other.