23 May 2024

Mae sot – Fighting near the Myanmar-Thai border has sent thousands fleeing into Thailand but hasn’t closed a lane of ramshackle shops in no-man’s land offering bootlegged whisky, Chinese aphrodisiacs and Burmese cigarettes. 

Kyaung Thet’s stall serves dozens of customers a day who buy Johnnie Walker Red Label for 380 baht ($10), handing the cash over barbed wire that runs between the towns of Mae Sot in Thailand and Myawaddy in Myanmar.

Clashes rocked Myawaddy this week, with the deep boom of shelling and the drone of Myanmar military jets in the skies heard over the border in Mae Sot.

Kyaung Thet said he had been “scared” by the sounds but he and his wife had to earn a living selling their wares, which they said all came from Myanmar.

“Every day we’ve been open,” he told AFP.

Racier fare was to be had further along the raised concrete walkway.

One small box contained pleasure-enhancing “Sex Drops” made with “USA technology”, which were to be mixed with coffee, juice or wine 15 minutes before bed.

A disclaimer on the back read: “It is a herb product, it may not work for everyone.”

Another box of tablets promised to restore a man’s “prestige in a short time”.

Included in its list of ingredients list were Tibetan donkey kidneys and yak testicles.

Also on offer was “Myanmar Beer”, which has attained illicit status in many parts of Myanmar since the military’s 2021 coup because it is brewed by a military-owned company.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, with rights groups accusing the junta of widespread atrocities as it struggles to crush opposition to its rule.

Thailand’s foreign minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara visited Mae Sot on Friday.

He inspected a “Friendship Bridge” linking the town to Myanmar, across which thousands have fled in recent days seeking safety in Thailand.

A stone’s throw away in no-man’s land, the bigger concern was that the fighting would scare away those from Thailand looking for alcohol, dried fish and Burmese cigarettes.

One stall owner, who did not want to give his name, said the number of Thai customers had been down in recent days.

He said 100 people from Myanmar had come into the no-man’s land to take shelter there on Thursday night.

Everyone working in the street was used to the sounds of conflict, he said.

“Fighting has been going on so long we don’t care,” he said.

“Open as usual.”

Agence France-Presse