A long and troubled past between Myanmar and Thailand has been recently highlighted by the 2010-2011 Myanmar border clashes, a series of ongoing skirmishes between the Myanmar Armed Forces and rogue groups of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). For decades Myanmar’s troops have waged war against armed ethnic groups, which have sought autonomy from the central government. The latest violence began after the elections on November 7th 2010, when tensions flared between government forces and armed ethnic groups that have refused to be incorporated into the country’s centrally-controlled Border Guard Force. This would involve disarming them, re-supplying them with government-issued weapons and making their troops subordinate to regional Myanmar military commanders. In a country with over a dozen armed ethnic groups, this is an ambitious goal, and the fighting is far from over. To date, only two groups have agreed: the DKBA and the National Democratic Army-Kachin. There is concern that due to discontent with the elections, and speculations of electoral fraud, that the conflict could escalate into a civil war.
Recent fighting started in Myawaddy, a town in south-eastern Myanmar close to the border with Thailand. Separated from the Thai border town of Mae Sot by the Moei River, the town is the most important trading point between Myanmar and Thailand. The fighting which has erupted near the town since the 2010 Myanmar elections has been causing a significant impact in the trade between Myanmar and Thailand due to the border being closed.
DKBA troops stormed the town and took over several key positions. Fighting for control of the town the next day led to some 20,000 people fleeing into Thailand to escape the violence.
Refugees were displaced and in hiding along the Myanmar-Thai border, scattered in about 28 different sites, including makeshift camps in the forest, and along the banks of the Moei River. Days later, refugees started moving back over the river from Thailand, with the government claiming that its forces had quelled the violence, and that DKBA fighters were no longer present in the town.
But the condition remains unstable. The border remains divided; an unwelcoming barrier, focusing on security and territory, rather than friendship and unity. Myanmar, with an estimated population of 57.6 million, is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Southeast Asia, but its borders create a great divide.
Yet people fleeing across the Myanmar-Thailand border demonstrate how nations can cooperate in times of crisis. This proposal looks at the in between space as a space for intervention.
It is a single architectural built form spanning two countries that can celebrate shared borderlands and benefit both countries, rather than emphasize insecurity. It is an intersection of people, nature, infrastructure, and architecture.
Breaking Borders takes equal land on either side of the border, and trades it over, lending it to the other country, obscuring ideas of property and land ownership. Both sides can enter another country freely without interrogation, fear or discomfort. In times of need, it becomes a meeting place for refugees and reunion of family members. Open air spaces allow for interactions and communication between residents of both nations, while providing open views into the adjacent country. In the future, the dividing glass separating the countries can be removed, breaking the barrier, creating an open border where people can freely move back and forth.