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Young Laotians held at Myanmar casino fearful of fighting nearby

A group of 14 young Laotians who are being held at a Chinese-run casino in Myanmar said they are frightened by the recent fighting in nearby Myawaddy and are calling for new efforts to free them.

The young Laotians were trafficked to work as scammers at a place called “Casino Kosai” in an isolated development near Myawaddy. 

Karen Nation Union, or KNU, and allied anti-junta guerrilla armies took control of the important trade town earlier this month during intense fighting with Myanmar’s military. 

Some of the young Laotians recently overheard junta soldiers saying the casino could be a target for bombing later this week, four of the young Laotians told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday.

“I would like to call on the soldiers of KNU to rescue us from this place as soon as possible because the fighting is moving closer and closer to us,” one of the young Laotians, who like other sources in this report requested anonymity for safety reasons, told RFA.

“Right now, we’re hearing a lot of loud shots toward us,” he said. “We’re afraid that we’ll get shot by stray bullets.”

Earlier this month, two teenage girls were allowed to leave the casino after a 40,000 yuan (US$5,500) fee was paid to gain their freedom. They arrived home in Luang Namtha province in northern Laos on April 8. 

The Chinese-owned ‘Casino Kosai’ in Myawaddy, Myanmar, near the Thai border. (Citizen journalist)

The remaining 14 youths and their parents are hoping that officials at the Lao Embassy in Yangon can negotiate their release. 

“The only hope I have right now is that the higher-up authorities of all sides are stepping up their efforts because we the parents have been trying and failing to rescue our children for more than two years now,” a mother of one of the Laotians told RFA.

‘Emotionally affected by it’

Many of the young Laotians originally sought jobs in one of the casinos in the Golden Triangle, the border region Laos shares with Thailand and Myanmar. 

But instead they ended up trafficked and held captive at the casino, which is about 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of the Golden Triangle and 640 kms (400 miles) from their homes in northern Laos. 

For more than a year, their parents have sent pleading messages to government officials in Laos and Myanmar. With the recent fighting nearby, they have become even more concerned, several parents told RFA.

“I can’t eat and I can’t sleep right now because I worry about the safety of my daughter,” another mother said. “I heard about the situation over there getting worse, and I’m emotionally affected by it. I’m always thinking about my daughter.”

A Lao embassy official told RFA on Tuesday that they are still gathering information on the 14 Laotians and will send a request to junta authorities soon.

“We’re trying our best to rescue these Laotians,” he told RFA on Tuesday.

Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.