RANGOON — Conflict continues along the Asia Highway in southeastern Burma’s Karen State, as ethnic rebels clashed with Burmese troops again near an unauthorized toll station on Thursday.
Fighting broke out late last week between the Burma Army and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) a breakaway faction of the state’s dominant Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).
Locals said they heard gunfire again at around 3 am, and that it continued well into the afternoon. No casualties have been reported from the new clashes, which took place near Kaw Moo village of Karkaweik Township.
Stretches of the Asia highway, which links Burma to Thailand via the Myawaddy border crossing, were again temporarily shut down in light of the conflict. Local sources said the old Dawna mountain road was also closed to civilian vehicles on Thursday.
The clashes involved troops from a Border Guard Force (BGF) that had seized DKBA bases along the highway to prevent unauthorized taxation by rebel soldiers.
Col. Saw Chit Thu, commander of the Karen BGF, defended the group’s presence in the area during a press conference in the village on Wednesday.
“It is our duty to clear this road as the public has a problem from [the DKBA] demanding taxes from them,” he said. “This road belongs to the public.”
The commander said the BGF would henceforth take charge of security along the highway.
Col. Saw Chit Thu said DKBA commander Col. San Aung did not agree to negotiations with the BGF, despite attempts by community and religious leaders to facilitate talks.
Last week’s initial clashes reportedly broke out when government troops tried to secure the area ahead of the Burma Army Southeastern Division Commander Gen. Tin Maung Win’s visit to Myawaddy.
DKB troops said they came under fire by the Burma Army at around 11 am near Klo Htoo Wah gate on June 29, claiming government forces used 105 and 120 mm artillery shells to attack their positions.
Rebel sources said government troops entered Kawkareik without prior notice and demanded that the DKBA remove security and toll stations.