CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The Burmese Army has reinforced its troops in areas of recent conflict with Karen rebels, as fresh fighting broke out on Monday in Mon State and amid unconfirmed reports of additional clashes in Waw Lay, a border village that headquarters the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA).
The clash in Mon State took place on Monday morning between the government and DKBA troops in Kyaikmayaw Township, according to a DKBA soldier in Myawaddy who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to media.
“The fighting continued this morning [in Mon State]. I heard from my official [Maj. San Aung] that there was fighting there [in Mon State] this morning. But, I didn’t get any details,” the DKBA soldier said.
The two sides also exchanged fire in Kyaikmayaw on Friday. Two government soldiers were wounded and eight soldiers and police officers were taken captive but later released by a DKBA unit there.
Meanwhile, a liaison officer from the Karen National Union (KNU), the largest ethnic Karen armed group, told The Irrawaddy that two separate clashes were reported this morning in Waw Lay. The liaison officer, Maj. Saw Zorro, also confirmed that gunfire was exchanged farther south in Mon State.
“Fighting continued in Mon State today and another fresh clash broke out in Waw Lay. It broke out twice—one at 9 a.m. and another at 11:15 a.m.,” Saw Zorro said on Monday, adding that there were no casualties reported.
A separate source on the ground in Waw Lay, however, denied that any fighting had taken place there.
The headquarters of the DKBA, Waw Lay, is located in Karen State on the Moei River, about 50 kilometers south of the Thai border town of Mae Sot. Waw Lay is the home of DKBA chief Gen. Saw Lah Pwe, who controls a rebel force of an estimated 1,500 troops.
Amid the recent clashes with the Karen rebel group, the government has boosted its troop presence in the conflict-affected areas including Karen State’s Myawaddy, where Saw Zorro said the situation was under control after fighting flared up over the weekend.
Local residents in the town of Myawaddy told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the government army had deployed troops to key areas in the town and had reopened the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge connecting Myawaddy and Mae Sot, allowing border trading to resume as normal on Monday.
Government troops also raided the Myawaddy residence of Col. Tiger, leader of another Karen armed group, the Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council (KNLA Peace Council), on Sunday and seized all property belonging to the rebel leader.
“They took over lands and residences that belong to the Col. Tiger and they positioned their troops in the area,” said Saw Zorro.
He said that a group of Col. Tiger’s soldiers defected into the government-backed Border Guard Force Unit 1022 on Monday, taking seven guns with them.
Earlier reports suggested that Col. Tiger had also defected from the KNLA Peace Council and joined the DKBA. Col. Tiger could not be reached by The Irrawaddy to clarify the status of his allegiance.
The Irrawaddy reporters in Kyaikmayaw and Myawaddy said the Burmese Army had made heavy troop deployments in villages and areas where fighting occurred over the weekend.
Heavy fighting between the DKBA and the government army broke out on Saturday both outside Myawaddy town and Kyaikmayaw. A group of about 100 residents in Myawaddy fled into Mae Sot, crossing the Moei River on Saturday, but they have since returned to Myawaddy.
Tension has been mounting between Karen armed groups such as the DKBA and the KNLA Peace Council in recent weeks, with a DKBA soldier shot dead in Myawaddy town on Sept. 18.
A government order to ethnic Karen armed groups not to wear uniforms or carry weapons while traveling in towns and cities has added to the tensions.
Additional reporting by Lawi Weng in Kyaikmayaw and Kyaw Kha in Myawaddy.