The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) has refused to leave an area near the Hat Gyi hydropower dam site in upper Myaing Gyi Ngu, Karen State, in defiance of an order by the government army.
Government forces had ordered the DKBA to abandon one of its bases nearby the dam site by May 4, a few days after fighting between the DKBA and the government-backed Karen militia known as the Karen Border Guard Force (BGF).
Maj. Saw Wai Htoo of the DKBA told The Irrawaddy that a DKBA representative, Maj. Maung Lay, visited Naypyidaw on Monday and held talks with President’s Office Minister Aung Min, the government’s key peace negotiator, about the current conflict in southeastern Karen State.
He said Aung Min would travel to the region in an attempt to solve the conflict between the DKBA and the government-backed BGF. The date of Aung Min’s visit, however, is not yet known, he added.
Hla Maung Shwe, who is close to Aung Min and is a leading member of the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), a government-affiliated organization, confirmed that Maung Lay visited Aung Min in Naypyidaw. Maung Lay also visited the MPC office in Rangoon and claimed that tensions between the two militias had eased, according to Hla Maung Shwe.
Saw Wai Htoo, however, insisted that tension between the DKBA and the joint forces of the BGF and the government army remained high as the conflict remains unresolved. The joint BGF and government forces seized about 40 weapons belonging to the DKBA during the recent dispute and ordered the DKBA to vacate the dam site premises.
“They [the government army] ordered the DKBA troops to leave. They want the BGF to stay there. They will build the dam and might do gold mining,” Saw Wai Htoo said.
“U Thuzana [an influential monk] told us not to leave the region as the area has belonged to the DKBA for a long time,” he added. “He [the monk] told us to open fire at the government army and BGF if they try to occupy our base. So, fighting will break out if they come into our base.”
Karen sources on the border also said that if the government army and its BGF allies launched attacks against the DKBA, fellow Karen armed groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Karen Peace Council (KPC) would come to the aid of the DKBA.
Saw Wai Htoo said the area where the Hat Gyi dam is to be built is also nearby a base belonging to the main Karen rebel group, the KNU. The KNU’s Brigade 5 will also likely attack the government army if it tries to complete the Hat Gyi dam.
The Hat Gyi dam is supposed to be built on the Salween River in Karen State with the help of Thai engineers, but has long been opposed by the KNU Brigade 5. Due to attacks launched by KNU troops, the government has not yet been able to finish construction of the dam.
Fighting between the DKBA and the BGF started on April 26. On-and-off clashes continued for three days, but ceased after the government reinforced its troops in Myaing Gyi Ngu. Tensions between the two groups have remained high since then.