RANGOON — Rising tensions between the Burma Army and rebel groups in eastern Burma sparked another incident on Friday, when Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) fighters detained eight soldiers and police officers, and injured two soldiers in an exchange of fire.
As of Friday evening, a DKBA commander said his troops were still detaining the soldiers and officers in central Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw Township, and negotiations over their release were ongoing.
“Our troops detained eight government security forces when they came to negotiate with our troops. There were tensions and both sides shot at each other,” said DKBA Col. Soe Myint, who is based in Myawaddy, Karen State.
He said that a group of unarmed soldiers of the Light Infantry Battalion 208, police and Special Branch officers had come to a DKBA base in Kyaikmayaw Township, a mountainous area located some 20 km south of the state capital Moulmein, for a scheduled meeting on Friday morning. But tensions soon boiled over and DBKA base commander told the group that they would not be allowed to leave.
A Burma Army unit stationed nearby then approached the base and a fire fight broke out that injured two soldiers, according to Soe Myint, who added that the DKBA had allowed the army to pick up the wounded men.
Soe Myint alleged that the tensions in the region had risen in recent days as a result of a raid by the Burma Army on a DKBA officer’s house in Kyaikmayaw Township.
Nai Pauk, a military officer from the New Mon State Party (NMSP) stationed in Kyaikmayaw Township, confirmed the events and said that the number of detained soldiers and security personnel could in fact be as high as 19.
“Now township authorities, the army, police, community leaders are gathering to negotiate their release. Maybe tomorrow [Saturday], they will go to negotiate” at the DKBA base, he added.
Nai Pauk said the incident occurred at the DKBA base at Kalaing Kanaing village, located about 5 km southeast of Kyaikmayaw town, early Friday morning.
“They [DKBA] detained all people before the talks started and then clashes broke out,” he said. “The fight just stopped around 1 pm. The DKBA shot a lot, but the Burmese Army kept a little quiet.”
According to Nai Pauk, who followed the army operations from nearby, the DKBA fired mortar rounds at an army vehicle approaching their base, injuring a captain named Thet Naing Win and an unnamed sergeant, who was seriously wounded.
Nai Pauk said the tensions were related to a dispute over areas of control between the DKBA and Burma Army units, which had reportedly twice ordered the DKBA to leave areas near Kyaikmayaw.
In recent weeks, tensions have been rising between government forces and Karen rebel groups operating in the border town of Myawaddy, Karen State, despite the fact that the groups have bilateral ceasefire agreements with the government.
The situation worsened after a number of small explosive devices were found in Myawaddy and the Burma Army ordered the rebels not to enter the town when armed. On Sept 19, the military shot and killed a DKBA soldier after he supposedly was drunk driving on a road outside of Myawaddy.
The Karen National Union (KNU), the largest Karen rebel group, has managed to stay out of the rising tensions.