CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Heavy fighting erupted between the Burma Army and a Karen rebel group, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), around noon on Saturday on the outskirts of Myawaddy and dozens of residents are fleeing their homes to escape the violence, local residents and rebel sources said.
Fighting began near the town on the Burma-Thai border at around 11 am and lasted until about 1:30 pm. Heavy weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) were fired, according to witnesses.
An official from the Border Guard Force (BGF), a government-commanded Karen militia in Myawaddy, told The Irrawaddy, “DKBA troops fired RPGs at a Burmese army military vehicle when it came into the town. Then they started to exchange gunfire. It is still going on [at 1 pm] at the Asia highway.”
The nearly completed super highway, locally known as the Asia Highway, connects Myawaddy with Rangoon.
Maj. Saw Zorro, a liaison officer of the Karen National Union (KNU), the largest ethnic Karen armed group with a base in Myawaddy, confirmed that gunfire was exchanged around noon and that some residents who live nearby the fighting areas fled.
“Some local residents fled their homes to hide as the fighting broke out. We heard the government troops are now blocking the road that leads to the fighting area,” he said.
According to the KNU official, government forces blocked the road around 1 pm and residents shut their shops and left their homes. An area of the road between Myawaddy and Thingya Nyi Naung village has been closed off by the Burma Army.
One resident who runs a small restaurant on the Asia Highway near Myawaddy said on Saturday, “They fired heavy weapons. It’s frightening. It happened just outside my shop. We shut down my shop and are now going to Myawaddy town [for safety].”
Thailand’s Channel 7 showed video footage on Saturday afternoon of dozens of Myawaddy residents fleeing the fighting and crossing the bridge over the Moei River that separates Burma and Thailand.
When The Irrawaddy contacted police in Myawaddy town for comments an officer confirmed that clashes had occurred but refused to elaborate the detail, saying that the police are trying to observe the incident.
On Friday, in central Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw Township, DKBA forces had also fought with government forces. The rebels detained eight soldiers and police officers at their base, and injured two soldiers in an exchange of fire. On Saturday, reports from the area suggested that fighting had continued at Kyaikmayaw Township.
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.
Additional reporting by Kyaw Kha.