RANGOON — Tensions continue to rise in Karen State’s Myawadday after a local Burma Army commander reportedly ordered some armed Karen rebel groups not to carry weapons or wear uniforms in the Burma-Thai border town.
The news comes just days after the discovery of two small bombs in and around Myawaddy, and follows a temporary blockade of a nearby road by a Karen rebel group last week.
The order was sent by the commander of Light Infantry Battalion 275 in Myawaddy in a letter dated Sept 14, according to Col. Tiger, who leads a small armed group callings itself the KNU/KNLA-Peace Council, a splinter faction of the Karen Nation Union (KNU).
He said he his men would ignore the order.
“Why can they use guns and wear their uniforms, but not us? We will keep holding on to our weapons and uniforms. Our weapons are to protect our people,” Col. Tiger said. “We will only agree to their order when their units decide not to hold guns and wear uniforms.”
He quoted the letter as stating that, “Starting today, we fully prohibited all armed groups to wear uniforms and hold guns while travelling in the town. In urgent cases, your liaison offices in Myawaddy first need to inform us about the number of troops and guns, and where they want to go, before they can travel in the town.”
“Traveling in the town in full uniform disturbs the security of the civilians… Therefore, we ask you to act in accordance with the rule of law, which is the basis of our ceasefire agreement,” the letter said.
Col. Tiger said the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and the small rebel group Klohtoobaw Karen Organization (KKO) also received the letter of the Burma Army commander.
Maj. Saw Roe, in charge of the KNU liaison office in Myawaddy, said he did not receive the Burma Army order, but added that KNU officers did not wear uniform or carry arms in the town.
“We heard that they [Burmese authorities] issued the letter ordering Karen armed groups not to wear uniform and carry weapons when traveling in towns and cities. They sent it to other Karen armed groups, but not us,” he said.
The KNU, the DKBA, the KNU/KNLA-Peace Council and the KKO all have signed bilateral ceasefires with the central government and are allowed to maintain liaison offices in Myawaddy and their soldiers regularly travel into town. This is the first time that they have been ordered to disarm when entering the town and it is unclear what prompted the message.
Myawaddy is the most important route for Burma-Thai trade, but has always been vulnerable to the influence of Karen rebels in the surrounding countryside, who have fought an insurgency against the Burman-dominated government for decades. In 2010, the DKBA temporarily seized the town.
Many of the groups also seek a cut from the profitable cross-border trade and smuggling of goods and drugs in the region.
Earlier this week, authorities discovered two small explosive devices in and around Myawaddy. None of the armed groups have claimed responsibility for the explosive devices.
Last week, the KNU/KNLA-Peace Council temporarily blocked 30 trucks that were attempting to transport Thai goods across the border in a show of force meant to draw the attention of Thai authorities.
The group has accused Thai border authorities of mistreating and extorting Burmese migrant workers, citing the daily bribes that migrants crossing the border to work in Mae Sot are forced to pay as an example.
The KNU/KNLA-Peace Council have threatened to stage another blockade if they are not granted a requested tripartite meeting with the Burmese and Thai governments to address migrant workers’ mistreatment.
Additional reporting from Chiang Mai by Saw Yan Naing.