CHIANG MAI, Thailand — As Burma’s Union Peace Conference began in Naypyidaw in late August, fighting resumed in Karen State’s Myaing Gyi Nyu and Mae Tha Waw between a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and the Burma Army-backed Border Guard Force (BGF). The DKBA splinter group, named after its late commander Maj Na Ma Kyar, claimed the Burma Army used the BGF to chase them because their leader, Maj Saw San Aung, is on the BGF wanted list. Irrawaddy reporter Saw Yan Naing spoke to Maj Saw San Aung about the fighting.
What is the cause of the ongoing clashes in your area of Karen State?
Basically, they [BGF] want to wipe out our troops in the area around Myaing Gyi Nyu Township. They want to eliminate our roots. We attacked them on Sept. 2 but they have continued to chase and attack us since then.
Why do you think they want to wipe out your troops?
The Burma Army issued an arrest warrant for me and several of my colleagues, including Lt Kyaw Thet. They recognize us as their enemy. Currently, our circumstances are like a delicate fallen leaf; whether we fall on something sharp or something sharp falls on us, we are torn. Actually, we previously proposed to the government that we would like to participate in the peace negotiation process. We sent letters to peace negotiators and to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But they didn’t respond so we don’t know whether they received our letters or if we will have the chance to participate in the next Panglong conference. Now we are being attacked and our leader Maj Na Ma Kyar has been killed.
As you are outnumbered, if the BGF continue to chase and attack your group, how long do you think you can resist their advances with the troops you have?
We believe we can resist the BGF as we have had many experiences like this before. We can resist for months and years by using guerrilla tactics. Although we are outnumbered, they won’t be able to wipe out our troops. They had to use an elephant mahout to stab Maj Na Ma Kyar; they couldn’t kill him in battle.
There are reports that the Burma Army assists the BGF in clashes. How many of them have you witnessed assisting the BGF?
It is true. They even sent troops from the Light Infantry Division 44 today [Wednesday]. According to our source, they sent two batches of troops from Thaton to Hpa-an for reinforcement in our region. Each batch had at least 100 soldiers and they also sent 20 trucks. Some carried soldiers and some were empty. They are fighting us almost every day.
Your troop is one of Karen State’s armed groups. Why don’t other Karen armed organizations such as the Karen National Union (KNU) or the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), who have had peace talks with Burma Army, mediate the dispute between you and the BGF?
So far, they haven’t mediated the dispute; perhaps they think it will be a burden on them. Or perhaps they do not dare to mediate as the Burma Army has issued an arrest warrant against me. Actually, they should do something for their fellow Karen—like us. They could talk to the government, Tatmadaw [Burma Army], State Counselor, or even concerned Karen armed groups like the BGF to settle the dispute. But we are not seeing them take any responsibility.
How many of you are on the Burma Army’s wanted list?
First, they issued an arrest warrant for me in 2014, later they issued warrants on several people including Lt Kyaw Thet and Maj Na Ma Kyar [who died recently].
Why has the fighting continued after the death of Maj Na Ma Kyar?
Actually, it is a trick of the Burma Army. It is not real fighting between us and the BGF. The Burma Army created the dispute between us in order to wipe out our troops. They have masterminded the current fighting.