Interview

Kayah Rebel Army Backs Civilian Resistance Against Regime

By The Irrawaddy 9 June 2021

In Kayah State, military tensions are running high between the junta and the combined Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF) and People’s Defense Force (PDF).

There is fierce fighting in Demoso, Loikaw and Hpruso townships. The regime has carried out airstrikes on civilian resistance fighters and used artillery on civilian areas. It has also brought hundreds of reinforcements into Kayah State.

Houses damaged by junta shelling in Demoso. / Free Burma Rangers-Karenni

The military authorities have informed the general administration departments in Demoso, Loikaw and Hpruso that civilians should leave their homes as further attacks are planned.

Armed groups in the state include the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), which is over 60 years old. It is backing the civilian resistance.

KNPP spokesman Khu Daniel recently talked to The Irrawaddy.

How is the KNPP involved in armed conflict in Kayah State?

The KNPP headquarters has not instructed its members to fight. But to stand by the people has long been our stance. We are helping the people when they are attacked. That’s all.

What is the view of the KNPP on the regime’s shelling of towns and villages in Kayah State?

We oppose the attacks. They should not attack civilians who have nothing to do with the fighting.

How is the KNPP performing on the battlefield?

We have confronted them twice when they came to search our training ground. That’s all. We stay in our territory and they stay away. They are only attacking towns and villages, not our camps.

Houses damaged by junta shelling in Demoso. / Free Burma Rangers-Karenni

Is there no military tension between the regime and KNPP on the ground?

There is no military tension between us. But we stand by the people. Harming the people amounts to harming us.

Are the KNPP troops helping the resistance on the ground?

We stand by the people.

How is the relationship between the PDF and KNPP?

The PDF is formed by the people. It is happening across the country. It is a public movement. We won’t object to it. Under the rules of engagement, both sides must make sure innocent civilians are not harmed. The military should not attack schools, hospitals and churches. These are the international rules of engagement. But they don’t follow those rules and have opened fire indiscriminately on churches, monasteries, schools and hospitals. We can’t accept that.

Houses damaged by junta shelling in Demoso. / Free Burma Rangers-Karenni

The regime asked ethnic armed groups to hold peace talks after the coup. How is your relationship with the regime?

We have barely had any communication since the coup. They might contact our political wing. But there have been no official talks with either our political or armed wings.

At a lower level, some military officers have informally asked us to help control Karenni PDF. But they only asked personally and not through official letters.

We heard the regime told civilians in Demoso, Loikaw and Hpruso to flee. We also heard reinforcements are coming to attack the PDF. Does the KNPP have any more information?

There have been increased military deployments. Between 100 and 200 reinforcements came from Shan State during recent fighting. Others have arrived by air. The military also brought in over 100 troops from Taungoo. But we are focusing on the people. They are in real trouble. We are arranging food for them.

Houses damaged by junta shelling in Demoso. / Free Burma Rangers-Karenni

How is the military performing against the young resistance fighters?

The military wants to annihilate them. It didn’t use aircraft when it was fighting ethnic armed groups in the past. But now it is heavily using aircraft against the people. It shouldn’t do that. And it is indiscriminately attacking religious places and health clinics. It is attacking unarmed civilians.

The military response is more intense than its previous attacks on us. The response is unfair. We are trained and experienced. The people have no proper training or weapons. Some are only using swords. The best weapons they have are rudimentary rifles. It is not fair to use modern armaments against them. The military wants to take complete control and remove all armed resistance.

What will happen to Kayah State if the fighting continues?

People will suffer more. They will get desperate and there will be increased tension. Both sides will suffer.

Currently, people rely on food donations from outside Kayah State and we don’t know if all the displaced people in the state are receiving food. We hear people are seriously short of food but we have difficulty communicating with the people. Communications are erratic and humanitarian groups can’t go to the affected areas because of security concerns.

Houses damaged by junta shelling in Demoso. / Free Burma Rangers-Karenni

Houses damaged by junta shelling in Demoso. / Free Burma Rangers-Karenni

What will the KNPP do if clashes intensify?

We oppose the junta. The KNPP will stand by the people.


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