Border Checkpoint Dispute Settled Between Burma Army, KNLA

By Kyaw Kha 6 July 2016

RANGOON — The dispute between the Burma Army and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) over the Htee Khee checkpoint on the Burma-Thailand border—used by the KNLA for tax collection—has ben resolved through bilateral negotiations on Saturday, Tenasserim Division Chief Minister Lei Lei Maw told The Irrawaddy.

KNLA Brigade-4, based in Tenasserim Division, had opened the checkpoint at Htee Khee and was imposing a tax of around 100 Bhat (US$2.80) on everyone who crossed the border. On June 21, a tactical commander from the Burma Army’s military operations command ordered the KNLA to shut the checkpoint down within three days, but they refused.

Col Saw Mu Ker, the tactical commander of KNLA Brigade 4, resigned from his post as vice-chairman of the Tenasserim Division Ceasefire Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) on June 30 following the dispute. His resignation letter cited the failure of the JMC—set up after the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signed last year by the KNLA—to take action.

After the agreement between the KNLA and Burma army was reached, the Tenasserim chief minister told the Irrawaddy, “As a group that has signed the [NCA], the KNLA is not supposed to run a separate checkpoint. There is already a Burma Army checkpoint there. We discussed the future livelihoods of [the KNLA soldiers] and the dispute has now been settled.”

The Burma Army’s Coastal Region Commander Brig-Gen Maung Maung Soe, who acts as chairman of the Tenasserim Division JMC, headed the negotiations on Sunday in the town of Myeik in the south of Tenasserim Division.

Naw Mildred, a member of the JMC who participated at the meeting, claimed that the area around Htee Khee had returned to normalcy, although locals and traders remained concerned at the prospect of clashes.

“The military extended apologies in order to avoid conflict. There is no problem at the checkpoint now. Brig-Gen Maung Maung Soe called on the both sides to avoid any misunderstandings,” she said.

“I asked KNLA generals and they said there would be no fighting. The Burma Army said so too. Local villagers can now be at ease,” she added.

However, Win Khaing, who heads the liaison office of the Karen National Union (KNU)—the political wing of the KNLA—in Dawei, capital of Tenasserim Division, said the two sides are still “watching each other’s steps,” suggesting that mutual trust is not assured.

“There is no real cooperation. We mind our own business and they mind theirs. We will have to wait and see how the chief minister will handle it. It depends on her,” Win Khaing told The Irrawaddy.

Although the dispute has been formally “settled,” further meetings will be held between the two sides soon, according to the Chief Minister Lei Lei Maw.

The KNU/KNLA is one of eight non-state ethnic armed groups that signed last year’s NCA with the former government of President Thein Sein and is believed to have the closest relationship with the Burma Army among the NCA signatory groups.

Before and after signing the NCA, the KNU/KNLA met with Burma’s Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing at least five times.