Casualties on Both Sides as Conflict Between DKBA, Govt Drags On

By Lawi Weng 13 July 2015

RANGOON — Fighting last week between the Burma Army and ethnic Karen rebels has brought casualties for both sides as a dispute over illegal taxation along the Asia Highway in Karen State remains unresolved.

State media reported on Monday that four soldiers from the Democratic Karen Benevolence Army (DKBA) were killed and three others detained, and that “some army officers from the Tatmadaw [Burma Armed Forces] sacrificed their lives for the country” in the course of nearly 40 clashes between the two sides.

Fighting has taken place on the recently opened Asia Highway and an older road that also links Myawaddy and Kawkareik in Karen State.

“Through cooperation between the Tatmadaw and BGF [Border Guard Force], both highways were able to open for public transportation from July 8 and 9. The situation has stabilized,” said a report run in state daily The Mirror, citing the Burma Army-run Myawaddy news agency.

The newspaper said Saw San Aung and Saw Kyaw Thet, two DKBA colonels, were leading the ethnic armed group’s recent operations.

Naing Maung Zaw, a spokesperson for the government-allied BGF, said two Burma Army soldiers were killed by a landmine on July 7 and five BGF troops were shot dead the following day.

According to DKBA Capt. Saw Three Htoo, state media’s description of the situation in Karen State as “stabilized” was not reflective of the reality on the ground.

Burma Army troops continue to engage the DKBA, Saw Three Htoo said, with fighting between the two sides an almost daily occurrence and government reinforcements bolstering government troop positions in areas that the DKBA has traditionally controlled.

“We have had to abandon two bases already, one is in Kaw Moo village, and on a hilltop in Kaw Moo,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

The Karen captain said the head of the DKBA, Gen. Saw Lah Pwe, would lead negotiations with the government to bring an end to hostilities.

“If they continue to chase us and attack us, we need to fight back in order to protect our lives. We are not people who want to be fighting,” Saw Three Htoo said.

Clashes reportedly first broke out on June 29, when government troops tried to secure the area ahead of Burma Army Southeastern Division Commander Gen. Tin Maung Win’s visit to Myawaddy.

Rebel sources said government troops entered Kawkareik without prior notice and demanded that the DKBA remove security checkpoints and toll stations administered by the ethnic armed group.

Authorities in Karen State have apparently moved to clear the road of the illegal tax stations set up by the DKBA and other Karen rebel groups.

Additional reporting by Min Kha Pan in Myawaddy, Karen State.