Charismatic DKBA Leader Dies at 54

By Saw Yan Naing 14 March 2016

Gen. Saw Lah Pwe, the charismatic leader of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), died from throat cancer on Sunday afternoon in a Pegu town hospital, according to sources close to the ethnic armed group.

Saw Lah Pwe, better known by his nickname Nam Kham Mwe, had been battling cancer since last year and received numerous medical treatments in Rangoon and Singapore.

The 54-year-old received media attention after refusing to transform DKBA troops into a government-controlled Border Guard Force (BGF). He launched attacks against the Burma Army in 2010 during the general election in Myawaddy, a town in southeast Burma along the country’s border with Thailand.

Although a minority of DKBA troops accepted the government’s BGF order in 2009, Saw Lah Pwe and approximately 1,500 troops from DKBA Brigade 5 rejected Naypyidaw’s demands.

Saw Lah Pwe also received media attention when the former Thai government accused him of drug trafficking, an allegation he officially denied.

On April 20, 2012, the Thai government listed him as one of the most notorious drug lords in Southeast Asia and placed a 1 million baht (about US$29,000) bounty on his head.

He immediately responded to the Thai government, inviting them, and anti-narcotics agencies including the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to his stronghold in Karen State to investigate the accusations.

In 2012, Saw Lah Pwe signed a ceasefire agreement with the government, reducing tensions in the area. The DKBA is one of eight non-state armed organizations that signed a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement with the government in October last year.

More than a dozen other groups have refused to sign the accord or been denied the chance to do so by the outgoing government of President Thein Sein.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that Saw Lah Pwe was 53 years old.