DKBA Commander Assassinated in Myanmar’s Karen State

By Chit Min Tun 8 October 2019

YANGON—Lieutenant-Colonel Saw Wai Htoo, a commander of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), was shot and killed Saturday around 7 p.m. by an unknown gunman at his home in Kawkareik Township. Lt-Col Saw Wai Htoo was the commander of Battalion 909, based in the Dawna Hills in Karen State.

“He was having dinner with his family when he was shot by the gunman,” Colonel Saw Kyaw Than Htay, head of the DKBA’s office in Kawkareik Township, told The Irrawaddy. “He was shot with an AK-47. We are still trying to find the gunman. We are working together with authorities [to arrest the assassin].”

The DKBA has been working together with police, the Border Guard Force and the Myanmar military to find the killer.

Some local residents in Kawkareik suggested the battalion commander was assassinated by enemies inside the DKBA.

“We heard that there are several factions among the senior members within the DKBA,” said a Kawkareik local resident who asked for anonymity. “Battalion commanders operate businesses in areas they control and there is a conflict of interest between them.”

The resident added that there are tensions between the leadership and lower-ranking soldiers in the DKBA.

“We also heard that the higher-ups monopolize profits and barely share them with the rank-and-file members,” the source said.

Col. Saw Kyaw Than Htay, however, denied these reports.

“It isn’t like that in our organization. We will be able to explain what happened only when we arrest the assassin. We are still identifying the motive of the assassination,” he said, adding that there are other armed groups in the area.

Lower House lawmaker U Soe Htay of Kawkareik Township shared the same view as some township residents.

“There might be arguments between [DKBA members] from time to time and there might be tensions between the higher-ups and their subordinates,” U Soe Htay said. “Many organizations are active in the area but mostly they are friendly toward each other. It is also possible that the assassination was the result of a personal grudge.”

One reason local residents said they believe the killing was an inside job is that there were security guards around Lt-Col Saw Wai Htoo’s house at the time of the assassination.

“Yes, there were security guards but the security was caught off guard. We will know if it was plotted by insiders only after we arrest the assassin,” said Col. Saw Kyaw Than Htay.

U Soe Htay suggested moving the DBKA’s armed units out of the town for the safety of the people.

“If a separate area is given to them out of the town, this will alleviate the concerns of town residents,” he said.

The DKBA was one of eight ethnic armed organizations to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on Oct. 15, 2015.

After the DKBA signed the NCA, a faction split off from the group. The faction is now known as the DKBA splinter group and led by Colonel Saw San Aung and Colonel Saw Kyaw Thet.

At the time, Lt-Col Saw Wai Htoo also joined the splinter group. But after the DKBA splinter group clashed with the Myanmar military near the Myawaddy-Kawkareik road in 2015, Lt-Col Saw Wai Htoo reportedly rejoined the DKBA.

The DKBA splinter group didn’t respond to requests from The Irrawaddy for comment on the killing of the lieutenant-colonel.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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