DKBA Leader Hospitalized in Rangoon, Seeks Overseas Treatment

By Than Htike Oo & Saw Yan Naing 26 December 2013

Gen Saw Lah Pwe, leader of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) who is wanted in Thailand on drug-trafficking allegations, has been hospitalized in Rangoon, according to Burmese officials, who said that the government will grant him a passport so can receive medical treatment overseas.

The President Office’s minister and chief peace negotiator Aung Min paid a visit to Saw Lah Pwe at Rangoon’s Panglong Hospital on Wednesday, said Hla Maung Shwe, a special advisor of the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center, who participated in the visit to the DKBA leader.

Hla Maung Shwe said the government would issue a passport to Saw Lah Pwe so he can travel and undergo medical treatment overseas. “They [the DKBA leader and his officers] prepare to travel on abroad. But, they haven’t received passports yet. Minister Aung Min is trying to help them,” he told The Irrawaddy by phone.

Maj Maung Lay, liaison officer of the DKBA, confirmed that Saw Lah Pwe is waiting for a passport issued by the Burmese government in order to travel onward to an undisclosed overseas hospital.

Saw Lah Pwe, who is also known as Nam Kham Mwe, is unable to travel to Bangkok for medical treatment as he is wanted in Thailand. The DKBA leader is said to be suffering from a serious throat condition, although interviewees declined to provide details on the leader’s state. His likely destination is a hospital in Singapore.

In 2009, Saw Lah Pwe and his approximately 1,500 troops from DKBA Brigade 5 denied to accept government demands that they integrate their units into the Burma Army-controlled Border Guard Force, although a minority of the DKBA accepted the government’s proposal.

Tension between the DKBA and the government flared up in October 2010 when Saw Lah Pwe ordered his troop to launch a bloody attack on government troop in Burmese border town of Myawaddy, located across from Thailand’s Mae Sot town, forcing thousands to briefly flee into Thailand for safety.

In 2012, Saw Lah Pwe signed a ceasefire agreement with the government, reducing tensions in the area. Myawaddy is again government control, but DKBA Brigade 5 troops remain posted at a base nearby the border crossing.

In April 2012, Thailand’s Office of Narcotics Control Board included Saw Lah Pwe in its top five of Thailand’s most-wanted drug traffickers and offered a reward of 1 million baht (US $32,000) for information leading to his arrest.

At the time, the DKBA leader said he was willing to face the charges in a court of law if Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who made the decision to include Saw Lah Pwe on the most-wanted list, could offer evidence to support the claims.

He invited journalists and made press briefings, denying the allegations. He also called on international anti-narcotics bodies including the US Drug Enforcement Administration to investigate the accusations against him.