DKBA Splinter Group Clashes with Border Guard Force, Roads Blocked

By Saw Yan Naing 5 September 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Clashes have been reported over the weekend in Karen State between a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and the Burma Army-aligned Border Guard Force (BGF).

The clashes have led to the temporary shutdown of a road connecting Myaing Gyi Nyu village with Mae Tha Waw, a trading village on the border with Thailand’s Tak Province.

Residents of Mae Tha Waw village told The Irrawaddy on Monday that local militias who control checkpoints along the road banned villagers and travelers from the route as on and off fighting continued in Kue Seit village.

“The road has been shut down, people can’t travel on the route,” said a local merchant in Mae Tha Waw, who asked for anonymity due to concerns for her safety. “It was shut down when the fighting broke out; I don’t know how long it will take to reopen the road.”

The Burma Army and the allied BGF partially controls the route, while the DKBA splinter group—named after its late commander, Maj. Na Ma Kyar—also operates in the area. Fighting was reported between the DKBA splinter group and the BGF troops on Sunday evening and Monday morning.

Residents of Mae Tha Waw village operate a ferry on the Moei River transporting travelers and goods to and from Thailand. They also run small-scale transportation businesses carrying passengers and Thai goods on the route from Mae Tha Waw to Myaing Gyi Nyu and to other villages nearby.

The fighting in the area of Mae Tha Waw came after the DKBA splinter group announced in late August that they would escalate frontline battles if the Burma Army and the BGF kept harassing its troops, after the death of the group’s leader Maj. Na Ma Kyar.

Two officers in the Na Ma Kyar splinter faction, Maj. Saw San Aung and Lt. Kyaw Thet, are on the same Burma Army wanted list as the deceased Maj. Na Ma Kyar.

A video posted on Facebook on Monday shows footage of Lt. Kyaw Thet telling his soldiers that the BGF had joined forces with the Burma Army against their fellow Karen, the DKBA. He urged his soldiers to fight back.

“They [BGF] joined the enemy [Burma Army] and attacked us. They tried to destroy us. So, if you see them, just fire at them without asking any questions,” he says in the video.

Local residents of Mae Tha Waw village also said that travelers were banned from visiting the well-known Kyotaw waterfall located nearby. Frequent fighting that broke out on Sunday evening continued on Monday morning.

The Na Ma Kyar group is present in rural areas of Kawkareik Township and in the Mae Tha Waw area of Hlaingbwe Township, both in Karen State. The group has exerted control, and collected road tolls, along parts of the Asian Highway, which was built to ease trade and transit between Burma and Thailand via the Myawaddy-Mae Sot border.