Ethnic Karen Fighters Take Control of Lower Myanmar Townships

By The Irrawaddy 26 May 2022

The Karen National Union (KNU) is consolidating its control of Kyaukkyi and Mone townships in eastern Bago Region.

The secretaries of KNU bodies in the two townships released notices on May 21 requiring residents to seek their approval for a variety of administrative functions ranging from education, health and business to regional development works.

Brigade 3 of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU, is active in Kyaukkyi and Mone townships, both of which form part of the KNU’s Nyaunglebin District. Before the 2021 coup, the KNU and Myanmar military vied for control of the townships.

The KNU notices also ban drug use and gambling in the two townships and ask people to follow the KNU’s health and relief department’s advice regarding the prevention of COVID-19.

Residents are also required to register their farmland and machinery for formal ownership, said the KNU.

People who fail to follow the KNU’s instructions face potential legal action, added the KNU. A source close to KNU officials in Kyaukkyi and Mone townships said that residents no longer need to follow the junta administration in those areas.

The source said: “We won’t allow junta administration in those townships anymore. People no longer need to engage with the junta administration. We don’t want our people victimized by their actions.”

With the military regime being kept busy by resistance forces, the KNU is trying to expand its authority in long-contested areas of Kyaukkyi and Mone.

A resident of Kyaukkyi who asked for anonymity said: “Previously, we could operate resources from our region such as fishing lakes and farming pastures alternately. But after the military seized power, the resources were monopolized by elites and the rich. The KNU will now manage those resources and allow locals to operate as before. So there is no problem.”

An ethnic affairs analyst based in Myanmar said that the regime has previously spread its troops thinly to assert greater control in contested areas, but is now re-concentrating those troops as they are at a greater risk of being attacked.

With junta troops leaving, ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and People’s Defense Forces (PDF) have filled the vacuum left by the regime.

“Once the military retreats, EAOs can establish their authority. That has been the case for the KNU, as well as the Kachin Independence Army [in Kachin State] and the Arakan Army [in Rakhine State], and PDFs in Yaw [which comprises Saw, Hteelin and Gangaw townships in Magwe Region]. Once the regime withdraws military outposts and small police stations, EAOs and PDFs establish their authority,” said the analyst.

It will be difficult for the Myanmar military to re-establish its authority in such places because public support for it has seriously declined, and it has been seriously depleted by defections and casualties, said a political observer.

“As far as I know, the junta’s administration is not operational without soldiers and police,” he added.

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