Govt-Backed Militias Clash With Kachin, Karen Rebels

By Lawi Weng & Saw yan Naing 19 August 2013

RANGOON — Separate clashes were reported over the weekend in north Burma’s Kachin State and east Burma’s Karen State between government-backed militias and non-state armed groups.

In Kachin State, clashes reportedly occurred on Saturday between the government-backed Kachin Border Guard Force (BGF) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

San Aung, a peace broker with the KIA’s political wing—the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)—said fighting broke out after BGF members attacked KIA bases in Chi Pwe and Sawlaw, two towns in Pangwa region, in the northern part of the state.

He said the BGF members formerly belonged to the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDAK), a rebel group that defected from the KIA and has since disbanded.

“I don’t know why they clashed,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday. “I heard one or two people were killed from the BGF. They wore KIA uniforms and pretended to be members of the KIA, and they attacked KIA bases. Clashes lasted for about one hour.”

According to sources at a KIO liaison office in the state capital Myitkyina, BGF soldiers launched the attacks together with government troops and targeted a battalion under KIA Brigade 1. Three soldiers from the joint BGF-government forces died, the KIO sources said.

A battalion of government troops identified only as Battalion 521 assisted the BGF, the sources added, saying the joint forces used 60 mm rocket-propelled grenade launchers in the attack.

A 17-year ceasefire between the KIA and the government broke down in 2011. Fighting escalated earlier this year but has since calmed, with the KIO and the government’s peace negotiation delegation signing a seven-point preliminary peace agreement in late May. Under the agreement, both sides pledged to “undertake efforts to achieve de-escalation and cessation of hostilities” and to “continue discussions on military matters related to repositioning of troops.”

San Aung from the KIO said the Kachin BGF had very strong ties to the government.

“The Kachin BGF is a militia that is controlled by the government’s armed forces,” he said. “They have to listen to orders from the government’s force. I think without support from the government’s armed forces, they would not have dared to fight the KIA.”

“The fighting would have spiraled out of control in Pangwa Township if the government had not ordered this group [the Kachin BGF] to stop,” he added.

The NDAK officially disbanded in November 2009, following an agreement reached earlier that year between its founder, Zahkung Ting Ying (also known in state media as Za Khun Ting Ring) and the central government. The NDAK’s 1,000 or so troops were subsequently transformed into a BGF.

Meanwhile, separate clashes reportedly broke out in Karen State on Friday between the government-backed Karen BGF and troops from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU). One soldier from the Karen BGF was reportedly killed in the fighting and two were wounded.

Gen Saw Johnny, commander-in-chief of the KNLA, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that fighting was reported in the village of Weigyi, in a southwestern area of the state controlled by KNLA Brigade 5.

He said KNLA leaders and respective officials from the Karen BGF would meet to find a resolution to the conflict, but he did not disclose a date or location for the meeting.

“We don’t know exactly what the problem was on the ground,” he added. “But, as both sides are Karen people, we will try our best to solve it.”

The KNU signed a ceasefire agreement with the government’s peace delegation in January 2012.

Border Guard Forces were created under Burma’s former military regime, which called for all armed forces in the country to be placed under central military command.

This was achieved with two rebel armed groups, the NDAK in Kachin State and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) in Karen State. These groups disarmed, incorporated into separate BGFs and then resupplied with government-issued weapons. As BGFs, they became subordinate to regional government military commanders.