Karen Border Force Withdraws Resignations After Spat with Myanmar Military

By Nyein Nyein 18 January 2021

The Myanmar military-backed Karen State Border Guard Force (BGF) says it has withdrawn numerous resignations over the weekend, following the military’s request for a rethink.

BGF spokesman Major Naing Maw Zaw told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the group “withdrew” the resignations without providing further details. He said the group will have another meeting to discuss the issue.

A total of 90 officers, including 13 majors who command BGF battalions, submitted resignations on Thursday in solidarity with Colonel Saw Chit Thu, Major Saw Mote Thone and Major Saw Tin Win, who resigned under military pressure.

The military is putting increasing pressure on the BGF over the controversial China-backed Shwe Kokko new city project, in which some military and BGF officers are involved, in the border town of Myawaddy in Karen State.

Early this month, Col Saw Chit Thu and other officers were summoned twice by the military’s South Eastern Command based in Mawlamyine, Mon State. They were summoned for talks but during the meeting requested that they resign “of their own volition”.

Major Saw Mote Thone, the BGF’s second-in-command, resigned on January 9.

The military requested the group’s leadership reconsider at the Friday meeting when Col Saw Chit Thu met military representatives led by Lieutenant General Aung Soe, chief of the Bureau of Special Operations in Naypyitaw, accompanied by the commander of the military’s South Eastern Command, Brigadier General Ko Ko Maung.

However, the military did not change its position on Col Saw Chit Thu’s resignation.

Col Saw Chit Thu refused to answer The Irrawaddy’s query on Monday, saying: “I’ve not made any decision yet. Please wait until I have finished discussions.”

Formerly known as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army — a splinter group of the Karen National Union established in 1994 — the group became the BGF in August 2010, ahead of the 2010 general election.

The military-aligned armed group is tasked with protecting areas along the Thai border in Karen State, serving as a militia.

The BGF runs a range of businesses, including property, construction, gambling, casinos and security operations for entertainment complexes.

The military stepped in when news reports emerged about public concerns over a lack of transparency and other irregularities at Shwe Kokko, including the alleged involvement of Chinese criminals.

Myanmar’s government in December instructed the military to control the BGF as it is under the military’s control. The military spokesman said the BGF had been urged not to do business in uniform as it harms the reputation of both the military and BGF, but rather leave the armed forces if the BGF wants to do business.

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