Karen Rebel Soldier Shot Dead in Myawaddy

By Nyein Nyein & Saw Yan Naing 19 September 2014

The killing of a rebel Karen soldier in Myawaddy has prompted an increased security presence in the Burmese border town amid growing fear that the tense situation could lead to a larger scale conflict.

Speaking with The Irrawaddy on Friday from Myawaddy, sources from both the Burmese government and Karen armed groups confirmed that a man belonging to the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) was shot dead and another injured during a violent confrontation in Myawaddy on Thursday night.

The increasingly tense town also saw two homemade explosive devices uncovered earlier this week.

The ethnic Karen soldier, Lin Soe Naing, died at the scene, while the other man was shot in the neck and has been hospitalized, according to the sources.

An official from the liaison office of the Karen National Union (KNU), the main ethnic Karen rebel group in Myawaddy, said alcohol was a factor in the shooting.

“The DKBA soldier was drunk and hit cars on the road,” said Maj. Saw Roe, the liaison officer. “The security patrol guards stopped him and asked him to get out of the car. He then hit a car belonging to the security guards, so the guards opened fire.”

The DKBA and government authorities will meet to attempt to negotiate a resolution to the conflict amid local residents’ unease.

“They [residents] are now living in fear,” Saw Roe said. “They worry [about the possibility of a larger conflict].”

A government security force member who asked to remain anonymous told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the incident occurred before midnight after a black Toyota Hilux Surf driven by Lin Soe Naing hit a security vehicle.

He said the driver did not heed an order to stop the vehicle, and instead drove over a barricade and hit the security forces’ vehicle.

“When the security personnel told them to get out of the car, they tried to pull their guns, so the soldiers had to shoot to stop them,” he added.

The security team that confronted the two DKBA soldiers is led by a captain from the Burmese Army’s Light Infantry Battalion 275 in Myawaddy, together with police, border guard forces and local authorities.

Police in Myawaddy refused to take questions from The Irrawaddy, deferring to the Burmese Army, which led the patrol operation.

Since two undetonated bombs were found this week in Myawaddy, the government’s collective security forces have stepped up dawn-to-dusk patrols of the city, a major trading hub with neighboring Mae Sot in Thailand.

Tensions between government forces and Karen armed groups in Myawaddy have been mounting, with the Burmese Army ordering the rebels not to wear uniforms or carry weapons in the town.

A letter from a Light Infantry Battalion 275 commander said the military regalia and arms “disturbs the security of the civilians.”

“If they can negotiate a satisfactory resolution, it will be fine. But if they fail to do so, it could turn into a big problem,” said Saw Roe of the KNU.

A broader conflict is not without precedent. In November 2010, the DKBA temporarily seized control of Myawaddy, leading to the exodus of thousands of residents into Mae Sot.