Karen Troops Fight Alongside Arakan Army  

By Lawi Weng 28 April 2016

After days of traveling from Karen State, Col. Saw San Aung and dozens of troops arrived in Arakan State last week to help the Arakan Army (AA) fight the Burma Army.

The troops are Karen freedom fighters—a Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) splinter group, and other ethnic armed forces from groups that the Colonel did not specify. He described the fighters as a federal army, formed discreetly by ethnic leaders.

Making pillows of stones and singing to his troops, Col. Saw San Aung attempted to keep morale high for the soldiers he calls “freedom fighters” during the rough trip to western Burma’s Arakan State.

“At times, we did not have food and could not sleep, but this is the life of a rebel,” he said.

The trip was not smooth, as the troops trekked through the jungle from Taungoo to Pegu Yoma to Arakan Yoma, occasionally using cars and boats, but favoring walking through the jungle in order to bring necessary weapons, he added.

“Fighting in Rakhine [Arakan] was a first step for our federal army,” he said.

According to Col. Saw San Aung, whose troops have a history of combat experience in Karen State, joining armed forces in an alliance to fight the military regime was an important and effective strategy.

Fighting recently broke out in Arakan State during the annual water festival, when it was reported that the Burma Army launched a military offensive. Many locals became displaced after the fighting and that was when the Colonel and his troops decided it was time to go and help, he said.

“We should all have equal opportunities for peace. Karen State has peace, but Arakan State does not. This should not happen. We should all have peace together, nationwide peace,” he added.

Karen and Arakan troops have joined forces in the past to attack the Burma Army in Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw Township, and have also trained together in Karen controlled areas.

“Arakan and Karen troops are comrades who dare to die fighting,” he said. “We have a long friendship in revolution against the military regime. They helped the Karen before, so we came back to help them now.”

Arakanese people were happy to see his troops arrive, and local support was important, he said.

He did not give the number of troops, fearing that his enemy would find out. But he said his troops were experienced and were eager to destroy the military regime, alongside the AA.

Col. Saw San Aung believes that the ethnic armed groups will gain equal rights under a federal system through an alliance of armed forces.

“If you want to have a federal union, it’s time to join our ethnic federal army,” he said, adding that he was happy to hear State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi say she was eager to implement a “Panglong-style” peace conference.

The Panglong Conference was held by her father, Gen. Aung San, and leaders from three of the country’s ethnic minority groups prior to Burma’s independence, and is held up as a example of cooperation between the Burman majority and ethnic minority groups.