KNU, Tatmadaw on Alert After Recent Clash

By Kyaw Kha 7 March 2018

YANGON — The Karen National Union (KNU) has put its troops on alert after Karen militias clashed with Tatmadaw troops in areas controlled by KNU Brigade (5).

Home Guards, formed by local Karen ethnic villagers, clashed with Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) troops after the latter allegedly trespassed in Lu Thaw Township, Papun District, Karen State on Monday evening, said official Saw Eh Kalel of KNU Brigade (5).

“It is not a [military] tension, but they (Tatmadaw) have apparently raised alert. So, we assume that we also need to make preparations,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Tatmadaw troops allegedly deployed security patrols to rebuild an old road in Lel Mu Palaw village tract in Lu Thaw Township on March 5, which resulted in an exchange of fire with the local militia.

“[Karen] villagers formed groups, on their own, which they call Home Guards, for the security of their villages. They have improvised firearms and maintain regular patrols around their villages. I think the Tatmadaw troops opened fire on them for their security,” said Saw Eh Kalel, adding that the Tatmadaw entered the area with a large force.

The KNU objects to rebuilding the road, he said, expressing his suspicion that the Tatmadaw’s real intention is to control the area for military gain and not to repair the road.

Local villagers including Home Guard members fled after the clash, according to the KNU.

Karen State minister for security and border affairs Col Min Naung told The Irrawaddy that he was unclear about the clashes, the state of alert and the road construction.

“I’ve just asked the command about those cases. I don’t know the situation exactly,” he said.

The conflict between the KNU and Tatmadaw may worsen if the Tatmadaw continues deploying its troops into areas controlled by KNU Brigade (5), said one of its top officials.

Vice Chairman-1 of the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee and KNU top leader General Saw Isaac Po also said he did not know about the clash.

“I am currently in Yangon. I don’t know exactly what happened. If there was shooting, I will tell the [KNU] to halt,” he told The Irrawaddy.

According to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), the Tatmadaw and NCA signatories need prior approval to go into each other’s territories.

“While trust is still being built, one side must respect the regulations of the other side. Otherwise, bad things can happen,” said Saw Eh Kalel.

After the KNU signed the NCA in 2015, there were at least three engagements with the Tatmadaw in the areas of KNU Brigade (5), and the KNU claimed that in all three cases, it only fired warning shots after Tatmadaw troops trespassed in its areas.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.