Leader of Junta-Allied Karen Armed Group Dies of COVID

By The Irrawaddy 22 July 2021

The leader of a Karen armed group that has good relations with the Myanmar military regime has died of COVID-19 while receiving treatment at a junta-run military hospital in Yangon.

An official from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) told The Irrawaddy that the group’s commander-in-chief, Major General Saw Mo Shay, passed away on Wednesday. He was 53.

“He died at 4.47 pm [on Wednesday]. He had high blood pressures and diabetes, and his lungs were not very good. He died as he was receiving treatment [for COVID-19],” said an official of the DKBA.

Regime leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and his wife expressed their condolences over the death of Saw Mo Shay in state-run newspapers on Thursday, highlighting the good relations between the Myanmar military and the ethnic armed group.

The DKBA split off from another powerful ethnic armed group, the Karen National Union (KNU), in 1994.

It agreed a truce with U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government in November 2011 before signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in October 2015.

In response to the regime’s brutal crackdowns on protesters following the Feb. 1 coup, some ethnic armed groups including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and some brigades of the KNU launched attacks against the Myanmar military but the DKBA did not join them. Its leaders also traveled to Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw after the takeover to hold meetings with regime members.

Saw Mo Shay succeeded Maj-Gen Saw Lah Pwe, also known as Bo Moustache, as DKBA chief when the latter died of throat cancer in 2016.

Saw Lah Pwe rejected the previous military regime’s plan to transform the DKBA into a Border Guard Force (BGF). The military-drafted 2008 Constitution made it mandatory for rebel groups to transform into BGFs in order to engage in peace talks with the government.

Saw Lah Pwe’s DKBA troops attacked Myawady, a border town on the Thai border in Karen State, resulting in clashes with Myanmar’s military in November 2010.

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