Residents of Pegu Division’s Taungoo District were left shaken late last month when the Burma Army carried out missile tests on territory controlled by the largest Karen rebel group, the Karen National Union (KNU).
The military exercises took place near the Taungoo District Brigade No. 2 headquarters of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the KNU’s armed wing, from April 29, according to KNU joint secretary Thaw Thi Bwe in comments to Karen media.
An unnamed KNLA officer told Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) that the government army had tested air-to-ground missiles using Russian-made aircraft in maneuvers which terrified local civilians.
“Our commander inquired with the regional military command and told them the bombings had caused panic among the local populace,” the officer told DVB, indicating that the KNLA was not informed in advance of the military operations.
While the officer did not specify the type of aircraft used, the Burmese air force is known to possess Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jets, obtained from Russia in at least two major consignments since 2001.
The Burma Army has recently deployed air power in its fight against Kokang rebel group the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in northern Shan State, including an errant air strike in Chinese territory in mid-March that killed five civilians and incensed Beijing.
Another KNU official told The Irrawaddy that the bombing exercises were conducted without prior notice between April 29 and May 1 and warned that the rebel group would lodge a complaint.
“The KNU will send a letter to tell [the government] that [the military exercise] throws peace negotiations into doubt at a time when we are building peace,” the official said.
Representatives from 12 ethnic armed groups, including the KNU, convened in the Wa Special Region capital of Panghsang from May 1 to 6 to discuss a proposed nationwide ceasefire agreement that Naypyidaw is eager to finalize.
Min Zaw Oo of the Myanmar Peace Center told The Irrawaddy that “there are regular communication channels between the government and the KNU” and pointed out that the government air force had carried out exercises in KNLA Brigade No. 2 territory in the past.
The Irrawaddy’s Kyaw Kha contributed reporting.