Mon and Karen Armed Groups to Hold Talks Over Territory Clashes

By Lawi Weng 23 January 2017

RANGOON — Two ethnic armed groups from Karen and Mon states will meet in Dawei Township on Jan. 25 to attempt to resolve a territorial conflict that has witnessed recent armed clashes and rising local tensions, according to local sources.

The Tenasserim Division regional government will act as mediator for the meeting between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), according to spokesperson Nai Win Hla of the New Mon State Party (NMSP). The NMSP acts as the political wing of the MNLA.

“The Tenasserim regional government arranged to have a meeting between our two groups on Jan. 25,” Nai Win Hla told The Irrawaddy on Monday. “This meeting will only be for the district level authorities of each armed group.”

“We have a plan to meet each other again later, the KNLA and MNLA, at the central committee level,” Nai Win Hla said.  He added that leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU), the political wing of the KNLA, were currently busy at a national political conference, but would arrange a future meeting with their Mon counterparts.

The two armed groups have clashed at least four times in recent weeks over a territorial dispute in Dawei Township. Soldiers on both sides have been wounded in the fighting. Both sides have blamed the other for provoking the clashes.

KNU and NMSP district-level leaders both issued statements, on Jan. 18 and Jan. 22 respectively, expressing a desire to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict and to prevent its spread.

“Our intention now is to solve this conflict peacefully through dialogue,” said Nai Win Hla.

“It is better to find a solution by sitting down together to have a dialogue,” said Padoh Saw Maung Swe, a leader in KNLA Battalion 16, while speaking to the Karen news group in Mae Sot. “We should not use confrontation with guns to solve this conflict. We don’t want this conflict to spread to other areas.”

Leaders of the KNLA and MNLA held a preliminary meeting at Three Pagodas Pass on Jan. 19, where they agreed in their desire not to spread the armed conflict. Meanwhile, in recent days both armed groups have deployed additional soldiers to the conflict area, according to local sources.

“We will not go to attack them,” said Nai Win Hla. “But if KNLA troops come to fight us, then there will be fighting again. We will defend ourselves.”

The Karen and Mon peoples have historically clashed over territory. In 1989, both ethnic armed groups battled in Three Pagodas Pass.

In its Jan. 22 statement, the NMSP asked both sides to remember the bitter battles of the past and to work to avoid a repeat.