Myanmar Military Clashes with Karen Armed Group, 2 Civilians Wounded

By Lawi Weng 3 January 2020

Fighting broke out Thursday between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade No. 5 and the Myanmar army in Papun District, Karen State. The ethnic armed group reported that two civilians were wounded.

“They came into our controlled area and confronted our local troops. That is how the fighting broke out,” Colonel Saw Kler Doh from KNLA Brigade No. 5 told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

He said that KNLA troops withdrew after the fighting but that the Myanmar army remained in the area in Kamanaung, a sub-township in Papun District.

Col. Saw Kler Doh also said that two Karen civilians who entered the area after the fighting were shot and wounded by the Myanmar army.

The fighting lasted half an hour. KNLA ground forces reported no casualties but Col. Saw Kler Doh said that one member of the Myanmar military was killed.

Myanmar military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun confirmed that fighting broke out between the Myanmar army and KNLA Brigade No. 5.

“Troops on the [KNLA] side shot first with their artillery. Then the fighting broke out and the sides fired at each other,” he said.

He said that no Myanmar military soldiers were killed, though one soldier was wounded, and that the KNLA suffered losses. He added that he had not heard that any civilians were wounded.

Fighting has broken out intermittently between the KNLA and the Myanmar army despite the KNLA having signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and established a bilateral ceasefire with the Myanmar army.

The Karen National Union (KNU), the political wing of the KNLA, met with Myanmar military officials in December in Naypyitaw with the goal of ending armed conflict on the ground. At the meeting, both sides agreed to let leaders of groups of troops meet with one another in order to solve the armed conflict.

Leaders commanding forces on the ground from both sides then met in Kyaukkyi Town in Bago Region on Dec. 27 to discuss issues in the conflict, especially the case of the Myanmar army expanding a road in KNLA-controlled areas in Papun’s Luthaw Township, connecting Khay Pu and Ler Mu Plaw villages.

The Myanmar army said the road is being built in order to promote local development. But the KNLA claims that the Myanmar army is attempting to gain influence in the area as part of its military strategy and that the road will help it attack the KNLA in the future.

According to Col. Saw Kler Doh, there were no tangible results from the Dec. 27 meeting in Kyaukkyi but both sides agreed to meet again.

“For our side, we want them to do local development after our region has established stability and peace,” he said.

Tensions between the two sides are especially high in Kyaukkyi, Bago Region since the Myanmar army reportedly seized 150 bags of rice from local residents in late December.

In a statement on Dec. 23, the KNU said that Myanmar army soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 39 seized the rice bags while residents were transporting the bags by car.

The statement asserted that the Myanmar army’s actions violated the NCA agreement.

“We [the KNU] in Kyaukkyi have stayed under the leadership of the KNU central committee who are working on the peace process. We have respected their work and maintain peace,” said the statement.

The statement also said that in response to the Myanmar military’s seizure of the rice, the KNU shut down the upper part of the highway in Kyaukkyi and told local residents not to use the road in order to prevent the military from taking any more rice.

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