Myanmar’s military has admitted that some of its troops were injured in Tuesday’s clashes with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), in the latest in a string of battles in Karen State.
The fighting with the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU) took place in Mae Wai village in Papun District.
Since Dec. 1, the KNU-controlled area has seen at least five clashes between the KNLA’s Battalion 102 and the military’s Light Infantry Battalion 339.
The KNU said the military’s increasing troop deployments and its inability to follow the rules on movement have boosted tension.
“When they deploy in huge numbers, we respond with the guerrilla warfare and there is shooting from both sides. We exchanged gunfire,” said Brigadier General Sha Htu Waw, the joint adjutant general of the KNLA.
He said government troops arrived in Mae Wai following the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in late 2015 and “the presence of Tatmadaw [military] soldiers in the village raised public fears”. Mae Wai has around 100 homes.
The KNU’s spokesman in Papun, Major Saw Kaleh Doe, said the military deployed two more battalions this month and “it led to more tension, leading to yesterday’s engagement”.
The KNU said the Tatmadaw’s movements continued through the night, not only during the day.
Brig-Gen Sha Htu Waw told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the military ignored a request to withdraw its troops. On Dec. 1, the KNLA released a statement demanding the Tatmadaw withdraw by the end of the year.
The commander-in-chief’s office accused the KNLA of targeting its soldiers with landmines, which led to fighting on Tuesday morning. Military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday “that the cause of the fighting is interest in natural resources in the area”. He did not provide details but said military operations would continue.
There are reports of gold and antimony mining in areas controlled by the KNLA’s Brigade 5 and KNU-backed firms are allegedly working with Chinese and Thai mining companies.
The Irrawaddy could not independently confirm the allegations.
Regular fighting between the Tatmadaw and Brigade 5 has occurred since early 2018 over road reconstruction work.
Mae Wai is far from the road construction area. Fighting ceased from July to November this year after 88 clashes from April to June, according to the KNU.
Brig-Gen Sha Htu Waw said: “We’ve demanded the military withdraw from their camps and settlements but they did not listen. The fighting is not just due to our troops. They should not send more troops until the issue of deployments is settled during negotiations.”
He accused the military of targeting the village with artillery and rifle fire, prompting some villagers to flee their homes.
The military said there had been five incidents with landmines and four ambushes this month and accused the KNLA of violating the NCA.
The KNU and military are in formal peace negotiations and talks are expected to resume early next year.
Both sides have raised objections to each other in Karen State’s joint ceasefire monitoring committee with the military saying it had sent 39 complaints about the KNLA.