Tatmadaw, KNLA in Standoff After Fighting Over Road Rebuilding

By Lawi Weng 13 March 2018

Clashes broke out at least eight times from March 4 to 8 between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) in Papun Township, Karen State, forcing hundreds of Karen villagers to flee, according to local sources.

The KNLA is the armed wing of the Karen National Union.

“Clashes were occurring at least once or twice a day. But troop movements were halted recently, so there has been no fighting from the 9th to the 13th. They have stopped fighting to build bunkers,” said Colonel Saw Kler Doh from the KNLA’s Brigade 5.

“On our side, we sustained no causalities. We don’t know about casualties on their side,” he said.

The Tatmadaw last week brought two bulldozers to rebuild a road in an area under the control of the KNLA’s Brigade 5. The Tatmadaw personnel arrived from Htee Hsee Kee village and arrived at Kay Bu, where clashes first broke out on March 4.

“They deployed guards on the road, which they tried to rebuild with their bulldozers. But, they have not moved troops into other areas yet,” Col Saw Kler Doh said.

At least 800 Tatmadaw soldiers have been deployed to the KNLA Brigade 5 area, according to the KNLA. The Tatmadaw has a base in Kay Bu, a Karen village.

The Tatmadaw’s troops in the area are from the Southern Military Region, according to the KNLA.

KNLA Brigade 5 has not held any meetings with the Tatmadaw, though the KNLA has reported to its leaders about fighting on the ground.

“We have reported it to our top officers, but they have not said anything yet about peace negotiations involving both sides,” Col Saw Kler Doh said.

The Myanmar Army first sent the KNLA a statement telling them they were going to rebuild a road. But, the KNLA replied they would only let them do so once the peace process had improved.

“They arrived on the ground first. Then, they issued a statement saying they sought to rebuild the road,” he said.

“Their main aim is to control our areas. Therefore, they tried to build a road for their military strategy,” he said.

The area has some natural resources, including mining and logging, but the KNLA believes that the rebuilding of the road is part of preparations for a future attack on the KNLA. The road is old and not used by locals, he said. It has been abandoned for a long time, but the Tatmadaw wants to rebuild it.

The KNLA believes that building the road would allow the Tatmadaw to reach areas under the control of KNLA Brigade 2, which would help them achieve future military objectives.

The KNLA has accused the Myanmar Army of violating the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in the areas the KNLA controls, and of rebuilding roads to facilitate troop movements. The KNLA even said that the Tatmadaw does not respect the NCA.

“They just do what they want. But this will damage the NCA agreement in the future between the KNLA and the Myanmar Army,” Col Saw Kler Doh said.

The road will run for over 10 miles from Kay Bu to Ler Mu Plaw, where the KNLA believes the Tatmadaw wants to attack it.

Meanwhile, troops from KNLA and the Tatmadaw are currently in positions where they can see each other.

The Karen Peace Support Network and Karen News reported that a total of about 2,000 Karen people from 15 villages have fled areas under the control of Brigade 5.

The KNU signed the NCA in 2015, but the Tatmadaw has based 16 new battalions in Papun since the NCA signing.

The KNU has been among the most active organizations participating in the peace process with the Myanmar government and Army. But, when the Tatmadaw did not respect the NCA, some ethnic Karen asked the KNU to take a strong stand and fight back against the Army.