Mon State — The Myanmar military says a soldier was killed and an army truck was destroyed in an attack by the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in northern Karen State’s Papun Township on Friday.
The office of the military’s commander-in chief, Senior general Min Aung Hlaing, condemned the attack in a statement posted to its website Saturday.
Colonel Myo Aung, from the Myanmar military’s Southern Regional Command, said the military sent letters to both the KNLA and its political wing, the Karen National Union (KNU), which signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in 2015.
“Based on the NCA, we sent them letters about their actions,” he said, adding that the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee was sent a copy as well.
Major Saw Kler Doh, of the KNLA’s Brigade 5, based in Papun, blamed the clash on the military.
“The fighting broke out because they tried to sneak into our areas of control. They did not stay on the borderline, where we both agreed to stay,” he said. “If they had not crossed the borderline into our side, there would have been no fighting. They never informed us before they tried to sneak into our area of control.”
The KNU and Myanmar military agreed a bilateral ceasefire in 2012 that requires each to inform the other of any armed incursion in advance.
While the military has reported only the two clash with the KNLA this month, the KNLA has reported four.
The KNLA said the vehicle it attacked and destroyed on Friday was not a truck but a bulldozer the military was using the upgrade a road between the villages of Baw Hsee Kee and Yung Sa Lin. The armed group said it had agreed to let the military pull the bulldozer out of the area but attacked because it was still being used.
The military said it had been both transporting food to its frontline troops in the area and upgrading a pair of roads running between Taungoo, in Bago Region, to the border with Thailand, including the stretch from Baw Hsee Kee and Yung Sa Lin, along which it had about 10 battalions stationed.
“We transport food during the dry season every year. We have used this road since 1990,” Col. Myo Aung said.
The military clashed with the KNLA in Papun last year when it began upgrading a road from Baw Hsee Kee to Ler Mu Plaw, displacing hundreds of local ethnic Karen from their homes. The military suspended work following a meeting between Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and KNU Chairman Saw Mutu Say Poe in Naypyitaw
But Col. Myo Aung said the military would continue upgrading the roads between Taungoo and the border in order to better supply its soldiers.
The KNLA’s Maj. Saw Kler Doh said the military should hold off on any development projects in the area while there was fighting there.
“Our area is a conflict area. The best thing would be for both armed groups to stay on the agreed border. No one should cross the borderline; that way there will be no fighting,” he said.
The KNLA has asked the military to stop rebuilding the roads and to resupply its frontline soldiers by foot or horse only in order to avoid clashes. The military has ignored both requests.