The Myanmar Army has recently established four new bases in areas of Kayah State where Karenni rebel groups remain active, evoking fear among locals that fresh clashes may break out in the area.
The Karenni Civil Society Network (KCSN), based in Loikaw, the capital of Kayah State, reported on Jan. 21 that the Myanmar Army has built new bases in the townships of Demawso, Pasaung, Bawlake, and Shadaw. Myanmar Army’s Light Infantry Battalion No. 54 have built a new base in Daw Pu Village, Demawso Township. Battalion No. 428 have established a base in Nat Ye Thweh Pauk (aka Bo Than Win Gone) in Pasaung Township. Battalion No. 429 have built a base between Daw Wiraw and Thiri Dah villages in Shadaw Township and battalion No. 337’s new base is at Nam Mahn Kee in Mae Set Township. The four battalions will be temporarily based at those locations for three months, according to the Myanmar Army. The construction of the bases began on Dec. 23 and were completed on Jan. 7.
Many locals, including members of KCSN from the region, have questioned the motives of the Myanmar Army as the bases were built during the unilateral four-month ceasefire.
Khu Tu Reh, a spokesperson for KCSN told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that there is a feeling of fear among many of the locals who are worried about the onset of renewed fighting.
“There has been serious fighting in the past in these areas so the locals have memories of bad experiences from the past and they suffered a lot [during previous outbreaks],” he said.
The four-month ceasefire declared by the Myanmar Army covers Shan, Kachin, and Kayah states, but Khu Tu Reh said it raises questions on whether Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing really wants to have peace or if his army are in fact preparing bases and planning ahead for future conflict.
“If he loves peace and he wants the people to benefit from peace, his army should not act like that,” said Khu Tu Reh.
The Myanmar Army has already moved into the newly-built bases, according to KCSN. Some local people who disagreed with the building of the bases approached members of the army to express their disapproval of them basing themselves in the area. The army’s response was that they intend to stay in the area only temporarily.
“They told our locals that they will stay only for three months,” said Khu Tu Reh.
Khu Oo Reh, vice chairman of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that his party had recently sent a delegation to meet some Myanmar Army officers.
“Those army officers told us at the meeting that the order came from the top (the ministry of defense based in Naypyitaw) and that troops would stay in bases where the ceasefire was declared for the duration of the temporary ceasefire,” said Khu Oo Reh.
“They even told us that if we (the KNPP) wanted to approach this issue officially, both sides could sit and discuss it at the monthly meeting,” he said, referring to the meetings which are held between the Myanmar Army and the KNPP at the end of every month.
The KNPP is set to bring up the issue with the Myanmar Army at the end of January, according to Khu Oo Reh.
“For our KNPP, we will seek a solution through dialogue during our monthly meeting,” he said.
Both the Myanmar Army and the KNPP have a long-standing agreement on the circumstances of building new bases during ceasefire periods, according to the KNPP. The Myanmar Army is required to inform the KNPP in advance if they wish to build a new base in an area where KNPP troops are active. In this case, however, the Myanmar Army did not inform them prior to building the four new bases, according to the KNPP.
The KNPP have also expressed concerns that renewed fighting may break out in the near future, ending the peace and stability the area has enjoyed in recent years. The KNPP fears for the safety of local people of the area should fighting break out, said Khu Oo Reh.
“We are also worried that the progress of the peace process could be damaged by [the Myanmar Army’s] actions,” said Khu Oo Reh.
The Irrawaddy was unable to reach the Myanmar Army’s Eastern Regional Command for comment on Wednesday.