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Tensions High Following Mon-Karen Clash at Three Pagodas Pass

By Lawi Weng 2 May 2019

Military tensions have heightened between Mon and Karen rebels over a territorial dispute in the strategic area of Three Pagodas Pass in Karen State near the Thailand-Myanmar border following a skirmish on Monday, according to local sources.

The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU), blocked all roads into Tha Dein Village where the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA) troops have a military base causing tensions to rise. Both sides have been closely watching the other’s movements, with the KNLA calling in additional troops yesterday in preparation for an attack on the Mon group’s base.

The New Mon State Party (NMSP) informed the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, on Wednesday about the KNLA blocking roads in the area, confining locals to the village, including ill persons requiring treatment at hospitals outside.

According to the NMSP, following their complaint, the KNLA reopened one road.

“They opened one road only for civilians to use but they continue to block other roads in order to stop our troops’ movements,” Nai Oung Thein, the NMSP’s deputy liaison officer, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.

If the KNLA come inside the village, he said, his army will fight.

“We will not go [out] to attack them, but if they come into our area, we are prepared to fight them back.”

A small clash broke out on Monday between the KNLA and the MNLA in a disputed territory where NMSP staff are carrying out a logging project. When KNLA troops came in to stop the logging, the skirmish broke out.

“The main problem is that they accused us of cutting timber in an area where they control. But this is not true—that area is under our control,” he said.

In explaining the details on Monday’s clash, he said the KNLA offered to negotiate via a local who came to the logging project area. But as soon as he left, the KNLA began firing at the NMSP soldiers anyway.

“They fired shots first and the shells fell near our troops. Fortunately, none of us were hurt,” said Nai Oung Thein.

The fighting continued for thirty minutes before the KNLA troops left the area, according to the NMSP. Neither party has reported any casualties following the clash.

Regarding the suggested negotiations on the territorial dispute Nai Oung Thein said he did not know yet whether his party’s top level would agree to meet with the KNU.

The NMSP liaison office has attempted to arrange a negotiation session with their opponent’s liason office, but invites to the KNU side have gone unanswered.

When The Irrawaddy tried to contact the KNU liaison office at Three Pagodas Pass for comment, the relevant persons were unavailable.

The disputed area been seen peace since the NMSP signed a ceasefire with the Myanmar government in 1995. Both the KNU and the NMSP later made verbal agreements to work towards local development and economic improvement, especially in that area of forestry.

When the NMSP carried out a logging project there in the past, they agreed to give the KNU 400 Thai baht for every ton of timber they harvested. But this time, the KNU did not accept the payment, and instead insisted the area belongs to them only.

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