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Clashes carry on between DKBA and junta troops

Originally appeared in Mizzima

November 12, 2010

Fighting between junta troops and a Democratic Karen Buddhist Army splinter group continued at Three Pagodas Pass in Mon State yesterday morning, according to DKBA sources and residents.

The junta’s Battalion 405, Light Infantry Battalion 283 and Artillery 313 fired rockets at a location where the DKBA troops were holed up, so the latter’s Battalions 901, 906 and 907 returned fire.

“Before dawn, they fired rockets at our military camps, so we had to respond,” DKBA Battalion 906 commanding officer Lieutenant Saw A One, told Mizzima under fire.

As a result of the fighting, rocket-propelled grenades landed near Tinetayar Monastery, injuring three civilians, who were then taken to Three Pagodas Pass Hospital, a resident told Mizzima.

“The junta said that the fighting had ended and told the refugees to return to their homes. But fresh fighting broke out this morning … people don’t know where to go. Thailand is not accepting refugees from Three Pagodas Pass anymore so the displaced residents had to flee into the countryside,” New Mon State Party foreign affairs officer Nai Handar Pon Khaing said.

On November 8, troops from a breakaway faction of the junta-aligned DKBA seized strategic positions in Three Pagodas Pass, but were forced to retreat when junta reinforcements arrived in the area. Refugees who had crossed the Thai-Burmese border to Sangkhlaburi, in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province returned to their homes as they thought the fighting had ended.

The state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar claimed on Wednesday that a policeman was killed, and four soldiers and a civil servant, injured, the day before in the clashes.

After days of running battles between rebel units of the DKBA and the Burmese Army in Three Pagodas Pass and Myawaddy, further north along the border, streets in the towns were deserted and most shops, closed. Some refugees had decided to stay in Mae Sot on the Thai side of the Moei River opposite Myawaddy as they were unsure if it was safe to return, sources at Thai-based international NGOs said.

KNU condemns ‘regime violence in border areas’

Meanwhile, the Karen National Union, the armed militia group that has been fighting the longest internal war in the world, “strongly condemns” the election-related violence by junta forces in Burma’s eastern border areas, it said in a statement yesterday.

The armed ethnic Karen militia’s comments follow Wednesday’s vitriol against it in the junta mouthpiece, New Light of Myanmar, in a story headlined “KNU terrorists shell Myawady [sic], Phaya Thonsu [sic, Three Pagodas Pass], leaving some innocent people dead, injured”.

The report accused the KNU of direct involvement in the clashes, saying: “Tatmadaw [Burmese military] members are in hot pursuit of the group KNU insurgents.”

Nevertheless, the KNU, said in its statement that these attacks from the “armed wing” (Burmese Army) of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) were “… part of the SPDC’s systematic violence against Burma’s ethnic peoples”, according to the Shan Herald Agency for News, an ethnic Shan news agency based in Chiang Mai.

It said at least three civilians had died and more were injured in SPDC attacks on Myawaddy, connected to Mae Sot by the Thai-Burmese “Friendship Bridge”.

But the New Light of Myanmar’s Wednesday report slammed the KNU for attacking Myawaddy and Three Pagodas Pass and blamed it for the deaths of civilians. It went on to label the KNU “terrorists” and claimed they were “committing subversive acts to disrupt State’s stability, community, peace and tranquility and rule of law, causing innocent people casualities and public panic”.

The mouthpiece also claimed the KNU had “opened fire with heavy weapons in five different places in Myawaddy at about 8:45 a.m. yesterday”.

The KNU however told a different story. Defending the DKBA splinter group, it said that after civilians in Myawaddy were harassed and intimidated into voting for the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), DKBA Brigade 5, led by Colonel Saw Lah Pwe “took control of Myawaddy to protect these people, without using weapons”.

Saw Lah Pwe had expected the SPDC to enter into negotiations to resolve the situation in Myawaddy, the KNU said.

“However, on Monday, the 8th of November 2010, at 9 a.m., the SPDC army responded with machine-gun [fire] and rocket-propelled grenades, despite the presence of many civilians in the town,” it said.

The KNU went on to blame SPDC troops for the exodus of thousands of residents, who fled the town seeking refuge in Mae Sot. Most of the refugees have since been repatriated at the demand of Thai authorities. Some feared returning and were harboured at temples north of Mae Sot.

Attacks in Myawaddy, it said, were part of junta attempts to retain power and annihilate ethnic opposition: “These attacks are all part of the SPDC’s policy of eliminating ethnic opposition, including ceasefire groups that have refused to be under its direct control as a Border Guard Force, as required by their 2008 constitution.”

The KNU and DKBA Brigade 5 share the same policy of protecting civilians, they have stated. The former supported the DKBA actions as they, “were taken in resistance to the SPDC’s elections that do not represent any progress towards creating a democratic federal union in which the ethnic people’s fundamental human rights would be protected”.

The general election on Sunday would not lead to peace in Burma, but to an increase in repression and further attacks by the military on ethnic minorities, the KNU said it had repeatedly warned.

The organisation said it had lodged a plea with the international community to hear its cries for more pressure on Burma’s regime and to reject the junta’s flawed polls.

“We, the KNU, earnestly urge the United Nations, the EU, and other international communities to reject the result of Burma’s sham elections and apply real pressure on the regime to stop the attacks on ethnic civilians,” its statement read.

Its “Supreme Headquarters” has called for international engagement and dialogue to reach a political resolution in Burma.

In the run-up to the election, state media had gradually increased the negativity of its rhetoric regarding armed ethnic groups, which observers said was aimed at laying the groundwork for legitimising its attacks on the groups.

Khin Omar, from campaign umbrella group Burma Partnership, told Mizzima on Wednesday that: “For me, it is quite disturbing, quite frustrating to see that the Burmese Army, or the regime, continues with these kind of attacks without giving political solutions and giving options for the ethnic people to have a chance to be a part of the union, and have political equality, and their basic rights being guaranteed. It’s never been like that, I am just so frustrated.”

She said that the Burmese regime, which had reigned supreme using violence, had failed to give ethnic groups in Burma the chance to enter into peaceful political dialogue. “I really think that in some cases … ethnic people in their situation … don’t have a choice … they have to take up this armed struggle, because the regime never gave them a choice not to,” she said.

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