An order has been sent by senior Burmese army officials to troops in Karen state to capture the commander of a government-allied militia faction, as tensions appear to be escalating.
Officials have also introduced tight regulations on civilians in towns bordering territory belonging to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army’s (DKBA) Brigade 5, whose commander, Saw La Bwe (also known as Na Kham Mwe), continues to refuse to transform into a Border Guard Force.
Fears that escalating tensions will erupt into fighting have already caused an exodus of refugees in Burma’s eastern Karen state into Thailand
An intelligence directive, received at the weekend by DVB, was sent by the Southeastern Regional Military Command to Burmese troops stationed close to DKBA Brigade 5 territory. It said that the “order by the Burmese army to capture the DKBA Brigade 5’s commander Saw La Bwe (a.k.a Na Kham Mwe) was dispatched to the frontline’s Military Operations Command 8”.
“However, according to the MOC8’s report, Saw Hla Bwe (a.k.a Na Kham Mwe) has gone into hiding in territory close to the KNU Brigade 6,” it added, referring to the opposition Karen National Union (KNU) whom the DKBA broke away from in 1994.
Zipporah Sein, general secretary of the KNU, said that there had been “no official information” as to Saw La Bwe’s whereabouts. “That’s the rumour – he was in KNU territory three months ago but it’s not clear where he is now.”
Since the split, the DKBA have been fighting alongside the Burmese army in their decades-old conflict against the KNU. Reports have surfaced in recent months of defections by DKBA members back to their old group.
“If [Saw La Bwe] fights against the Burmese army then we can accept him back, as long as he is no longer involved in drugs,” Zipporah said. The DKBA are reportedly involved in a number of illegal trade and activities, including trafficking of methamphetamine.
A wing of the Burmese army, known as the Frontline Military Strategic Command, has ordered troops in Payathonsu township, close to the Three Pagodas Pass in Karen state, to heighten surveillance on civilians. Brigade 5’s territory is said to stretch from Myawaddy, across the border from Thailand’s Mae Sot, to Payathonsu.
Regulations on civilians include a ban on carrying shoulder bags at night time – perhaps to diminish the threat of bomb attacks, although this is not clear – and a ban on civilians leaving or entering the town at night.
“Responsible personnel in the town are advised to keep collecting information and continue with other tasks,” it adds. Troops are also ordered to block communication between the DKBA Brigade 5 and members of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), another armed ceasefire group operating in the area.
“It is advised to use effective ways of punishment on the civilians who break the regulations,” the directive ends.
Saw La Bwe has repeatedly rejected the Border Guard Force plan, which would see his troops assimilated into the Burmese army. A Brigade 5 official said last week that the government had threatened force against the DKBA officials who were resistant to the idea.