Ethnic armies sign military pact

Six armed ethnic groups that control territory in Burma’s northern and eastern border regions have agreed to provide mutual assistance in attacks on the ruling junta.

The pledge was made after a meeting held on October 30 at a secret location, believed to be in Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province.

Of the six groups, four – the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), a breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), the Karenni Army and the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council (KNU/KNLA PC) – operate along the Thai-Burma border.

Joining them were delegates from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Burma and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) in the east of the country. The KNLA is the only one of the six that has never signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government.

But those ceasefires are looking increasingly tenuous as the junta’s plans to transform the ethnic armies into Border Guard Forces have been met with widespread resistance. The move would see armed groups come under the direct control of Naypyidaw and mark a possible end to their struggle for autonomy.

As threats of force against the non-compliant groups increase, the new alliance now says it will aid members in their military campaigns against the Burmese army, which numbers close to 500,000. Included in the group is a renegade faction of the DKBA led by Na Kham Mwe, who broke away after the DKBA accepted the transformation into a Border Guard Force.

“We were meeting for the unity of ethnic nationals in the Union – to fight together for democracy, freedom and autonomy,” Na Kham Mwe told DVB. “We reached an agreement to unite and help each other, whether Kachin or Karenni [or anyone], when one of us is attacked.”

There are fears that the widespread rejection will lead to an increase in fighting in the country’s already volatile border regions as the Burmese army attempts to gain control of opposition territory.

Any conflict could spark an exodus of refugees into neighbouring countries: Thailand already hosts some 145,000 refugees – mostly Karen – in nine camps along the border where aid groups are struggling to provide adequate food.

But it is China that is voicing the loudest fears, and the issue of border stability was believed to be high on the agenda when Senior General Than Shwe visited Beijing in September. The KIA and SSA-N occupy territory that borders China, which issued a rare and strong admonishment to Burma when an offensive against a Kokang rebel group last year forced some 37,000 across the border.

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