Karen fleeing to border in their ‘thousands’

Fears over clashes between the Burmese army and a proxy force have in the past two days caused an exodus of Karen refugees to Burma’s border with Thailand.

The refugees, many of whom are from Kawkerit township in eastern Karen state, which borders Thailand, have reportedly been arriving in small groups since 27 April. There are fears of fighting between Burmese troops and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which according to rumours is resisting demands to become a border guard unit.

“DKBA commanders are not getting along with the Burmese junta and there will be fighting. We fled when we saw Burmese troops arriving,” said a female refugee from Hto Kaw Kee village in Kawkareit township.

Many Karen are said to have remained in hiding in the jungle areas close to the border. The woman added that villagers had had to leave their belongings hidden when they fled their homes, fearing pillage by Burmese troops.

Around 130,000 Karen live in camps along the Thai-Burma border, many of whom have fled the 60-year civil war between the Burmese government and the Karen National Union (KNU). The DKBA split from the KNU in 1994 and allied itself to the government.

Earlier this week hundreds of locals from Mon state reportedly fled to the border after the New Mon State Party (NMSP) ceasefire group rejected demands from the government that it transform into a border militia.

A similar refusal by the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest ceasefire group, has pushed dozens of locals from Shan state into Thailand in the past week.

The deadline for groups to begin the transformation into border militias passed yesterday, with only a handful of groups agreeing to the proposal which will see them subordinated to the Burmese army and forced to reduce troop numbers.

Already tenuous ceasefire agreements between the government and various ethnic armies are looking increasingly fragile; aid groups have warned that the issue could spark widespread fighting and force thousands across Burma’s borders into China and Thailand.

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