Mass revolt blurs Karen loyalty

Hundreds of troops serving under a pro-government Border Guard Force (BGF) in eastern Burma are now refusing demands from their leaders and have donned opposition Karen fatigues.

Stopping short of a wholesale defection, the 500-odd soldiers are yet to commit to either the pro-government BGF or a renegade faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), whose insignia they now wear on their uniforms.

The group, based in Karen state’s Myainggyingu region and led by Colonel Phobi, say they grew tired of the lack of rations and what they claim is discrimination between the ranks of BGF 1012, the same group the last month attacked their own armoury. Growing disquiet prompted them to surround the bases of their commanders and on 27 May, fighting looked imminent.

An intervention by Karen abbot, Ashin Thuzana, who chaired negotiations between Burmese army officials and members of the BGF 1012, has reportedly calmed the situation, although the Burmese army agreed to demands that all BGF forces in the area surrounding Myainggyingu be allowed to wear DKBA uniforms – a symbolic coup for the onetime junta-loyalists who defected to the opposition last year in a rebuttal to the creation of a BGF.

Yet ambiguity still surrounds the allegiance of the 500 men – a lay follower of Ashin Thuzana told DVB that while they can wear DKBA uniforms in Myainggyingu, they will have to switch back to their BGF outfits whenever they leave the region. Moreover, they have reportedly pledged not to attack government-allied forces.

The report paints a confusing portrait of the situation in eastern Burma, where a loose coalition of Karen armies, including the DKBA and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), are battling Burmese forces supported by a number of BGF groups.

The Karen opposition, whose six-decade conflict with the Burmese regime is one of the world’s longest-running, was given a boost in July last year when a faction of the DKBA broke off and turned against the Burmese army. A number of defections have since followed.

The latest revolt follows an attack by troops from the same BGF 1012 on their commanders on 24 May, which left three dead. Reports at the time suggested that Colonel Na Kham Mwe, who led the July 2010 defection of DKBA troops, had aided the assault.

Maj-Gen Johnny of the KNLA’s Brigade 7 said that the BGF 1012 continued to strengthen its forces in Myainggyingu, prompting Burmese troops to block roads around Myaniggyingu that KNLA forces could potentially use as thoroughfares to assist the revolt.

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