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Two Karen armies who spent the best part of two decades as sworn enemies have officially pledged to put the past behind them as they unite to fight the Burmese army.
In a ceremony this week deep inside rebel-controlled territory in eastern Burma, a breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) joined forces with their long-time foe, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).
Once one and the same, the two groups split in 1994 and turned against each other, with the DKBA allying itself to the ruling junta. But after heavy pressure over the past year from the generals to transform into a Border Guard Force, a move that would see troops assimilated into the Burmese army, a faction of the DKBA defected.
The ceremony to officially cement the new alliance took place on Wednesday in Kawkereik, western Karen state. “The DKBA and KNLA will be one; we are facing the Burmese army together,” said Colonel Ner Dah Mya, commander of the KNLA’s 6th Brigade.
Gifts were exchanged and military parades carried out, said DKBA spokesperson, Major Saw Steel.
Spearheading the defection was Brig-Gen Na Kham Mwe, nicknamed Mr Beard. Ner Dah Mya said that the man who played a key role in the split 16 years ago had now become the lynchpin of the new alliance.
“Now we are friends,” he said of Na Kham Mwe, who oversees up to 500 troops. “We don’t think about the past history; we think about the future of the Karen people, and we will forgive and forget.”
Around 1000 troops in total defected from the DKBA after it became a Border Guard Force earlier this year, a move that the ruling junta hopes will strengthen its support base in the volatile ethnic border regions.
Additional reporting by Francis Wade