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Five army battalions are ready and waiting in eastern Burma after the ruling junta yesterday set a deadline for a renegade Karen commander to lay down his arms.
The breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) has been given until 31 December to either surrender their weapons or transform into a government-controlled border militia.
“We will be attacked by five army battalions if we fail to comply,” Na Kham Mwe, head of the group’s 5th Brigade, told DVB. “If they will attack us then we’ll have to fight back, but we will only target [junta] officials.”
A meeting was held yesteday in Myawaddy between the Burmese army’s Bureau of Special Operations-4 commander, Thet Naing Win, and senior members of the newly-transformed Border Guard Force (BGF), comprised of former members of the DKBA.
“They said they would welcome peace and that we would have to surrender arms if we refuse the BGF transformation,” said Na Kham Mwe. “They promised to give me everything I ask for.”
He added that his troops, thought to number close to 1000, “don’t even dream about surrendering arms but would like to cooperate with the [Burmese] army for development work”.
The DKBA last week cemented an alliance with their former foes, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), whom they split from in 1994 when the DKBA allied with the junta.
Colonel Ner Dha Mya, head of the KNLA’s 6th Brigade, said that the two groups had “put the past behind” them and would now unite in their battle for autonomy from the Burmese government, which has pledged to rout ethnic armies who refuse the transformation.
Conflict in Karen state, which borders Thailand to the east, has stretched over more than 60 years and caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Critics accuse of junta of an attempted ‘Burmanisation’ of the country where its 135 ethnic minority groups are altogether sidelined.