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Nearly two dozen Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) soldiers under a brigade that have consented to the government’s Border Guard Force (BGF) plan have joined forces with the DKBA’s brigade 5, led by renegade commander Colonel Saw Hla Bwe aka Na Kham Mwe, who has defied the call to assimilate into the Burmese army.
20 troops under DKBA brigade 999’s special battalion company 3, led by company leader Saw Ploh along with 14 family members defected to Saw Hla Bwe’s faction on Monday after their former commander Saw Chit Thu agreed to transform the brigade into a BGF unit.
“I was never interested in the [BGF] transformation. Previously, I signed up after I was told the abbot [monk Thuzana, revered by the DKBA] who directed us to do so. But later I found out the abbot never gave such a direction. I’m going to walk my own way – I don’t want to serve in a BGF unit,” said Saw Ploh.
“My family and my people also do not wish to see us transformed into a BGF unit. This is why I’m joining [Saw Hla Bwe.] [The DKBA] proclaimed their cause is for Karen people but in reality they are merely just puppets of the Burmese Army. I don’t want to give in to the order to take down the Karen flag and to raise the Burmese flag on its pole… we need to re-raise the [Karen] flag.”
The BGF plan looks to assimilate ethnic cease fire armies in the Burmese SPDC as border defense units with an SPDC officer in command at Brigadier level. Some have seen it as a direct contradiction to the initial agreement which the DKBA made with the Burmese when they split from the Karen National Union (KNU) in 1994. That agreement allegedly stated that the DKBA would have autonomy over Karen State, something that the BGF does not offer.The split was encouraged by the Abbot Thuzana which also appeared to be an attempt to divide the Karen along religious lines. Rival KNU and their armed wing the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) are said to be Christian dominated despite the fact that the Karen people are predominantly Buddhist.
Saw Ploh’s company also brought along valuable weapons and ammunition with their defection. He speculated there are likely to be more DKBA troops joining Saw Hla Bwe’s faction in the near future.
He added that some DKBA troops led by former DKBA military chief general Kyaw Than at the beginning of this month had transformed and structured into three BGF units however they were still unable to submit their troops list to the government’s army.
“They have already signed [the transformation] but still be unable to submit the lists as more troops are leaving them every day,” he said.
Saw Ploh said his house and properties in Htee Wah Plaw village in Myawaddy [township] were seized by the DKBA’s special battalion.
“I was a DKBA soldier previously and still regard myself as one now. But they see me as an enemy – they seized my house and my belongings including three motorbikes and a tractor. They also shot and killed a pregnant pig at my house. The pig had nothing to do with what I did,” he said.
Saw Ploh said he heard that the DKBA brigade 999’s commander Saw Chit Thu, after transformation agreement which will automatically strip off him of his military rank, was appointed as the chief of trade to deal with fund raising for the troops. However, DVB could not independently confirm this information.
Earlier this week, authorities in Myawaddy were organising a BGF transformation ceremony for the DKBA. But it is still unclear if the ceremony had been actually held or not.