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Seven troops from the pro-junta Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) have defected to an opposition Karen group amid rumours that fighting could erupt within the DKBA.
A split appears to be forming in the once staunchly pro-government DKBA, with the commander of its Brigade 5 reportedly on the run after refusing to accede to government demands to transform into a Border Guard Force. There are rumours that Saw Hla Bwe (also known as Na Kham Mwe) is sheltering in territory belonging to the Karen National Union (KNU), whom the DKBA split from in 1994.
Sources on the Thai-Burma border say that the commander of DKBA Brigade 999, Chit Thu, who is close to the Burmese junta and is known for being an aggressive fighter and tactician, is preparing to launch an attack on the renegade commander.
It comes as seven troops under Saw Hla Bwe’s Battalion 902 command reportedly joined the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU, on Tuesday, along with arms and equipment.
A KNLA official told DVB that “an unpredictable stance” over whether the Burmese army would also attack Saw Hla Bwe had pushed them to defect.
“The DKBA troops are not allowed to leave their bases alongside the Thai border, close to Myawaddy. They are also no longer allowed to [leave the bases to] play football and visit villages,” the official said, adding that it was due to a number of defections that have occurred recently.
An intelligence directive received by DVB last week that was sent by senior Burmese army officials to troops in Karen state ordered the capture of Saw Hla Bwe and increase of surveillance on civilians in towns close to DKBA territory.
Saw Hla Bwe has long been seen as a more moderate voice within the DKBA and has continually rejected proposals by the government to become a Border Guard Force, which would see DKBA troops assimilated into the Burmese army.