Civilians have been warned against travelling between three towns in eastern Burma by Karen rebels who claim Burmese troops are donning plain clothes to avoid being ambushed.
Major San Aung from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which is engaged in battle against the ruling Burmese junta, told DVB that troops were “blending themselves in among civilians and we worry that we will hit the real civilians by accident”.
It follows rumours that a Karen force opened fire on a convoy of plain-clothed men whom it suspected were Burmese army, killing three. This has not however been confirmed.
San Aung said that civilians were being warned not to travel on roads connecting the Karen state towns of Myawaddy, Kawkareit and Hpa-an, which lie close to the Thai border.
Fighitng began in the region in November last year and has fluctuated in intensity. The initial flux of refugees into Thailand has slowed, but stability along the Thai-Burma border remains fragile.
Brig-Gen Na Kham Mwe, leader of the DKBA, said that Burmese troops had also been using civilian vehicles to transport injured troops back to Kawkareit.
If true, the practice would be in breach of international law, said Aung Myo Min, director of the Thailand-based Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB)
“According to the Geneva Convention, soldiers are not to blend in with civilians to prevent unwanted collateral damage,” he said.
“The rules of engagement prohibit shooting at ambulances that are marked [as such]. Disguising as civilians while not using these markings is a violation of the basics of the Geneva Convention designed to protect civilians in conflict.”
Calls for the Burmese junta to be investigated by the UN for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity have increased in the past year. Much the emphasis has been placed on human rights violations in the volatile border regions, where the military government has fought decades-long conflict with multiple armed ethnic groups.