Burma army retreats from Karen flashpoint

Fighting between the Burmese army and Karen rebels has eased around Hpalu village and government troops are reportedly retreating to higher positions.

It comes after a month of heavy clashes in the Hpalu area close to Myawaddy in eastern Karen state. Burmese troops are looking to rout a breakaway Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) faction whose strength has been bolstered in recent days by the support of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and hundreds of former student rebels.

Khin Kyaw, secretary of the Military Commission of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), said that his troops were clearing the area and “searching for enemy soldiers who retreated from the battlefield yesterday”.

Reports have emerged that the Burmese army has been forcibly using civilians as porters to carry equipment through the rugged border terrain. Up to 20,000 people fled the area when fighting first broke out on 8 November and have since been pouring back and forth across the border with Thailand.

It was close to Hpalu where the bodies of six KNU/KNLA Peace Council troops who had been fighting alongside the DKBA were found last week after they had been abducted during a raid on a nearby outpost by Burmese soldiers.

Khin Kyaw added that Karen and ABSDF forces had destroyed seven bridges in the area to block supply lines for Burmese troops “disrupt and delay the work of the enemy”.

Clashes have also occurred between Burmese troops and the opposition Shan State Army which has refused demands by the government to transform into a Border Guard Force (BGF). The refusal by the DKBA faction to make the transformation was a key catalyst for the recent fighting.

At the weekend an ambush by the KNLA on a Burmese army battalion in Mae Kathar village near Payathonzu, which lies around 150 kilometres south of Myawaddy, injured one soldier. Reports also surfaced from the area of a friendly fire incident between two Burmese columns after one mistook the other for a KNLA brigade.

Around 400 Mae Kathar residents have fled the village, many to Payathonzu, while the village head, Saw Wah Lay Say, has been taken by the Burmese army and placed in custody.

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