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Burmese army expands in Karen state

Oct 5, 2009 (DVB), Burmese troops have stepped up their presence in southern Karen state, close to an area occupied by a key Burmese ceasefire group, a military analyst on the Thai-Burma border said.

Troop numbers in the area have swelled in recent weeks, according to the analyst speaking on condition of anonymity.

An infantry unit has been deployed near to Payathonsu (also known as Three Pagodas Pass), a major crossing point on the Thai-Burma border, while other units have been replaced.

Reinforcements have also been sent to Bayinnaung Hill near to Payathonsu.

"The positions where the army is expanding its troops are not far from where the New Mon State Party [NMSP] has set up checkpoints," the analyst said.

He added however that it was unclear whether the reinforcements signified concern over the NMSP.

"The Southeastern [Regional Military Command] has ordered its troops to conduct development projects at their positions," he said.

"Troops have been directed to provide assistance to locals in development projects, such as construction and reconstruction of roads and health and educational services, and to avoid use of forced labour."

He said that the move could be aimed at gaining more credit for the army, and persuade more civilians to ally themselves with the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Tension between the government and ceasefire groups has risen this year following pressure on ceasefire groups to disarm and form border guard forces.

The government has said that the move would bring ceasefire groups back into the 'legal fold', although many of the groups have so far resisted, fearing subjugation to the ruling generals.

It was this factor that sparked fighting in the Kokang region of Burma's northeastern Shan state between Burmese troops and a Kokang rebel group in August.

Several members of the NMSP announced last month that they would be merging with the Mon National Democratic Front to form a political party, but are yet to announce whether it will participate in elections next year.

Reporting by Min Lwin


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