The pro-Burmese government Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) is taking captive family members, including young children, of soldiers who have defected to an opposition Karen army.
A seven-member platoon fled the DKBA’s 999 brigade on 11 July and, armed with weapons and ammunition, joined the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU).
But the following day, the families of platoon leader Saw Myo Myo and three other defectors were taken by DKBA troops in Shwe Gkoh Ko, a town close to the Karen state border with Thailand.
“The DKBA is angry with me,” said Saw Myo Myo. “I heard that my father, my sister and my wife have been taken captive…and being detained in Shwe Gkoh Ko. Apparently, they told my wife she has to pay for the guns or she will never be released. They will make her work for them during the detention.”
His platoon decided to join the KNU because of insufficient rations and supplies provided by the DKBA, as well as their rejection of the government’s attempts to turn the milita into a Border Guard Force.
Twelve relatives of the four men have been kidnapped, said the KNLA lieutenant-colonel, Saw Paw Doh. This includes a two-year-old boy and an 80-year-old.
“The women had nothing to do with their husbands’ work,” he said. “The DKBA took captive of underage children and innocent people. This is a violation of human rights. We don’t know how much [compensation for the guns] the DKBA wants but the families have been told to sell all their land and other properties they own to pay them.”
Since the DKBA split from the KNU in 1995 and allied itself to the government, the two factions have been at loggerheads. Both are vying for control of territory in Burma’s eastern Karen state, which has been torn by a six-decade conflict between the KNU and the Burmese government, which is now being aided by the DKBA.
Rumours of large-scale defections from the DKBA back to the KNU circulate sporadically, but only a handful is ever confirmed. Factions within the KNU would like to see its numbers strengthened by additional troops, but the question of whether to accept back former enemies looms over the debate.
The DKBA’s 999 Brigade is headed by the somewhat-infamous Chit Thu, known to be close to Burma’s ruling junta and an aggressively military tactician. Aung Myo Min, head of the Thailand-based Human Rights and Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), said that “taking captive of children in armed conflict is the biggest violation of child rights”.
Detaining underage children and the elderly violates UN article 1612 on children and armed conflict, he continued. “The DKBA is already accused of using child soldiers and they are committing another crime by taken hostage of children. We would like to urge them to stop detaining children and ensure protection for their rights.”
The reports mirror an incident that took place in May this year when the parents of DKBA defector Pho Taw Taw were detained and asked to pay 160,000 baht (US$5,000) compensation for the guns he took. The parents were released after they paid 80,000 baht (US$2,500) to the DKBA raised by selling their properties.