Sept 2, 2009 (DVB), A Karen splinter group allied with the Burmese junta appears to be strengthening its presence in eastern Burma, raising fears of fresh clashes with the opposition Karen National Union.
Eye-witnesses said that in recent days troops from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) were seen entering territory belonging to the Karen National Union (KNU) in Mon state.
Fighting between the Burmese army, backed by the DKBA, and the KNU in June forced around 4000 Karen civilians into neighbouring Thailand.
An official from the KNU's armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), said that DKBA troops had entered the KNLA-controlled Mae Kathar village on 30 August, and remained yesterday.
"They have positioned themselves up in three outposts on a hill east of the village and it doesn't look like they are going to leave," he said.
There is speculation that the DKBA intends to create and control a trading zone in eastern Burma, and hence is increasing troop numbers in the region.
"The DKBA wanted to gain control of Mae Kathar because it is at a junction of trade routes for honey, timber and ore from mines surrounding the area so they can collect a lot of tax money," the KNLA official said.
He added that despite there being no KNLA troops in the Mae Kathar area, the KNLA would deliberately avoid any clashes with the DKBA.
Following the announcement in early August that DKBA troops would enter Mae Kathar, "people and monks in the village told us it would be hard for them if we clash with the DKBA," said the official.
Meanwhile, locals in the Three Pagoda Pass border town, south of where DKBA soldiers were seen, said the Burmese army has also increased its troop numbers in the town.
The conflict between the KNU and Burmese government has stretched over 60 years, and is thought to be one of the world's longest running.
Around 100,000 Karen refugees live in camps along the Thai-Burma border, many of whom have fled the fighting. Some of the civilians who crossed into Thailand during the June offensive were found hiding in caves ad other temporary shelters.
Key military bases belonging to the KNU were taken by Burmese troops early this year, fuelling speculation that the KNU's strength had been significantly damaged.
Reporting by Naw Noreen