Oct 27, 2009 (DVB), Around 700 troops from a pro-junta Karen militia have entered territory controlled by the opposition Karen National Union in eastern Burma, allegedly to mine for gold.
A senior official in the Karen National Union (KNU) said that 700 soldiers from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) were in the Thaton and Hpapun districts of Karen state.
"Our reports said that they were planning to dig for gold at the Mae Wai creek located in our district," said Hpapun district chair, Saw Htan Dal, adding that there had no movement of DKBA troops in the area after their arrival.
A DKBA official confirmed that the troops were in the area but rejected allegations that the group was planning to launch an attack on the KNU.
"They are there to do business but not to fight a war," he said, adding that troops from various battalions are digging for gold in Hpapun district.
He said that troops entered the area on 21 October following permission from the Burmese government, and were carrying equipments for gold digging.
The DKBA allied itself with the government after splitting from the KNU in 1994, allegedly citing religious persecution by the KNU's majority Christian members.
Tension between the two groups has remained high since the Burmese army, supported by the DKBA, launched an offensive against the KNU in June this year and captured several strategically important bases.
Meanwhile, Burma's mining minister, Ohn Myint, warned businessmen involved in the country's gold industry last week to prevent fluctuations in gold prices, as soaring rates could lead to public unrest.
A Burmese businessman told DVB that the gold market in Burma had been quiet since the introduction of the 5,000 kyat ($US5) banknote at the beginning of October, which saw gold prices rise by nearly 20 percent. Gold prices today are around 20 times what they were a decade ago.
"It's partly true when [Ohn Myint] said we shouldn't let the nation fall due to a public panic caused by soaring of gold prices," said Burmese economist Khin Maung Nyo.
"But if you look from another side, you'll see the gold price goes up because the nation is not in a stable state."
Reporting by Naw Noreen