Armed members of the Karen Peace Council (KPC) confronted police in Karen State capital Hpa-an on Wednesday following the arrest of a high-ranking officer.
Hpa-an police apprehended KPC Column Commander Ayu after questioning him about the abduction and robbery of a woman carrying gold wares. During the course of the investigation, police found and confiscated a gun and ammunition.
Ayu was detained and charged with illegal possession of a weapon.
KPC Colonel Saw Joseph led a group of about 40 armed soldiers to the Hpa-an police station at around 11am on Wednesday to demand that he be released and the weapon returned.
“We are not surrounding the station,” Saw Joseph explained to DVB. “We came to talk about the case. They charged one of our members with possession of a weapon, so we came to discuss how to proceed.”
Saw Joseph said that there was no altercation and no shots were fired during the confrontation. Local journalist Zaw Ye Htet told DVB that locals were fearful nonetheless, and the incident brought business to a standstill.
“About 20 soldiers from Burmese Army Light Infantry Battalion 201 joined forces with the police, and then the Karen troops backed out. There was no shootout, but the gold shops in Myoma market all closed down,” he said.
The KPC is an ethnic armed group that split from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in 2007. The 200-strong army was founded by Brig-Gen Htay Maung after he was dismissed from the KNLA over holding unauthorised peace negotiations with the Burmese government.
The group signed a state-level ceasefire agreement with the central government in February 2012. The Karen National Union, political wing of the KNLA, also forged a state-level pact in 2012, and is currently involved in negotiations for a nationwide ceasefire agreement.
The talks are tenuous and have led to leadership disagreements; the KNU recently withdrew from the country’s main ethnic bloc, the United Nationalities Federal Council, amid power struggles among the group’s dominant members.