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Praise of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA)’s “courageous” assault on a town in eastern Burma that pushed up to 20,000 refugees into Thailand was voiced yesterday by a Shan-based rebel army.
Fighting between Burmese soldiers and the DKBA, who took control of key military positions in Myawaddy on Sunday night, has died down and the majority of those who fled to Thailand have now returned. There are however thought to be refugees still fleeing fighting further south at Payathonzu.
The DKBA faction involved in the attack was led by renegade commander Na Kham Mwe, who spearheaded a revolt against the DKBA’s transformation into a Border Guard Force (BGF), a move that sees it come under the direct control of Naypyidaw.
He claims the incursion into Myawaddy was triggered by a complaint from a local that a member of the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which has claimed victory of Sunday’s elections in Burma, threatened a voter at gunpoint.
A statement released yesterday by the Shan State Army (SSA) spoke of its “[respect] of the DKBA troops” who were involved in the attack, which it said was intended to thwart the junta’s attempt to “divide up the Karen and make them slaughter their own people” – a reference to the BGF transformation and the wider divide-and-rule tactics used by the junta against the country’s multiple ethnic groups.
The assault is “an example to all the ethnic armed groups and ceasefire groups… Now is time for all ethnics in Burma to unite and jointly assist the DKBA,” it finished.
Na Kham Mwe had earlier pledged his support for the formation of six-party alliance of ethnic armies that includes his former foes, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), as well as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Karenni Army.
Zipporah Sein, the secretary general of the Karen National Union (KNU), the political wing of the KNLA, told DVB that KNLA troops had stood ready to help the DKBA if support was needed.
The DKBA was formed in the mid-1990s after it broke off from the KNLA and allied itself to the Burmese junta. Since then, the two sides have fought a bitter war for control of Karen territory but, said Zipporah, the KNLA would welcome back any DKBA troop that “is fighting against the dictatorship”.
The number of civilians killed in the Myawaddy and Payathonzu clashes remains unknown – three were initially reported dead in Myawaddy on Monday but that figure may rise when the smoke clears from yesterday fighting.