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Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front switches allegiance

FROM THE DVB NEWSROOM

News of the Karenni National People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF) switching allegiance from the military to the resistance in Karenni State made both local and international headlines earlier this week. It reportedly joined resistance groups attacking military outposts in Mese town on June 13. The KNPLF was a Border Guard Force (BGF), active in Hpruso and Mese townships of Karenni State, that signed the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in 2009. The BGF consists of ethnic armed groups, located along Burma’s borderlands, that have been integrated into the military’s command structure in exchange for territory and lucrative deals. 

The KNPLF is a communist faction that split from the Karenni National Progressive Party and its armed wing the Karenni Army (KNPP/KA) in 1978 over political disagreements. It continued to engage in hostilities with the Burma Army and received support from its ideological ally the Communist Party of Burma (CPB). Following the crackdown on the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the military engaged in ceasefire talks with the KNPLF in 1989. The ceasefire was finalized five years later and the KNPLF transitioned into a BGF. Its base of operations: eastern Karenni State. Over the next 22 years, the KNPLF had irregular clashes with KNPP/KA.   

Relations between the KNPLF and KNPP/KA gradually improved. KNPP/KA representatives attended a ceremony marking the 42nd anniversary of the founding of the KNPLF in 2020. Marnu Ei Chit Tun (aka Marku Ei Chit Tun), the KNPLF secretary, claimed that it had developed good relations with its former rival. The KNPLF started to identify more openly with Burma’s pro-democracy movement and vowed to become a part of a future federal army following the 2021 coup.

It issued a statement on Feb. 8, 2021, condemning the military for its actions. Reports emerged that low level members had taken part in fighting against the Burma Army in June 2021. Marnu Ei Chit was appointed as Deputy Minister of the National Unity Government (NUG) Ministry of Federal Union Affairs. Four KNPLF members were killed by the Burma Army on Dec. 24, 2021 after pleading with troops to release 40 captives later killed in Hpruso Township during the “Christmas Eve massacre.”

Relations between the KNPLF and the military have continued to deteriorate this year. It refused to attend ceasefire talks in Naypyidaw. It issued a joint statement together with the KNPP/KA and Karenni Nationalities Defense Force (KNDF) in January calling on the public to continue to support the fight against the military. A KNPLF central committee member confirmed to news agency Myanmar Now that two of its battalions – 1004 and 1005 – fought against the Burma Army. Its bases were targeted by airstrikes soon afterward.

The KNPLF is thought to have only a few hundred men under its command, according to Zachary Abuza, professor at the National War College in Washington, DC. An intelligence source reported that it does have a powerful beneficiary in the United Wa State Army (UWSA). It is believed that it has served as a possible intermediary for the flow of arms from the UWSA into Karenni State. This is the first case of a BGF switching allegiances from the military to the resistance since the 2021 coup. The KNPLF move marks a significant shift in conflict dynamics, highlighting the growing unity among anti-military forces in Karenni State.

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