A pro-government Karen militia engaged soldiers from a local rebel group in a shootout on Friday, in the most recent episode of unrest in Burma’s east.
The leader of the Karen Border Guard Force (BGF) 1015th battalion claims that his troops killed one member of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA). The Naypyidaw- aligned BGF has been wrestling the DKBA for control of areas surrounding the Asian Highway near the Karen State township of Kawkareit since early July.
Naypyidaw says it has successfully flushed DKBA guerrillas off the highway, where they were taxing travellers at multiple checkpoints stationed along the UN-backed project, set to link Thailand to India upon completion.
On Friday the BGF’s Phaw Pe told DVB that his troops had that day entered the village of Singon in the Kawkareit area, where fighting has been the fiercest.
“We came here from our base in Pyabin following reports of DKBA troops hiding in the village,” he said. “The shootout began immediately after. We seized three firearms from them in the fight. We were planning to negotiate with them but they opened fire on us, then attempted to flee so we figured them to be hostile soldiers.”
The fighting sent villagers scrambling for cover, as shots rang through the tiny hamlet.
“First, we heard yelling: “Go after them!” Then gunfire,” said a local villager named Aung Tin. “I grabbed my food and hid underneath our house. The gunfire stopped briefly and we told each other, ‘Watch out for stray bullets!’ At that moment, they came back around and started shooting again, sending locals fleeing in all directions. We hid here and there, but no one was injured.”
As fighting continues to grip villages in eastern Karen State, the shock waves are being felt high in the echelons of power.
Ethnic peace negotiators will meet in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand on Monday— to discuss the next steps in a peace process that has been hamstrung by clashes between the DKBA and government troops in Karen State, as well as fighting in northern Shan and Kachin states.