Villages empty as fighting intensifies

Residents of two villages south of Karen state’s Myawaddy border town have been forced to flee after a firefight broke out yesterday morning.

Hundreds of ethnic Karen men, women and children are now hiding in the jungle around the villages of Kyaukkhet and Wawlay, which in recent months have become the focus of battles between Burmese troops and an alliance of Karen forces led by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA).

“There is no one left in the village; not even monks,” said a Kyaukkhet man yesterday evening. “We have to go into hiding and not everyone has eaten yet. We have kids crying.

“Seeing this makes me sad. There are over 100 people here and they have no vehicle for transportation or food to eat…We don’t know how to escape.”

Some who had managed to flee to Thailand have been left stranded on the banks of the Moei river that separates the two countries, with Thai police blocking the refugees from entering nearby villages.

Thailand was criticised days after fighting first erupted on 8 November last year when it encouraged refugees to return to Karen state, despite stability there being highly questionable.

A soldier from the DKBA told DVB yesterday evening that the fighting had lasted all day. “[The Burmese army] is advancing in about three or four columns from different routes [towards Kyaukkhet] – one of the columns is pushing forward into our position on a hill and we are crushing them.”

No gunfire was heard today, but tensions remain high. Since early November the border region has experienced near-continuous fighting that has fluctuated in intensity.

Around 30 Burmese soldiers were reportedly injured in a battle on 23 January which forced some 150 refugees into Thailand’s Mawli Chai village. The varying levels of Karen refugees in recent months add to the nearly 150,000 sided in camps along the border, some of whom have been there for decades.

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