The Burmese government will launch attacks on two ethnic armies in Burma’s volatile border regions if they continue to refuse to transform into border militias.
A deadline of 1 September has been set for the KNU/KNLA Peace Council to make the switch to a Border Guard Force (BGF) or they will be “driven out of their headquarters” in eastern Karen state by Burmese troops.
Three days later, the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest ethnic army, will be forced to transform or otherwise face an assault from the government, which is pressuring ceasefire groups to accept assimilation into the Burmese army.
Both have however resisted, and decades-old ceasefire agreements are now on tenterhooks. Brig-Gen Timothy from the KNU/KNLA Peace Council, which split from the Karen National Union (KNU) and brokered a ceasefire with the government three years ago, said an attack on his troops would be “a declaration of war against all Karen people”.
“We will try peaceful, patient negotiations as long as we can,” he said, adding that if the military government intimidates Karen people, the Peace Council “won’t hesitate in protecting all the Karen territories, as well as all ethnicities in Burma, including Muslims, the Chinese and the Burmans”.
Last week another Karen splinter group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), held a ceremony to mark its transformation, although a crack appeared in the force last month with the defection of renegade commander Na Kham Mwe and some 1,500 of his troops, who are now being hunted by the Burmese army.
Rights groups have warned that Karen and Shan states in particular, which both share borders with Thailand, are becoming pressure cookers and that an eruption of fighting could trigger an exodus of Burmese refugees across the border into neighbouring countries.
An official in the Wa army, which controls territory in Shan state, told DVB that UWSA was warned it would be deemed an “unlawful association” of
“insurgents” if it failed to comply by 4 September, and would be “sent back to the days before 1988” when it was part of the purged Communist Party of Burma (CPB).
“We don’t have any plan to separate from…or attack the government. We just want to keep the status quo where we negotiate and cooperate with each other,” he added.
Wa leaders attended a meeting several days ago with government officials in Tangyan town in Shan state where they were warned of the deadline. The Wa official said that the UWSA was not making any special preparation for a possible conflict and “does not expect the government to launch an attack on us”, but added that “we will have to think differently if they actually attack us”.