Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) renegades have denied media reports that one of their commanders, Maj. Na Ma Kyar, had kidnapped the men who ultimately killed him last week.
Recent media reports have indicated that Maj. Na Ma Kyar, commander of a DKBA faction led by Col. Saw San Aung, kidnapped five mahouts, or elephant keepers, from a logging camp in Karen State’s Kawkareik Township. He had reportedly demanded a ransom of 10 million kyat (US$8,000) for each man. However, the reports say, at one point the men were able to attack Na Ma Kyar, and they hacked him to death.
DKBA renegade leader Saw San Aung on Friday told DVB that Na Ma Kyar did not kidnap the mahouts, but was only holding them temporarily as the logging camp operators had failed to pay the Karen militia fees for operating in an area considered under its control.
He also claimed that operations at the logging camp were being controlled by the commander of a Border Guard Force (BGF) unit that had, in the past, clashed with the DKBA renegade faction.
“Maj. Na Ma Kyar knew this camp was being operated by the BGF, so he detained the mahouts. But he was not holding them for ransom as some media have claimed,” said Col. Saw San Aung. “There is a tradition that is held by every armed group – whether DKBA or KNU [Karen National Union] or BGF – that it collects taxes or tolls from one million kyat up to 10 million kyat from any businesses in the areas under their control in order to fund their armed struggle. This was not a case of kidnapping.”
He said the BGF unit in question — led by a militia leader named Hpa Nwe — had previously captured Na Ma Kyar’s brother Saw Wai Wai Poe and turned him over to the Burmese army.
San Aung explained that following his brother’s arrest, Na Ma Kyar had detained the mahouts. The BGF, in response, had offered to pay five million kyat to secure their release.
The DKBA leader said that Na Ma Kyar had planned to hand the five men over, but as he was escorting them to a rendezvous point, at least one of the mahouts managed to grab a machete and hack the Karen commander.
“If we were holding them ransom, we would have tied them up. But that wasn’t the case here. [Na Ma Kyar] was going to hand them over to the BGF,” he said, adding that Na Ma Kyar’s assistant was wounded in the attack, shot with a gun.
“The assistant survived to tell us what happened. Based on what he said, we can assume the ‘mahouts’ were actually BGF members since they knew how to handle a firearm,” said San Aung.
He said that when his DKBA renegade troops went to recover Na Ma Kyar’s body they came under attack by a combined force of BGF and Burmese government troops.