Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hundreds Flee as Regime Troops and their Allies Seize KNLA Base

By SAW YAN NAINGTuesday, November 4, 2008

Hundreds of Karen villagers have fled their homes along Burma’s border with Thailand to escape fighting between troops of the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) and soldiers of the breakaway ceasefire group Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Burmese government.

A spokesman of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the military wing of the KNU, said the DKBA had seized a base of the KNLA’s Battalion 201 in Kawkareik Township, near the Burmese-Thai border, in two days of heavy fighting at the weekend.

The KNLA spokesman, Capt Bu Paw, said the attack on the Battalion 201 base was part of a regime strategy to seize all the KNLA bases along the Burmese-Thai border by 2010, the year Burma is scheduled to hold a general election.

A DKBA source said it was doubtful, however, whether the breakaway group would participate in the 2010 election or disarm before then. The DKBA intended to control the border area and its business dealings, he said.

The DKBA has been recruiting soldiers in Pa-an District in southern Karen State since mid-August and has forced Burmese villagers to attend military training, in an effort to prepare an offensive against the KNLA, according to Karen sources.

The KNLA had been urged by authorities in neighboring Thailand not to engage the DKBA forces in case the breakaway army’s soldiers took revenge on Thai villages in the area, said Bu Paw.

In early October, dozens of soldiers from DKBA Battalion 907 attacked a Thai village, Mae Klong Khee in the Umphang District of Tak Province, forcing hundreds of villagers to flee their homes. The soldiers burned down several maize barns on Burmese territory opposite Mae Klong Khee, according to sources.

About 500 Karen villagers had fled the most recent outbreak of fighting and had sought refuge near the Thai border, according to Naw Iris, a coordinator for a Karen relief group, the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People.

Another relief group, the Free Burma Rangers (FBR), reported that many displaced people have insufficient food and all are in urgent need of safe drinking water and medicine. Some Thai villagers in the border region had also moved to more secure areas, sources said.

One displaced Karen civilian told the FBR that the DKBA and Burmese Army troops had seized supplies from local villagers.

A FBR report said at least 14 houses, 26 corn bans and four primary schools in four villages had been destroyed by DKBA and Burmese troops, who had also planted landmines.

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