Wednesday, July 28, 2010

DKBA Battalions Defect to KNLA - By LEWI WENG - Wednesday July 28, 2010 (Irrawaddy)

Five battalions from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) will join the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) to fight Burmese junta's troops after the DKBA troops refused to join the Border Guard Force (BGF), according to Karen sources.

The Five DKBA's battalions include about 500 troops
 from Battalions 901, 902, 906, 907, and 908 in DKBA's Brigade 5, which is led by Col Saw Lah Pwe, who is better known as Mr. Beard, the commander who is against joining the BGF.

DKBA soldiers line up for a ceremony in 2008 (PHOTO: The Irrawaddy)

Speaking to the Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Captain Htat Nay of KNLA Brigade 6, based near Three Pagodas Pass, said, “They told us officially they will join the KNLA on July 26.”

“If there is fighting in the future, they (DKBA) will join KNLA Battalion 201.” Battalion 201 is controlled by KNLA headquarters and consists of specially-picked troops for fighting on the front line.

The DKBA's five battalions are based near the Three Pagodas Pass, Kyar Inn Seik Gyi and Kawkareik Townships in Karen State. They intend to use their new base at KNLA area brigade 6 if there is fighting with junta troops in the future.

The Burmese junta has put pressure on all ethnic cease-fire groups to transform their army into a BGF for more than one year. The last deadline was April 22, but many ethnic groups remain defiant and refuse to accept the order.

The regime has set a final deadline of Aug 10 for the DKBA to transform its troops into a BGF, threatening force if they do not comply.

New Mon State Party (NMSP) sources said the Burmese regime deployed 400 troops near Kyar Inn Seik Gyi Township last week. The troops, which are from Brigade Command 77 based in Pegu Township are to be used in a military offensive in the KNLA brigade 6 area.

Burmese military officials told NMSP leaders not to help the KNLA when they launch their military offensive against Brigade 6.

The DKBA leaders are divided over the BGF issue, meanwhile. Some DKBA leaders say they want to keep their organization independent upon the urging of the influential abbot, Ashin Thuzana.

Some Karen sources said they believed Col Chit Thu, the powerful commander of DKBA Brigade 999, and Gen Kyaw Than, the DKBA commander in chief, may join the BGF as they have many business interests in the Burmese border town of Myawaddy, which has a trade link with the Thai border town of Mae Sot.

Thu Rain, who is close to the DKBA in the Three Pagodas Pass area, said that DKBA members who have decided to fight have already moved their families and heavy weapons to KNLA brigade 6 in preparation for future fighting.

Col Lah Pwe has ordered all troops from his five battalions to fight back if they are attacked by government forces after rejecting the the most recent July 21 offer by Lt-Gen Ye Myint, the regime's chief of Military Affairs Security, to meet and discuss the BGF plan.

According to Karen sources, most of the DKBA Brigade 5 have refused the BGF plan and will join the KNLA. DKBA Brigades 7 and 9, however, appear to be accepting the junta's BGF order.

The DKBA claims to have 6,000 troops and plans to enlarge its army to 9,000, making it Burma's second largest non-state armed group. Due to the split among its forces over the BGF issue, however, it is uncertain how many troops will continue to fight alongside junta troops in the future.

The DKBA is a Buddhist militia group that broke away from the Karen National Union (KNU), which is mostly Christian, and its KNLA military wing in 1995. The group joined forces with Burmese military troops to fight against the KNU after it split from the KNU.

The DKBA, which was formed 15 years ago, now controls most of the Thai-Burmese border area previously controlled by the KNU. It has been accused of human rights abuses in its clashes with KNU forces and also of involvement in human trafficking along Thai-Burmese border.

Last week, over 700 Karen refugees fled to the Thai border, fearing that rising tensions with the junta over the BGF issue will lead to fighting.