Saturday, August 7, 2010

Blast, Assasination Attempt Raise Border Tensions - IRRAWADDY

Saturday, August 7, 2010

     Burmese reinforcement troops set up artillery in Myawaddy

Two people were killed and four others seriously injured when a bomb exploded in Myawaddy, Karen State, on Friday night. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast in the restive border town, where tensions between government troops and ethnic insurgent groups have been rising in recent weeks.

According to sources on the Thai-Burmese border, the bomb exploded in
the parking area of a crowded market. It was believed that two unidentified men killed in the blast were carrying the bomb on their motorcycle.

“It was a really shocking scene. The bodies of the young men were torn apart at their waists,” said a trishaw driver who witnessed the scene.

Both men appeared to be of Indian descent and were wearing camouflage pants and driving a black Honda Dream motorcycle, he added. The blast created a commotion in the market and local authorities sealed off the area shortly afterward.

Despite rumors that at least 20 people were wounded in the explosion, only four people—three women and a young girl—had been hospitalized in the Myawaddy Township hospital, sources said.

The number of casualties would have been much higher if not for the fact that it was raining when the bomb went off, said a local policeman, who added that the two dead men were most likely responsible for the blast.

“We believe that they came to set up a motorcycle bomb, but the bomb went off accidentally before they could do that,” he said without identifying the two men.

The authorities also found an unexploded grenade in the market's toilet and a 38-volt pistol near the scene of the explosion. The pistol was already destroyed because of the explosion.

The incident comes as Burma's ruling regime continues its weeks-long closure of border checkpoints in Myawaddy, a move that has taken an especially high toll on the income of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an ethnic cease-fire group that has been resisting demands by the junta to transform itself into a border guard force (BGF) under Burmese military command.

Although the DKBA signed a cease-fire agreement with the regime soon after it broke away from the Christian-dominated Karen National Union (KNU) in 1994, the BGF issue appears to be pushing some of its members back into the arms of the KNU and its armed wing, the Karen national Liberation Army (KNLA), raising the specter of a return to major hostilities in the area.

On Thursday, in an attempt to assassinate Lt-Gen Ye Myint, the regime's military intelligence chief and its major negotiator for the BGF plan, KNLA troops ambushed a convoy of junta troops led by Lt-Gen Khin Zaw of the Ministry of Defense near Kawkareik Township in Karen State, leaving at least five people dead and two wounded. All Burmese senior military officials escaped unhurt and it was later found that Ye Myint was not in the convoy, a KNLA official confirmed.

Pawh Doh, the military commander of the KNLA battalion responsible for the attack, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that the ambush was based on a tip-off that Ye Myint and other senior Burmese military officials, including Khin Zaw and Lt-Gen Thet Naing Win, were planning to meet DKBA leaders on Friday for final talks on the BGF issue in Myawaddy.

The tension in the region has been heightened by the fact that the Burmese government has not shown a sign of opening its border again with Thailand. The immediate cause behind the closure, which is Thailand's construction of a concrete wall along the Moei River dividing the two countries, has also not been resolved yet.

According to The Bangkok Post on Saturday, Thai Foreign Ministry officials proposed setting up a technical committee to oversee all construction projects planned along the Moei River at a recent meeting with their Burmese counterparts.

Both sides agreed to the proposal and also to set up a monitoring system by which local people will help inspect construction along the river while authorities will monitor the river path via satellite to see if it has changed.

But it remains unclear if the Burmese regime will open the border again before it has successfully resolved the BGF issue with the DKBA. Villagers in areas under the control of DKBA leaders who voiced their rejection of the BGF have reportedly begun fleeing to Phop Phra, in Thailand's Tak Province, for fear of violent clashes.

This week, a labor rights group in Mae Sot, opposite Myawaddy on the Thai side of the border, reported that two illegal Burmese migrant workers deported by the Thai authorities at a Burmese border crossing were gunned down.

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