Palpable tension between junta and ethnic armed groups

by Solomon
Wednesday, 24 June 2009 21:35

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Burmese Army has significantly increased its military presence in northern and eastern Burma, where ethnic ceasefire armed groups are based, following their widespread rejection of the junta’s proposal to transform to a border guard force.

An official of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) told Mizzima on Wednesday that they have witnessed the Burmese Army relocating more troops along with arms including mortars in bases near their controlled areas in eastern Shan State.

“We have seen the Burmese Army moving in more troops, in what seems like a preparation for a war,” the official said.

He told Mizzima that the junta is likely to mount more pressure on them after they rejected the proposal to transform their army into a ‘Border Guard’ force.

“Changing our army’s name is not a problem but if we accept their proposal, we will lose our forces, so it’s not possible for us,” he said.

In late April, the junta proposed to ceasefire armed groups to change their armies into a ‘Border Guard’, which will be supervised by the junta. According to the junta’s plan, each battalion of the border guard will consist of 326 soldiers out of which 30 soldiers from the Burmese Army will be included. However, most of the ceasefire groups including the UWSA have reportedly rejected the junta’s proposal, triggering renewed tension between the Burmese Army and the rebels.

But the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an ethnic Karen rebel group which split from the mainstream Karen resistance army – the Karen National Union, have not rejected the junta’s proposal.

“We do not anticipate war, nobody wants to fight, we are still open to talks with them [junta] but we need to defend ourselves, so now, we have alerted all our troops to be ready,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added.

UWSA controls two special regions in northern Shan State, bordering China and eastern Shan state, bordering Thailand.

Meanwhile, sources said, the Burmese junta has also increased its military presence in northern Burma’s Kachin State in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/A).

Awng Wa, an activist working inside Kachin state said, troops have been reinforced in the Burmese Army, based near the KIO’s main headquarter in the Sino-Burma border town of Laiza.

“More soldiers have arrived in battalion 2 at Daw Hpum Myang [which is close to Laiza],” said Awng Wa.

He said the junta has reinforced the army battalions with more troops since they began proposing the transformation of the KIA into a border guard force.

“It looks to me that a conflict might break out between the KIO and the Burmese Army anytime soon,” he added.

An unconfirmed report received by Mizzima said, leaders of the KIO including Vice-President (1) of the KIO Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng, during a meeting with a Burmese junta official in Myitkyina of Kachin state last week, rejected the proposal.

But when contacted by Mizzima, Gauri Zau Seng declined to clarify the matter and referred to the KIO’s spokesperson Colonel Gun Maw. But Col Gun Maw, however, could not be reached for comment.

Sources said, the KIO has been holding meetings within the organisation to discuss the junta’s proposal and had formed a seven-member committee to deal with the issue and to negotiate with the junta. Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng is the leader of the team.

As part of its preparation, KIO in turn has stepped up recruiting new cadres and has called back old comrades. They are also returning into the forests, sources said.

Similarly, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), which has not signed a ceasefire agreement with the junta, said the Burmese Army has also been expanding its presence in eastern and northern Shan states.

Major Long Sai of the SSA-S told Mizzima, that it is the fallout of rejecting the junta’s proposal by ethnic ceasefire groups and the military junta is likely to launch stronger military operations.

“They [junta] are despatching more artillery battalions,” said Long Sai. “They always regarded us as their enemy but we are only fighting for our rights and freedom,” he added.

“I want to call on all ceasefire groups to continue trying what we want and we all have the same goal,” said Long Sai.

Since the beginning of June, the Burmese Army along with their allies – the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) – launched a military offensive against the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU.

In the operation, which forced thousands of Karen villagers to flee to Thailand, the joint forces of the Burmese Army and the DKBA overran the bases of KNLA’s 7th Brigade.

But a Sino-Burma border based analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw told Mizzima that so far there is no sign to indicate that the junta will conduct a fresh military offensive against the ceasefire armed groups. Not until the junta completes its planned elections in 2010, he said.

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