Burmese refugees at Mae La refugee camp are on alert due to a threat of attack by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), according to the vice chairman of the camp.

Mae La is also known as ‘Beh Klaw’ in Karen, which means ‘cotton field’ due to the agricultural activities for which Karen leaders first negotiated permission for refugees to cross into the area in 1984.

Location: Tha Song Yang District, Tak Province
Distance from Border: about 8 kms
Distance from Mae Sot: 57 kms / approx. 1 hour driving time
Area about 1,150 rai (4 km2)

“The DKBA said they will destroy our camp,” said Vice-Chairman Htun Htun, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
Many of the refugees have packed clothing and belongings in preparation for a military assault, sources in nearby Mae Sot said. Camp authorities have imposed a curfew of 9 p.m. On all refugee residents.
The DKBA threatened to attack Mae La camp after one of their influential commanders, San Pyote (aka Soe Myint), the head of Battalion 7, was ambushed and killed by an unknown armed group while traveling by longtail boat on the Moei River on June 26.

Mae La refugee camp is located on the Thai side of the river, not far from where the ambush took place. It is the largest refugee camp in Thailand and currently houses about 37,000 Burmese refugees—mostly Karens from Eastern Burma displaced by the ongoing civil war. Despite the camp being established on Thai soil in 1984, Mae La refugee camp has been attacked by the DKBA in the past.

After the DKBA split from the KNU in 1995, the splinter group staged daring attacks on several Karen refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border with the help of Burmese troops.

In 1997-98, Huay Kaloke refugee camp, about 10 km (6 miles) from Mae Sot, was attacked and burned down by DKBA soldiers.

Former DKBA Battalion 7 commander San Pyote is rumored to have been behind the assassination of former Karen National Union (KNU) General-Secretary Mahn Sha on February 14, 2008.

The Battalion 7 commander and seven others—believed to be DKBA soldiers and porters—were killed as they were returning to DKBA Battalion 999 base in Shwe Koko in Karen State. Another eight soldiers were reportedly injured in the attack. The DKBA have blamed the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU, for the deadly ambush.

DKBA soldiers reportedly gunned down two Karen villagers on Thai soil a few days after they seized KNLA Brigade 7 headquarters on June 23.

After the fall of KNLA Brigade 7, many observers and sources in Mae Sot predicted that more targeted killings would take place between the Karen enemies, because the DKBA will have more access to Mae Sot, traditionally the home base of the KNU.

In August 2007, Lt-Col Kyi Linn, a commander of the KNLA Battalion 18 was shot dead while crossing the Haungthayaw River in Kawkareik Township, Karen State, after meeting government officials and other Karen ceasefire groups, including the DKBA.

Mahn Sha’s death came two weeks after the death of Col Ler Moo, son-in-law of Maj Gen Htain Maung, leader of a Karen breakaway group, the KNU/KNLA Peace Council. Ler Moon was killed in January 2008 and Mahn Sha was suspected of being involved.

After Mahn Sha’s assassination, two more KNLA senior military leaders were rumored to also be on the Karen splinter groups’ hit list: Gen Mu Tu, commander in chief of the KNLA and Brig-Gen Jonny, commander of KNLA Brigade 7.


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