DKBA Takes Aim at Brigade 5
About 2,000 Karen villagers have been forced to relocate by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) since May, as the pro-junta ethnic army takes up position to move into northern Karen State where the Karen National Union’s (KNU) Brigade 5 is based, according to Karen sources.
According to a Karen relief group, the Karen Office for Relief and Development (KORD), the estimated 2,000 Karen villagers are from six villages in Papun District and were forced to relocate to a makeshift jungle camp known as Thapepan, which is controlled by the DKBA.Maw Law, a KORD field relief worker who recently returned from northern Karen State, said the DKBA has recently been recruiting members from among the villagers and has forbidden them from leaving the relocation site.
“They won’t even let villagers go out of the camp to forage for food,” said Maw Law.
He speculated that the DKBA wants to cut the Karen villagers’ lines of communication with the KNU’s military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).
About 35 villagers escaped and ran away from the relocation camp due to the restrictions, said Maw Law.
After seizing KNLA Brigade 7 in June, the DKBA vowed to launch a military operation against KNLA Brigade 5 in Papun District by September.
A member of the Free Burma Rangers, a locally based relief group, said DKBA battalions are active in Mae Mwe areas in Papun District and that the DKBA soldiers were trying to “clean up” KNLA Brigade 5 in Papun district.Fighting in Papun district is now reported every day, he said. Col Chit Thu, the commander of DKBA Battalion 999, had planned to establish a new battalion in Mae Mwe and personally take command of the operation in KNLA Brigade 5, Karen sources said.
However, he was reportedly forced to abandon his plan when he had to undergo an urgent medical operation.
The DKBA has in recent months been recruiting locals as soldiers as it looks to increase its troop strength from 6,000 to 9,000, which will help balance the Burmese army-dominated border guard force in the area.
Due to forced recruitment and fighting in KNLA Brigade 7 in June, more than 3,000 Karen villagers fled into Thailand’s Tha Song Yang District.
Karen sources on the Thai-Burmese border said DKBA soldiers will replace Burmese government troops positioned along the Salween River border in Papun District by 2010.
Trade at Brigade 5 on the Thai-Burmese border includes building supplies, food and cattle.
One shopkeeper in Mae Sam Leap, a border port where many traders operate, said businessmen in the town were worried about restrictions on trade should the DKBA control the border zone.
Some Karen sources said that restrictions will also impact on Karen relief groups and the KNU, with humanitarian assistance such as medical supplies, foods, clothes and other commodities being confiscated or highly taxed.
Brigade 5 is the main channel where aid and supplies pass en route to KNU brigades 1, 2 and 3.
“Transportation will be restricted if the DKBA takes control because they don’t really have law and order,” Maw Law said. “They just do whatever they want.”