The three-month-old ceasefire agreement between the Burmese government and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) has broken down as hostilities flare in Pa-an District, southern Karen State.
DKBA Brigade 5 leaders, including Brig-Gen Saw Lah Pwe (black shirt), pose for a photograph at a base in eastern Burma. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)
Sources close to the DKBA said that fighting broke out on Feb. 19 following a raid on a DKBA military base by a joint force of Burmese army and border guard force (BGF) troops. The joint force allegedly seized a cache of weapons including AK-47s, AR-15 rifles and RPGs belonging to DKBA Brigade 5.
The Brigade 5 unit, led by Lt-Col Po Bi, responded later that same day with an attack on the joint force in Myaing Gyi Nyu Township in Pa-an District, killing three and injuring two soldiers.
Then, after a lull in fighting but with tensions remaining high, DKBA leaders reportedly visited the Burmese army-BGF base in Pa-an on Wednesday to negotiate the return of the confiscated weapons.
Brig-Gen Johnny, a commander with the main Karen rebel group, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the DKBA leaders “asked for the joint force to return their weapons, but the Tatmadaw [Burmese government forces] would not return them. That’s why the DKBA declared a breakdown in the ceasefire.”
A soldier belonging to the DKBA, however, said that negotiations with the Burmese authorities are continuing in Pa-an, the capital of Karen State.
The DKBA’s Brigade 5 is led by charismatic Brig-Gen Saw Lah Pwe. It launched a deadly attack against government troops in the border town of Myawaddy in November 2010 in response to government attempts to persuade it to join the BGF. However, it reached a formal ceasefire agreement in November 2011 with a government peace delegation led by negotiator Aung Thaung.
The DKBA split from its mother organization, the KNLA’s political wing, the Karen National Union (KNU), in 1995.
The KNU also recently signed a ceasefire agreement with the government, and plans to hold another round of talks in March.