Monday, July 24, 2017

Security heightened along Asian Highway as factions reactivate DKBA

Security along the so-called Asia Highway linking Myanmar’s border town of Myawady with Thailand is to be tightened following the re-emergence of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army as a splinter faction last week, state government officials said yesterday.

In a meeting held yesterday in the Kayin State capital of Hpa-an, Minister for Border Affairs Colonel Aung Lwin told members of the Border Guard Force (BGF) to heighten security along the major trading route, according to a participant.

“The border affairs minister said they should issue a statement objecting to the use of the group’s old name and declare it as illegal,” said U Saw Khin Maung Myint, the state minister for transportation and communication, who attended the meeting.

He said the highway was safe as the Tatmadaw and the BGF were guarding the route.

The re-establishment of the DKBA is the latest episode in the complex history of armed Kayin groups – both Christian and Buddhist – which have splintered and regrouped, sometimes over deals with the government but also for control of lucrative routes, trade and narcotics.

The original Democratic Karen Buddhist Army turned into a Tatmadaw-controlled BGF in 2010 while some of its members took part in the 2010 general election for the Karen State Democracy and Development Party.

But DKBA General Saw Lah Pwe refused to join the BGF and broke away to set up the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, known as DKBA-5 after its 5th Brigade, which clashed with the Tatmadaw during the 2010 election period.

A statement issued last week by the newly reactivated DKBA said it was led by General Saw Kyaw Thet and that it involved members of small factions who had been dismissed from their organisations.

“The members of the DKBA are ... sacked members of Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and those members of the old DKBA who refused the order by the former State Peace and Development Council to form the BGF in 2010,” said the statement.

In July 2015, the DKBA-5 sacked active members, including Colonel Saw San Aung and Saw Kyaw Thet, who has since become a general, on the grounds they had disobeyed their superiors.

Since then the small factions had engaged in extracting illegal tolls along the Asian Highway while fighting had flared between the BGF and factions led by the two dismissed officers along the road between Myawady and Kawkareik.

According to the Karen Human Rights Group, more than 1000 villagers in Kawkareik township were displaced due to fighting last July.

Opposition to the Tatmadaw by the breakaway Democratic Karen Benevolent Army led by General Saw Lah Pwe did not last long. The group signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement with Nay Pyi Taw in November 2011 and was among the eight ethnic armed groups that signed the “nationwide” ceasefire agreement with government last October 15.

Colonel Saw San Aung was reported to have told domestic media that some members of the KNU/Peace Council, another splinter group which also signed the nationwide ceasefire, had joined the newly reactivated DKBA. The DKBA could not be reached for comment.