Sunday, 17 November 2019

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Feuding militias come in the way of junta’s plans

Mae Salid (Mizzima) - Feuding militia leaders have brought a halt to a damaging Burmese military advance through territory claimed by the Karen National Liberation Army.

Leaders of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, a pro-junta Karen fiction, are said to be split over the role the militia should play in a theatre of war that pitches soldiers against their brethren.

And in a bid to bolster its numbers the DKBA has begun to raid Karen villages to muster legions of child soldiers, said a senior KNLA source.

The DKBA has hit the KNLA’s Sixth and Seventh Brigades, to the south and north of the Thai town of Mae Sot, hard in the past 12 months.

But Karen National Union vice president David Thackrabaw said the DKBA and SPDC should steel itself for a fight in the north.

The KNLA’s Seventh Brigade fell in June, after a two-week offensive, but DKBA casualties were heavy.

“The DKBA suffered heavy casualties attacking the Seventh Brigade,” said Thackrabaw. The KNU is the KNLA’s political overseer.

“They had 100 dead and about 300 injured in just two weeks. “Now the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) has a plan to launch an operation against the KNU Fifth Brigade and also the Sixth Brigade [again],” he said.

“But there is a quarrel, a lot of disagreement among the DKBA leaders.

“Some say they are just being used as cannon fodder by the SPDC, they will be just wiped out if they keep attacking the KNU.

“This is the junta’s policy and the other ceasefire organisations should draw a lesson – if they agree to become a border guard force then they will be used to attack other groups or other organisations still carrying on the resistance.

“Now they have attacked the Kokang. The Kokang is very weak comparatively [to others in the region] - it only has about 1,500 troops.

“They are saying the Kokang are producing their own weapons, they are saying they are still producing drugs, but drugs have been eradicated [in the Kokang area].

“It was in 2006 that the regime itself announced the Kokang region had become a drug-free area,” said Thackrabaw.

Asked if it was true that the Kokang had indeed stopped producing drugs, namely heroin, he said it was, and that the Kokang drug “era” had begun only in 2000 and had ended by 2006.

“They got help from the UN and substituted [drugs] for rubber and rubber is more or less a steady crop for export, so they have more trade and they don’t have to depend on drugs.

“Of course many groups [near the China border] didn’t agree to the transformation into a border guard force, including the Kokang, and so they are being attacked, the smallest, the weakest, as a warning to the others.

“But groups like the UWSA - the Wa - and the Kachin, I really don’t think the military dictatorship has the capacity to override them,” said Thackrabaw.

“The Wa is 20,000 strong and they have a number of heavy weapons also.

“Then you have the Mong La, which is a group below [to the south of] the Wa. It has about 5,000 troops,” said Thackrabaw.

“So the Wa, Mong La and the Kachin should stand firm, they don’t have to fear,” said Thackrabaw.

“They have nothing to fear because within the SPDC morale is low, they may have good weapons, but morale is low and the terrain favours the ceasefire groups.

“The SPDC does not care about any of the ethnic minorities. Their ideology is to eliminate all the ethnic peoples, by hook or by crook.

“They will employ methods of assimilation, or ethnic cleansing or genocide,” he said.

Thackrabaw said the KNLA’s Fifth Brigade was well prepared for an anticipated onslaught, perhaps at the beginning of the dry season.

“The Fifth Brigade is well prepared, they have been fighting for a long time,” he said.

“The Seventh Brigade was weak because of the actions of Htein Maung [the former brigadier-general who defected in 2006 to form the KNU/KNLA Peace Council].

“It would be fair to say it is the weakest brigade of the KNLA.”

He said the determination that saw the SPDC and the DKBA join forces and fight for more than six months in Sixth Brigade (to Mae Sot’s south) was largely to do with money.

“I think the DKBA particularly was encouraged by Thai business people who want to log and who want to mine in our areas,” he said.

“The operation in the Seventh Brigade was an SPDC test for the DKBA, in preparation for their transformation to a border guard force, to which they’ve agreed.

“They [the DKBA] have begun a campaign of recruiting, you know, forced recruiting, and if a village cannot provide troops then they have to pay 300,000 Kyat.

It’s based on a population scale. The larger villages have to provide more troops. “In some cases they have to provide one person per household, which is fairly drastic we believe,” he added.

“And they have started recruiting child-soldiers. So some people fled to Thailand to escape human rights violations.

“But the Thais have said ‘the shooting has stopped, you had better go back, you can go back now,’ but they cannot. They would be going back to human rights violations, so the Thai policy is also against humanitarian values, it’s very immoral,” he said.

Thackrabaw said the DKBA maintained no minimum age limit for its soldiers and was sending messages to the Thais that it was safe for the refugees to return.

Child soldiers would be picked from those who go back he said.


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