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Troops break from DKBA, head for border

Mae Sot (Mizzima) – Hundreds of Democratic Karen Buddhist Army troops are reported to have broken their alliance with the Burma Army and are heading for the Thai border, with State Peace and Development Council units in hot pursuit, Karen National Liberation Army sources have said.

Significant clashes between the two armies came as the DKBA soldiers moved east.

Karen National Liberation Army sources last night, adding that the DKBA soldiers were “coming back, but not the commanders, of course”.

Karen National Union vice-president David Takapaw said he had heard that many DKBA soldiers were unhappy with recent demands made by the SPDC and that some had begun to defect.

A split within the Karen National Union, between Buddhists and Christians, created the DKBA in 1994. It rapidly proved a destructive split. In early 1995 the KNU stronghold of Mannerplaw, near the confluence of the Salween and Moei rivers, had fallen, with Burma Army troops guided into the natural fortress by KNU defectors flying the new DKBA flag.

At the time the ruling military junta promised the DKBA leaders they could rule Karen State as they wished. But this year, the DKBA has not so much managed Karen State as terrorised the countryside and milked urban areas of cash through intimidation, while its leaders were getting rich on cross-border taxes.

A photograph in last week’s edition of Mae Sot’s weekly tabloid Pan Din Maere (Motherland) featured DKBA Batallion 999 leader Colonel Chit Thu posing with his family in front of his new palatial home. Even the local Mae Sot paper was invited to his Myawaddy house-warming party. The house is a monument to new-found riches as only the nouveau-riche can manage. It is ostentation, and simply lighting the place for his three-day extravaganza, would have cost a fortune.

Chit Thu has been one of the handful of individuals who have benefited from the DKBA’s creation. His Brigade 999 has a fearsome reputation and money to burn.

Until the SPDC started pressing his army for reform as a local militia, Chit Thu was riding high.

The question is to what extent the DKBA will be damaged by such a mutiny by its foot soldiers. A few hundred soldiers is many, but not much of an indent on overall DKBA numbers. But a warlord is nothing without the loyalty of his men. Chit Thu must now be questioning loyalty among the remaining men he leads.

With SPDC troops hunting DKBA defectors as they make their way towards KNLA territory, the prospect of the whole of the DKBA peacefully transforming into a Border Guard Force (BGF) looks marginal.

The DKBA still insists it supports KNU founder Ba U Gyi’s four guiding principles of the “Karen revolution”:
For us surrender is out of the question

The Karen, we shall retain our arms

The recognition of Karen State must be complete

The Karen, we shall decide our own destiny

This, on face value, would have the DKBA opposed vehemently to the SPDC’s rule.

But the split that festered in 1994 to become one of the most-damaging blows the KNU has felt is these days all about business.

The DKBA now manages border trade with the SPDC, as the KNU once did with the Thais. The KNU logged its border strongholds and oversaw tin, zinc and gold mining.

Now, all manner of goods, both legal and otherwise, cross back and forth and the KBA takes a cut on virtually every transaction. Its leaders are becoming very rich.

But its foot soldiers, ever in danger from KNU landmines and ambushes, see a distinct separation from the lives they lead in the field and those of their leaders, whom the local media follow like celebrities.

Deadlines for the DKBA to transform into a BGF have come and gone, and as each one passes the SPDC raises the pressure a notch. The junta’s programme is essentially a system of creating local militias commanded by SPDC officers. According to its programme of transformation, the DKBA would disarm, change uniforms and then be re-armed. Soldiers would receive a wage equivalent to 1,200 baht a month.

Dropped would be the original DKBA shoulder patch, and most likely the name.

Such a move would take the DKBA further than ever from its roots and its claims of being driven by Ba U Gyi’s principles.

Last Updated ( Monday, 03 May 2010 12:32 )  

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