DKBA Commander Saw Lah Pwe dies

General Saw Lah Pwe (aka Nakhamwe) the commander-in-chief of the Klo Htoo Baw Karen Organisation/Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (KKO/DKBA) died in Bago Hospital yesterday afternoon after suffering from throat cancer.

The group, which originally split from the Karen National Union (KNU) on 21 December 1994, was thrown into the international spotlight on 7 November 2010 after taking control of parts of Myawaddy on the Thai-Burma border.

While the majority of the DKBA had accepted the BGF proposal, the military government’s plans for fully incorporating the DKBA into the Border Guard Force program were destroyed by the failure of the DKBA’s 5th Brigade (formerly 906 and 907 Battalions) Colonel Lah Pwe (aka Nakhamwe) to agree.[1]

Concerns over Colonel Lah Pwe’s intentions had already been aired by DKBA leader Kyaw Than during a transformation meeting with an SPDC delegation on 8 October 2010. Kyaw Than had asked Gen. Maung Maung Ohn what he should do about Nakhamwe and the General replied that:

‘It depends on his will; we have given him one month. We will fight if he does not come back. That’s all. There are no insurgencies allowed on the border after the election. All DKBA must become a Border Guard Force. At the end of 2010 everyone must be a Border Guard Force or we will seize all people with weapons…, we are not allowed to leave the KNU on the border – we will clean everything, we have a lot of troops – we don’t need to worry.’

Despite such threats, Colonel Lah Pwe, commanding a force of approximately four hundred men, remained steadfast that he would not surrender, stating in one interview that:

‘I am a DKBA soldier and will fight for my people… Even if they tell me to give them my weapons and badge, I will never hand them over. That would be like taking our bones and just leaving flesh.’[2]

Instead, he adopted the name Klo Htoo Baw (Yellow Gold Drum) battalion and reorganised his forces into 902, 901, 905, 907, 903, and the newly formed 909 battalion; the latter was under his direct control and consisted of at least 200 armed troops.

610x457xpic-myawaddy-fighting-pagespeed-ic-wpcf_728x413While there was little doubt that Colonel Lah Pwe would not surrender, the seizure of Myawaddy town by troops loyal to him came as a surprise to many. As the election was underway on 7 November 2010, at least 80 troops from 902 Battalion, under the command of Major Kyaw Thet, began seizing various buildings in the town.[3]

Original reports of the town’s seizure were met with some incredulity with media outlet Mizzima contacting a number of officials both within the KNU and people in the town.[4] KNU vice-chairman David Thakabaw was quoted as saying that:

‘We heard this news too. It’s impossible because there are a lot of junta troops stationed in Myawaddy.If this news is true, we will see a lot of fighting with these troops.’

While Border Guard Force (BGF) Battalion 1019 Commander Lieutenant Colonel Saw Hlaing Thein stressed:

‘How can Myawaddy be seized without firing a single shot?Did he seize the town in person? Which place did he seize – a bush?This news is nonsense.When we were in the KNU we had to fight hard to enter Myawaddy.I doubt if he could enter Myawaddy without firing a single shot.Myawaddy is currently calm and quiet.Military Operation Command 19 has more than 4,000 personnel and the BGF has more than 4,000 troops deployed in Myawaddy.It’s not true.’

A Burmese Immigration officer also commented:

‘No, this is not true.It would be clear if it was true.One would hear gunfire in the town and notice that something in the town is different.It must be a trick.If it were true, you would find DKBA soldiers in uniform roaming in the town.They’re not allowed even to wear their uniforms here, let alone bear arms.

The fact that the move came as some surprise to the KNU was further supported by its secretary 1, Major Saw Hla Ngwe:

‘When I contacted my men in Myawaddy, they replied to me that enemy outposts had been overrun.We can’t confirm this news.We haven’t seen anything overrun, seizures or positioning of DKBA troops, based on our understanding of military training and tactics.There are no signs of occupation of the town.There are no facts to support or confirm these reports.’

The actions of the DKBA seemed to have taken at least the higher members of the Karen Nation Union by surprise. With the Border Guard Force issue looming, the KNU had appointed a special representative, Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung, to handle DKBA affairs. However, it would appear that this had produced little in the two sides’ abilities to work with each other. Instead, Lah Pwe had been in direct contact with the KNLA via its 101 Battalion commander, Col Paw Doh.

From the outset, it looked as if the Myawaddy attack, which began at 8.40 in the morning, may have been the rogue action of the 902 commander Major Kyaw Htet. Earlier, on 20 September 2010, Kyaw Thet and approximately 20 of his soldiers had surrounded a Police station in ward four of Myawaddy. The troops were apparently seeking to force the police into returning unlicensed cars that had been seized earlier. A tense standoff continued until the arrival of Burma Army troops who, in turn, besieged the DKBA until Kyaw Thet finally withdrew.[5] Despite this, and knowing that Kyaw Thet was allied with Lah Pwe, the Burmese authorities had made no move to restrict the group’s movements or disarm them. Instead, they were allowed to continue their duties of manning trading gates along the Moei River. This meant that 902 troops were already in the town and it thus expedited their ability to quickly seize a number of important government building and secure the Thai-Burma friendship bridge.

After the outbreak of hostilities, Colonel Lah Pwe was soon quoted explaining the reasons for the attack as:

‘They [Burmese army] announced that they will shoot people who don’t vote [in today’s elections].So people called on us to seize the town… In order to win votes in the elections, [the junta] is bullying and forcing people to vote. But the people want to boycott [the vote], so the soldiers are holding them at gunpoint and our troops had to intervene and take sides with the people.’[6]

Who actually called on Lah Pwe to seize the town is unclear, although it has been reported that Kyaw Thet had already stated that it was his intention to seize the town at least the day before.[7] It was also reported that a number of threats by the Township Election Committee had been made consistently every day since 3 November 2010. Colonel Lah Pwe maintains that these threats ordered all people to vote for the USDP and those who didn’t would be shot.[8] One of the DKBA’s Tactical Operations Commanders in the town, prior to 7 November, confirmed that the Election Committee had ordered all villagers to vote and, while he does not remember a specific threat to shoot people being made, there had been an increase in Burma Army patrols in the town in what he believes was an attempt to intimidate the local population.[9]

Regardless of the reason, the subsequent fighting, which lasted most of the morning of Monday, 8 November 2010, killed three and injured twenty.[10] In addition, an 81mm artillery shell and three shells from an M79 launcher landed in Thailand injuring 19 people and killing one. By Monday night, over 12,000 people had sought sanctuary in Thailand and this would increase to over 20,000 by the next day.

The Burma Army had originally fled from its positions when DKBA troops began operations against them and it appears they were ill-equipped to deal with the attacks until reinforcements arrived. Further fighting soon erupted along the Thai-Burma border, including at Colonel Lah Pwe’s main headquarters at Waley and also at Phaya Thonsu (Three Pagoda’s Pass), the latter resulting in over 4,000 people fleeing across the border. It appears that the DKBA action at Phaya Thonsu was supported by KNLA troops from 16 Battalion, 6th Brigade, suggesting that although the KNU leadership had not been informed of the DKBA’s actions, at least local KNLA commanders were aware and prepared. According to media reports, the combined DKBA/KNLA force burnt down various military and government offices including those of the Special Bureau (SB), Agriculture, Forestry, and Post and Telegraph Departments on Monday, 8 November. By Tuesday, 9 November, Karen troops had retreated.

Completely ignoring the fact that the attacks had been conducted by Colonel Lah Pwe’s troops, the New Light of Myanmar was quick to blame the violence on the Karen National Union:

‘A group of KNU terrorists from south of Myawady opened fire with heavy weapons at five different places in Myawady at about 8.45 am yesterday.A total of three innocent were killed and 20 injured in the incident.The injured were rushed to Myawady hospital and provided with necessary treatment by officials concerned.Due to shootings of KNU terrorists, shells of heavy weapons also exploded near Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge and Chinese temple in Maesot in Thailand, leaving some innocent people injured.In [a] similar incident at noon yesterday, a group of KNU terrorists opened fire of small and heavy weapons from north of Phaya Thonsu in Kayin State, causing one member of Myanmar Police Force dead and four Tatmadaw members and one service personnel of the Township Forest Department injured.’[11]

The Karen National Union’s response stated that:

‘We, the Karen National Union (KNU), strongly condemn recent attacks by Burma’s military regime, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), on Myawaddy Town and several other locations in Burma’s border areas, where at least 3 civilians were killed, and more injured.These latest attacks are part of the SPDC’s systematic violence against Burma’s ethnic peoples.

The conflict in Myawaddy began on 7 November, the day of Burma’s first elections in 20 years, when civilians complained of being threatened and intimidated to vote for the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), rather than the local Karen party which was their preference.Brigade-5 of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) led by Colonel Saw Lah Bwe – who refused to transform to the Border Guard Force under the control of SPDC Army – took control of Myawaddy to protect these people, without using weapons.Col Saw Lah Bwe had said that he expected the SPDC Army to enter into negotiation to resolve the situation.

However, on Monday, the 8th of November 2010, at 9 a.m., the SPDC Army responded with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, despite the presence of many civilians in the town…These attacks are all part of the SPDC’s policy of eliminating ethnic opposition, including ceasefire groups that have refused to be under its direct control as a Border Guard Force, as required by their 2008 Constitution.

The SPDC has accused the KNU of carrying out these attacks. However, the KNU and DKBA Brigade-5 share the same policy not to hurt civilians but to protect them. The KNU supports the DKBA’s actions as they were taken in resistance to the SPDC’s elections that do not represent any progress towards creating a democratic federal union in which the ethnic people’s fundamental human rights would be protected.’[12]

One KNU official has noted that it was common for most Burmese authorities to threaten civilians when they wanted something.Therefore it is unlikely that such a threat, in context, would be the sole reason for the DKBA to seize the town, especially if Kyaw Thet had already announced his intention prior to 7 November.

In response to the Myawaddy attack, the Burma Army, initially caught off guard, retaliated by launching a number of operations around Phaya Thonsu, Kya-in-Seikkyi, Kanelay, Phalu, and Waley.In one instance, on the evening of 10 November until the early morning the following day, the Burma Army indiscriminately fired 139 artillery shells into Kya-in-Seikkyi killing a 17 year-old girl and wounding her brother.[13]There were also reports of a least one village headman being beaten to death and that villagers had also been forced to porter for Burmese troops.

By 11 November, the Burma Army had entered Waley town after a sustained shelling campaign and razed a number of buildings including the house of Lah Pwe. In a somewhat belated attempt to curtail the activities of any DKBA forces left in the area, Police and Burma Army troops also began searching, on 15 October, the houses of DKBA members in Myawaddy and apparently confiscated all military equipment and uniforms.[14]

Clashes between the Burma army, the DKBA, and the KNLA continued as Burma Army reinforcements were dispatched to areas where Karen resistance forces operated. Civilians were frequently forced to flee across the Thai-Burma border. However, Thai authorities were reluctant to house any more refugees, and civilians were frequently ordered back or forced to hide along the border. On 28 November 2010, the village of Phalu came under attack forcing an estimated thousand villagers to flee across the border.Phalu, between Myawaddy and Waley, came under attack as 2nd Battalion DKBA forces in the area tried to defend their outpost and prevent a supply and escape corridor being opened up to Waley.

In its 15 February 2011 Analysis report, the Back Pack Health Workers Team (BPHWT) estimated that by 12 February 2011, it and local CBOs were caring for over 10,000 civilians, living in unrecognized hiding sites, along the Thai-Burma Border.[15] Despite the fact that fighting continued, Thai authorities consistently sent villagers who were fleeing the fighting back across the border. In one incident, on 13 January 2011, soldiers from the Royal Thai Army burnt down shelters at a temporary hiding site in Phop Phra district in an effort to force the 436 villagers seeking refuge there to return to Burma.[16] In addition to those people seeking shelter in Thailand, it was estimated that there may have been be up to 10,000 displaced people hiding in Burma.[17]

In an attempt to further strengthen its structure the Klo Htoo Baw Battalion reformed its military units in April 2011. The new structure was composed of two military strategic units known as the Klo Htoo Wah and the Klo Htoo Lah Battalions operating under the DKBA’s Klo Htoo Baw headquarters. The reorganisation was partly in response to the failure of the Government’s BGF programme which saw some units, led by Saw Beeh, defect to the Klo Htoo Baw after fighting with their superiors. As noted by a DKBA information officer:

The DKBA was not well organized when we fought against the SPDC [regime] on election-day last November. Later we reorganized our structure when Major Saw Beeh led a breakaway group [over a 1,000 soldiers] from the BGF and aligned with us.[18]

The Klo Htoo Wah strategic unit was led by Colonel Saw Kyaw Thet and operated in the Kawkariek, Myawaddy and Kyaikdone areas while Major Saw Beeh’s fighters would operate in the Hlaing Bwe and Myaing Gyi Ngu area.

Despite the reorganisation, the group reacted positively to overtures from the Government and met its negotiating team in November 2011 for preliminary discussions. On 12 December, 2011 the DKBA met again with Government negotiators and signed a six-point agreement which consisted of the following:

  1. It is agreed to approve initial peace agreement signed by Kayin State Peace Making Group and Klo Htoo Baw (former DKBA) on 3 November 2011
  2. Kayin State is an important part of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. It is agreed not to secede Kayin State from the Union.
  3. It is agreed to uphold Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of National Solidarity and Perpetuation of Sovereignty forever.
  4. It is agreed to cooperate with the government inregional development, settlement of members of Klo Htoo Baw group and their families and improvement of socio-economic status in Sukali region under existing laws, basing temporarily in Sone Hsi Myaing region.
  5. It is agreed to cooperate with the Union government in the fight against narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
  6. It is agreed to continue dialogue for establishing eternal peace.[19]

By January 2012, the Karen National Union had entered into substantive peace negotiations with the Government. Consequently, the Klo Htoo Baw Battalion began to reassess it political position. This was further helped by the return to Karen State of Mahn Robert Ba Zan, son of KNU founder Rober Zan. From April 1-2 2012, a conference was held at Kaw Thoo Moe Kee monastery, in Karen State. Here the Karen Klo Htoo Baw Organisation was formed and shortly after a statement was issued outlining its principles:

KKO is recognizes the KNU is a mother organization, and will support the KNU.

KKO promises to gain Karen Independence and to follow Saw Ba U Gyi 4 principles.

To protect Karen dignity, values and identity

To implement equality and self-determination, national unity and development, to build a federal union and long lasting peace process.

KKO will not allow trafficking (selling and transportation) of drugs and narcotics. Cooperate with other agencies to protect the drug.[20]

U Thuzana former spiritual leader of the original DKBA was declared to be the main leader while Mahn Robert Ba Zan was named as Chairman of a 19 member executive committee.

However, the group suffered a major setback when Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board placed a one million baht bounty on Lah Pwe for drug offences. Based on a court warrant from 2003, Saw Lah Pwe vehemently denied the allegations. In a further development, mid-September 2012 during an election dispute the two main KKO leaders, Mahn Robert Ba Zan and Gon Aung were dismissed due to the fact that:

Mahn Robert Bazan and Saw Gon Aung broke the organization rules by attending an ethnic meeting in the Thai city of Chiang Mai on September 9.

And also:

. . . both Mahn Robert Bazan (the chairman) and Saw Gon Aung (the general secretary) are illegible as they are both foreign citizens.[21]

Most recently, the DKBA was one of the eight signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement on 15 October 2015.

Saw Lah Pwe’s funeral will take place on 19 March at the KKO/DKBA’s Soneseemyaing HQ.


[1] There has been some confusion in regards to the naming of some DKBA Battalions. Lah Pwe had formerly commanded 907 and 906 Battalions and the DKBA had been designated under the brigade structure of 555, 333 and 999. Although the date is unclear, these brigade areas were designated as numbers 1 to 5. Telephone conversation via translator with Colonel Lah Pwe, 9 January 2011

[2] ‘Karen Armies Unite to Face Threat of War’, Alex Ellgee, The Irrawaddy, 7 August 2010

[3] Kyaw Htet would be expelled from the group in 2015.

[4] ‘Myawaddy ‘not overrun by breakaway DKBA group’’, Mizzima, 7 November 2010

[5] ‘Myawaddy police besieged by DKBA troops’, Mizzima, 21 September 2010

[6] ‘DKBA renegades seize border town’, Naw Noreen, DVB, 7 November 2010

[7] Personal conversation with KNU official, 19 November 2010

[8] Telephone conversation (via translator) with Colonel Lah Pwe, 9 January 2011. One KNU official has noted that it is common for most Burmese authorities to threaten civilians when they want something. It is unlikely therefore that such a threat, in context, would be the sole reason for the DKBA to seize the town, especially if Kyaw Thet had already announced his intention prior to the 7th of November.

[9] Telephone conversation via translator with DKBA Tactical Operations Commander, 9 January 2011

[10] ‘KNU terrorists shell Myawady, Phaya Thonsu, leaving some innocent people dead, injured’, NLM, 10 November 2010

[11] Ibid.

[12] ‘KNU Statement Condemning Election Related Violence in Burma’s Border Areas’, KNU, 10 October 2010

[13] ‘FBR Report: School girl killed, villagers wounded and hundreds displaced as the Burma Army continues attacks in Central Karen State.’, Free Burma Rangers, 20 November 2010

[14] ‘DKBA Property searched, confiscated.’, Naw Noreen, DVB, 15 October 2010

[15] ‘Update on the Conflict and Displacement of Civilians along the Thai‐Burma Border’, Back Pack Health Worker Team (BPHWT), 15 February 2011

[16] accessed 19 January 2011

[17] ‘Situation Report: Promoting the Protection of Newly Displaced Civilians Affected by Conflict and Increased Insecurities on the Thai-Burma Border Mid-December 2010 to 11th January 2011’, Back Pack Health Worker Team (BPHWT), 12 January 2010

[18] ‘DKBA reform’, Saw Khar Su Nyar, KIC, 12 Septmeber 2011

[19] ‘Six points agreed in Union level peace talks with Klo Htoo Baw (former DKBA)’, New Light of Myanmar, 13 December 2011

[20] ‘The Statement of the first Klo Htoo Baw Karen Organization’s Conference 01/2012’

KKO, April 2, 2012

[21] ‘Gunshots and resignations disrupt militia elections’, Nan Thoo Lei, Karen News, 13 September 2012

Arakan Army Cache seized


State media has reported the Arakan Army has had one of its arms caches raided. The raid came about after police searched a suspicious looking vehicle parked with its lights and engine on near Victor International School in Tamwe Township, Yangon Region, on 6 February.

According to the local police station, the search led to the discovery of a 9mm pistol and 14 bullets from the man in the car, who was later identified as a lieutenant colonel in the Arakan Army (AA) named Aung Myat Kyaw.

According to the report, further investigation revealed that he rented a house together with Wai Tha Tun in North Dagon Township. The warranted search of the house resulted in the confiscation of 42 pieces of military equipment, 80 camouflage backpacks, 70 army-green bags and 60 straps, five pairs of night-vision binoculars, 21 walkie-talkies, nine compasses, one GPS device, 89 army-green groundsheets, plastic explosives and a vehicle licence plate.

After arresting Wai Tha Tun in North Okkalapa Township, the North Dagon Township police station filed charges against him together with Aung Myat Kyaw. The search of Wai Tha Tun’s house in North Okkalapa led to the seizure of 330,800 stimulant pills, for which they were also charged.

On 10 February, explosive materials, including nine AK cartridges, thousands of rounds of heavy machine gun ammunition, dynamite, smoke bombs and detonators were found in the house the two men rented six months ago in Hlaingthaya Township.

Further investigations led to the exposure of six RPG launchers and shells, 70 cartridges, 45 TNT blocks, 254 detonators, two pairs of binoculars and other explosive materials hidden in a building near the prawn farm belonging to the Arakan Army in Rambre Township, Rakhine State.

The culprits admitted that they had transported weapons and ammunitions to Sittwe 14 times in the past two years.

Lt-Col Aung Myat Kyaw of the Arakan Army served under Brig-Gen Tun Myat Naing, chief of staff of the Arakan Army. The AA’s chief of staff was reported to have married the daughter of U San Kyaw Hla of the Arakan National Party.

The culprits admitted that the Arakan Army is involved in illegal drug dealings in order to purchase weapons.

Speaking to the Irrawaddy, Arakan Army spokesperson Khine Thu Kha acknowledged that both men were Arakan Army operatives. He described the weapons seizures as “minor” and claimed that the Arakan Army had the full support of all Arakanese.

That said, the spokesman described allegations related to the confiscation of narcotics as false and made intentionally to “damage the dignity” of the Arakan Army and sow mistrust between the armed group and Arakanese citizens.

KIA announces formation of new 6 Brigade

kia-soldiers-a1Interesting to note that the Kachin Independence Organisation/Kachin Independence Army has created a new brigade in northern Shan State. The move comes at a particularly disturbing time as the Restoration Council of Shan States (RCSS) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) continue to fight over territory. The KIA established its new 6th Brigade on 26 February 2016, in Mongbaw, Mongkoe and Phaunghsai, which were previously controlled by the Burmese Communist Party (BCP) in northern Shan State.

The reason for the new brigade is unclear but it is likely tied to the TNLA/RCSS conflict. The TNLA was trained and equipped by the KIA and have fought the Myanmar army alongside them. While this could be one reason the other, and more likely one, is that the KIA is taking the opportunity to further expand its own influence south.

Either way, we can expect more reports of the local population being conscripted into the new units and further taxation and other forms of extortion and abuse. As is often the case, the people once again lose.

Narcotics and People’s Militia units in Shan State

Opium-militia-under-Burma-Army-in-Pang-Say-area-12-Feb-2015-FBR-5Since the 1950s, various Myanmar Governments have officially created and sanctioned the operations of militia forces in the county’s ethnic states. These groups have been used primarily as a military force to fight against ceasefire and non-ceasefire ethnic groups, to control the lives of ethnic populations, and to further secure the country’s border areas.

These militias have become notorious for drug trafficking, taxing the local population, illegal gambling, and a wide variety of human rights abuses. They have been allowed to do this with the express permission of local military commanders who have themselves earned money from the variety of illegal activities that the groups operate. In fact, article 340 of the 2008 constitution states that ‘With the approval of the National Defence and Security Council the Defence Services has the authority to administer the participation of the entire people in the Security and Defence of the Union. The strategy of the people’s militia shall be carried out under the leadership of the Defence Services.’

Numerous militias operate in Shan State which, according to the UNODC’s Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2015, remains the centre of the country’s opium and heroin trade, accounting for 91 per cent of opium poppy cultivation in the Golden Triangle alone.

Many studies have shown opium production to be more pervasive in government territory than in that held by other armed ethnic organisations, and authorities allow, if not tacitly work with, people’s militia forces (PMF) in the drugs trade.

While the UWSA is still considered to be the largest trafficker, it is these local militias that now play a significant role often with the permission of local Myanmar Army commanders. In a report on the drug trade in Shan State, Shan Herald Agency for News noted that

‘Burmese military commanders [are] giving the green light to People’s Militia Forces (PMFs)- the paramilitary forces built up among the local populace by the Army – to establish their own drug production plants and trafficking networks and thereby wrest the market away from the ceasefire groups.’

Shan Drug Watch, reported that ‘On 27 March 2010, militia leaders who were attending the 63rd anniversary of Burma’s Armed Forces Day ceremony in Tachilek were reportedly told by the Tachilek area commander Col Khin Maung Soe on the side-lines, “This is your great opportunity. You would do well not to let it slip by. My only advice is to sell as much drugs as you can across the border (i.e. in Thailand) but not on this side of the border.’

And that, there was, ‘A massive increase in poppy cultivation, and heroin and methamphetamine production in the Myanmar Army-People’s Militia controlled areas, far more than in areas under rebel-ceasefire control.’

One of the main opium producing areas in northern Shan State is the high Pansay mountain range between Namkham, Kutkai and Mantong. This area is controlled by the Panhsay Militia, which according to SHAN, is led by Kyaw Myint who is also a Member of Parliament.  The militia is believed to consist of 300-400 armed men. SHAN Drug Watch alleges that the group gives protection to local opium growers and traders, in exchange for hefty taxes.

While many have suggested that Armed Ethnic Organisations continue to be involved in the drug trade a number of them have actively launched anti-drug campaigns.

On 9 May 2013, units of the Myanmar Army attacked the base of the RCSS/SSA-S Task Force 701 in Namkham Township on the Chinese Border. Local Myanmar media stated that the reason for the attack,

‘. . . was due to the SSA’s territorial expansion, forcible recruitment and collection of illegal tax ‘

However, the area is notorious for its lucrative logging and narcotics trade and it is likely that this was the main reason for Myanmar Army intervention in an area in which the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), the Shan State Army – South (SSA-S), the Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and both the Namkham Myoma militia, and the Panhsay militia all operate. According to Maj Lao Hseng an RCSS spokesperson there may have been three possible reasons for the attack,

1) The SSA Task Force base was on the Sino-Burma border, 2) The SSA was implementing a drug-free zone and 3) The SSA base was also located close to the route of the Shwe gas pipelines.

But, it is more likely to be the second. In April the Panhsay militia was attacked by a group comprised of troops from the SSA-S, the SSPP, and the TNLA. Three bases were destroyed and 55,171 methamphetamine tablets, 6 ½ viss (10.4 kg) of opium and one penicillin bottle of heroin were eventually burnt at the Task Force 701 H.Q. Considering the loss to the Panhsay militia and the influential position of its leader, it is more than credible that the presence of Task Force 701 was a hindrance to local business activities.

While there is no doubt a number of armed ethnic organisations are involved in the drugs trade, the most obvious being the UWSA, it is, in fact, local militia units that pose the biggest threat. Almost all villages in ethnic states have been forced to recruit local militia units in their respective areas. Senior General Than Shwe, when Chairman, instructed local military authorities to form 1 militia battalion in each quarter of a town and each village tract. Burma has 13,725 quarters/village tracts. Although the Myanmar Army has not been able to reach this goal yet, the aim appears to be having a militia battalion per township, and this is a serious problem the new Government will also have to tackle.

This article first appeared in Mizzima Weekly on 18 February 2015

Inter-ethnic tensions and the peace process

tnla1-wpcf_728x413My latest EBO briefing paper is available for download here.

As the Union Peace Conference was taking place in Nay Pyi Taw from 12 – 16 January 2016 tensions between the armed forces of the Restoration Council Shan State/Shan State Army – South (RCSS/SSA-S) and the Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army in northern Shan State continued.

Conflict between the two sides first occurred on 27 November 2015, little more than a month after the RCSS signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on 15 October 2015. The fact that conflict occurred between the two sides, one signatory and one non-signatory to the NCA, should be of serious concern. At a time when the peace process is set to be handed over to the newly elected NLD, the clashes have highlighted tensions that exist with ethnic groups, not just organisations, at a much more micro level.

Karen Revolution Day – Book Excerpt

Excerpt from my forthcoming book ‘A Just Country – The Karen of Burma: Nationalism and Conflict’

Saw Ba U Gyi U NuChapter 5 – The Struggle Begins


Regardless of the fact that the Karen were finding themselves the targets of the local Police force, the Burmese Government, fearing the KNU’s ever increasing strength and no doubt fearful of Karen reprisals, decided to act against the KNU and the KNDO, whose numbers according to one source, had swelled to over 10,000 armed men. [1] Amid a background of contorted newspapers reports detailing mysterious foreign planes dropping weapons to the KNDO for a takeover of Rangoon and the continuing ethnic disturbances throughout the country, U Nu began to mobilize a political militia, the Sitwundans. These he then placed under the direct control of then deputy Commander-in-Chief Ne Win to counter the power of the KNU and his own armed force’s Karen leadership.

A number of inflammatory disturbances soon occurred between local KNDO units and Sitwundan forces stationed in the main Karen area of Insein, north of Rangoon. Here large numbers of KNDO troops had been relocated to avoid further conflict with the government and with the possibility of disbanding them and returning them to their villages. In August 1948 it appeared that Insein, nine miles north of Rangoon, was about to be captured by the communists and the Burmese government was more than happy to have the KNDO garrisoned in the area to release the pressure on Government forces. However, by the end of the year reports began to be filed with the Insein police that the KNDO units were responsible for ‘high-handedness against the Burmese community, and a few cases of dacoity and robbery.[2] In addition, the Sitwundans themselves were also alleged to have abused the local Karen including at one point threatening to exterminate them. [3]

Even prior to the Christmas massacre, the severity of the ethnic tensions had become apparent. Shots and mortar shells had been fired into the Karen quarters in Insein on 29 December, the then eve of Karen New Year. Less than three weeks later on both 22 January and the next morning, an armoured car drove through Thamaing Karen quarters strafing the area with indiscriminate gunfire. Mortar shells were also reported as being randomly fired into the area. In one such, incident a woman was seriously injured. [4]  Such episodes were not confined to Insein but were widespread. One such incident was reported by the Burmese daily ‘The Nation’ on 16 January and described how 150 Karen had lost their lives when a Union Military Police (UMP) unit, commanded by Bo Sein Hman, a former cabinet minister and second in command of the PVO, attacked a village in Taikkyi township. The KNDO retaliated by raiding the treasury in Maubin only to then see the 4th Burma rifles raze an American missionary school in a retaliation.[5]

No longer able to tolerate such flagrant abuses against Karen communities, Lt Colonel Min Maung the Taungoo born commander of the 1st Karen rifles and holder of the British Military Cross, purportedly at the behest of Saw Ba U Gyi, seized control of Taungoo and Tantabin on 27 January 1949, the next day, Pyu, was also taken. Bassein, 200 miles away was unsuccessfully attacked by another KNDO unit commanded by Saw Jack.

The Sitwundans immediately attempted to disarm the KNDOs, in what many believe may have been a pre-conceived plan by Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Ne Win. Ne Win, who had been trained by the Kempeitei and was one of the original thirty comrades, attended a meeting held by Smith-Dun and his deputies, Let-Ya and Kyadoe, to discuss Alhone Karen quarters which had earlier been searched for weapons and torched. Ne Win on entering the room had:

‘…listened quite attentively, but at the end had got up and said ‘if only the Karen had started two months ago it would be alright for them. Not now,’ and left.’[6]

Smith-Dun, the Karen Commander-in-Chief, in an attempt to put an end to what threatened to be open communal warfare, arranged for a meeting between Saw Ba U Gyi and U Nu it was set to take place on the 31P January at 12 noon. The appointment was not to be met for that morning at 6:30, Thamaing Karen quarters was again attacked by the Sitwundans using automatic weapons, Bren Guns and Mortars. The Karen Affairs Officer for the area, J Poo Nyo, phoned Smith-Dun immediately. The army commander then contacted the Prime Minister to find out who had authorised the attack. U Nu had replied:

‘…that he was going to contact someone whom he named, who was no other than Dun’s deputy [Ne Win]. So it must be presumed that Dun’s deputy was actually conducting that particular operation which started the wholesale shooting war between the Karen and the Burmese. Whatever the motives of the authors of these communal clashes, they had achieved their objectives, but at the cost of many hundreds and thousands of lives, both Karen and Burmese, especially those living in the outlying districts and villages. When news of the attacks on Alhone and Thamaing reached the Karen troops at Mingaladon, most of them pushed off to defend their kith and kin in those areas. The shooting war continued and spread to Insein and also to many other districts. Under these circumstances, it was impossible for Dun to remain in office, and therefore he [Smith-Dun] resigned that very morning. There was an offer of long leave and full pay etc. But Dun just wouldn’t take it and resigned, and went on his self-imposed exile to Myitkyina in the Kachin State where there are few Karen and Burmese.’ [7]

Many of the Karen believe that the racial animosity and provocation was planned deliberately by Ne Win who had already decided to wipe out the Karen before the outbreak of rebellion. This belief was further substantiated by an army document that was allegedly found in Meiktila, in 1949, which contained detailed information on the history, structure and aims of the KNU, and population figures of Karen towns and villages, including officials and military strength.[8] It was this document that formed the basis for what became known as ‘Operation Aung San’. The order apparently signed by Colonel Maung Maung, Major Mya Thein, and Major Thein Doke, which reportedly contained the instruction that,

‘All Karen armed personnel of the Army, Police, Military Police, and armed Karen forces in upper Burma, along with Armed Foresters, and Karen Leaders in all ranks in every town and village were to be rounded up and their personal movements and activities were to be watched.’[9]

The existence of the document has often been provided as the evidential basis for a Burman pogrom of the Karen and also other ethnic groups including the Kachin, Shan, Chin and Pa-O.[10]

Sgaw Ler Taw, who had translated and distributed the letter to a number of individuals, and on whose letter the quoted order is based, is said to have lost all his records and till this day there is still no copy of the document to be seen.

Despite this, the document has provided the basis for the belief, especially among the Karen, that the Burman majority were intent on systematically wiping out the ethnic groups.[11] While there is little doubt that racial animosities throughout the period were leading to large scale bloodshed it must be noted, that if the quote is correct, the document, issued at the time of ethnic insurrection, merely calls for containment in the same way that the U.S. Military interned the Japanese during World War II.

Even now other documents pertaining to what the Karen still believe to be a Burma Army agenda of ethnic cleansing still continue to materialize. One such text records the death-bed instructions’ of Burman nationalist Thakin Kodaw Hmine and is a diatribe against a number of ethnic groups suggesting that all are untrustworthy and that only the Burmans have their rightful place in Burma. According to point three of this document:

‘The Karen, we cannot put our trust in them. They have the policy of doing what they say. This is one kind of enemy. Do not provide improvement for them. They act without hesitation. In case of lack of vigilance beware. We Burmese will have trouble breathing.’ [12]

Whether a number of Burman nationalists had actually engineered the ethnic war can never be proven. If such an aim was someone’s hidden intentions then they were successful. The attack on Thamaing was repelled by a number of KNDO support units who had been mobilized throughout Insein and surrounding areas including Taungthugon Karen quarters, where Mahn Ba Zan lived. His house at the time was probably serving as the KNU/KNDO headquarters. The battle had begun and it was not long after, 2 February 1949, before the Burmese Government declared the KNDO illegal. The Sitwundans reacted immediately – torching Karen areas including, once again, Alhone. Crime reporter and journalist, U Thaung, recalls his experiences there on 2 February:

‘…Alhone was set ablaze. Fire engines were prevented from reaching there. Karen nationals rushing out of their burning homes were shot down. I arrived there as soon as permission was granted.

Dead bodies were everywhere in the streets. Many of them were children and young girls. It was a totally different scene from the public executions [he had reported on]. In the public executions the faces of the dead were covered with masks, here they were uncovered. The square jaw was the outstanding characteristic of the beauty of Karen girls and I used to idolize them. So many girls with the feature I loved were lying on the streets. I couldn’t control my grief.’[13]

Saw Ba U Gyi, Mahn Ba Zan, Hunter Tham Hwe and Saw Sankey, all in Insein at the time felt they had very little option but to declare a full-scale revolt. The Karen Rifles and KNDOs immediately started taking cities throughout the country. At Insein itself, an 112 day stand-off was to take place between the Karen and the Burma Army, under the command of Ne Win. This came to be known as the Battle of Insein.

The Battle of Insein

By 7.00 o’clock on the morning of 31 January, thirty minutes after the first recorded attack on the Thamaing quarters, a number of houses had already been looted and torched. By mid-morning at least a quarter of the village on the southern side, undefended by the KNDO, had fallen to the Sitwundans who had begun to mow down fleeing villagers. Responding to requests from the KNU leadership, a Karen Artillery regiment, which had been training at Mingaladon Airport two miles east of Insein, was brought in to support the KNDO units. The two other regular Karen Infantry battalions, commanded by Aung Sein, which had been on alert after troubles began at the beginning of the year, also responded to the call for support.

The Karen were able to field a company-size KNDO unit in the Nanthagon-Taungthugon area and about a platoon-size KNDO unit in the Gyogon seminary area. Along with other villagers the combined Karen force could not have amounted to more than 400. These units were faced with a mixture of the Union Military Police, Sitwundans, regular police and a number of armed Burmese civilians with almost twice as many men as the defenders. [14] The Insein Railway station which had been guarded by UMPs and a number of railway’s employees armed with machine guns and rifles were able to launch spurious attacks against the Karen while mortar fire from the local police station and administrative offices rained down on the Nanthagon-Taungthugon quarter’s high school. Here the KNDO had taken up positions leaving the school’s football field to separate the two sides.

The ordinance depot fell to Karen forces on 2P February giving them much needed weapons and ammunition including light cannons and machine guns. Karen tactics quickly changed from defensive to offensive as the Karen forces moved forward to repel the attackers. Further weapons had also been obtained in a somewhat audacious move by Sgaw Maw Lay the commander of the Nanthagon-Taungthugon KNDO. He had loaded ten trucks with a hundred soldiers and driven to Mingaladon airport where they were able to raid the arms depot after the Gurkha regiment of the 1stBurma Rifles unsuspectingly let them in. [15]

The KNDO soon organised themselves. Sgaw Maw Lay was responsible for Nanthagon-Taungthugon KNDO, the Gyogon Seminary KNDO was under the leadership of Bo Tha Aye Saw, a former UMP N.C.O., Thamaing came under the command of J Poo Nyo, at one point a high ranking civil servant in the Burmese government. Intelligence was the responsibility of Henry San Baw while Saw Sankey was responsible for overall command.

By the seventh day the Karen had organised lines of communication and set up a frontline. Food was organised by Thramu Aye Bya and her seminary students who were cooking day and night to feed the forces which had risen to around one thousand with 500 being maintained as frontline troops. [16]

It was not long into the fighting that the UMPs and Sitwundans were forced to pull back from their positions abandoning the railway station, the police station and what was the biggest prison in the country, Insein Jail. The prisoners were released with many of them fleeing the area as soon as possible. Many of the Karen inmates joined the rebellion and took up arms against the government. Others who supported the struggle included a British army officer, Captain Vivian, who had been imprisoned for supplying weapons to the assassins of Aung San. The notorious Saw Seaplane, who had brutally attacked countless Burmese villages and had been imprisoned for his actions, went on to form a number of Karen convicts into a fighting company.

It is not clear whether it was the Karen battalion under Seaplane or other irregular Karen forces, but a number of civilians were murdered and property looted in the attack on the Insein Bazaar area, apparently to the disgust of the regular Karen forces. The misconduct of those Karen who had taken the opportunity to vent their frustration on the local community resulted in a further delay of the assault on the rice mills along the Hlaing River and a missed opportunity to capture more ammunition from the retreating Burmese soldiers. [17]

Despite all this, the rice mills were soon captured, alleviating the ever growing problem of food supplies. In addition to rice, the mills also contained large quantities of dried beans, which were quickly cooked into curry. The packaging problem, for meals to be transferred to the frontline, was soon solved with the help of the government press in the jail. The building was stocked with paper and the seminary students were able to prepare over a thousand meals a day which were then packaged for distribution to the Karen forces. [18]

Insein jail, which had been used by the Japanese as an arms depot during the war, had also been used by them to hide what weapons and ammunition they could not carry. These were quickly converted to be used by the Karen who had already started recycling spent shells from the frontline. Within a matter of days, the KNU had captured the ten square miles of the area that made up Insein Township. The Burma Army had been in no real position to counter the Karen forces and had relied on what Edward Law Yone described as:

‘…a motley array of half-trained and untrained students, Yellow Band PVO, civilian police and soldiers…[who were] quickly decimated by the KNDO.’ [19]

In a bold move, two companies – one regular and one KNDO – attempted to push further towards Rangoon, almost reaching the Thamaing road junction about a mile away from the Insein boundary. Although the Karen Rifles had been able to approach from the west almost unhindered, the KNDO, flanking them on the east, took fire and there were a couple of casualties in both regular and KNDO companies including one or two dead and half a dozen wounded. [20] This had demoralized the unprepared KNDO troops and the assault was halted and a retreat made by both companies when they came under machine gun fire from naval forces in jeeps who had been sent to defend the area.

While the main fighting was taking place at Insein, in Taungoo, 170 miles north, Karen forces had taken control of the city almost unchallenged and were beginning to widen their territory. At Prome, about 190 miles north of Insein, meanwhile, the Second Battalion of the Karen rifles, under Mya Maung, abandoned their positions and began to march, bringing their families with them, towards Insein at the request of the KNU Leadership, who were beginning to see their frontlines being forced back and hearing rumours that the 5th Burma Rifles, a seasoned military unit which had been engaged in fighting the Mujahids in Arakan state, had been airlifted back to be used against the Karen uprising.

On 9P February the 2nd Karen Rifles had got about as far as Zigon, 40 miles away from Prome, when they were ambushed by Burmese troops under the command of Bo Sein Hman. He was supported by Burma air force planes which strafed and bombed the Karen troops and their families in a move which saw practically all captured, including Mya Maung. Those who did escape were able to slip quietly through the Pegu Yomas before emerging at Insein or Taungoo a few weeks later. [21]

The collapse of the 2nd Karen Rifles gave a momentous boost to the U Nu government and leaflets were quickly dropped on Insein giving details of the surrender, and authenticated by the signature of Mya Maung. With ammunition and supplies decreasing rapidly, and with very little aid getting through Burma Army lines from Taungoo, the situation was beginning to look grim.

Morale was increased, however, in early March with the arrival of forces from Thaton commanded by Bo Nyunt Maung and Bo Lintin, and a Karen Battalion from Taungoo. Further soldiers from the Salween district commanded by Ta Ka Paw also arrived to fortify Karen positions. While the arrival of reinforcements was able to relieve those frontline troops that had been holding back the Burma Army the problems were by no means solved. The attacking forces had been expanded to include the 1st Chin Rifles, two battalions of University Training Corps and Gurkhas also from the 1st Burma regiment. The war of attrition continued into April when finally a chance appeared on the horizon.

At the beginning of April, an invitation was delivered to Saw Ba U Gyi requesting peace talks between himself and U Nu. It was signed by the ambassadors of Britain, India and Pakistan who also guaranteed Saw Ba U Gyi safety if he would attend the meeting in Rangoon. The intermediary was George Algernon West, the Bishop of Rangoon, who had worked extensively with the Karen and the Karenni and was held in great regard. The KNU had received another overture earlier when U Ba Tun Tin, a respected Karen official in the Burmese Government, brought a letter from U Nu requesting a similar meeting to be held Kawehgyan, a Burmese army outpost delineating the frontline. U Ba Tun Tun later said that he had been quite surprised to find in Ba U Gyi a very credulous and naïve person who had elected himself to go and meet U Nu, putting complete faith in his erstwhile friend. This he had done despite the advice and pleas of his deputies and councillors to send someone else first for verification of the Burman’s sincerity. [22]

U Ba Tun Tun was correct in his assertion when on his arrival at Kawehgyan Saw Ba U Gyi was, instead, taken to the War Office and a proposal to end the standoff was made containing the following points.

‘Amnesty to KNDO insurgents.

Treatment of the Karen Army personnel. – There will be no discrimination to the disadvantage of the Karen Army and other army personnel belonging to the minority groups. As these people are in law still members of the Union Army, they will place themselves at the disposal of the Government of the Union. The Army Re-organization Committee composed of the Hon’ble Sir Ba U, Chief Justice of the Union as Chairman, the Hon’ble Lt.-General Ne Win and Lt.-General Smith Dun, M. C, will not only consider the re-organization of the armed forces but will also go into the question of grievances of the Army personnel, if there be any.

Karen Civilian Officers. – They will be treated in the same way as the Burmese civilian officers in similar circumstances.

Arming. – The Karen leaders agree to the principle that nobody unless authorized by authorities in this behalf shall carry or possess arms. Karen civilians will be given permission to hold such quantity of firearms as may be necessary for the security and protection “of the villages where they live.’[23]

Saw Ba U Gyi, under pressure not only from the Burmese but also the other ambassadors, agreed to give in to the demands of U Nu, however, he insisted that a commission for Karen State affairs be formed. It was agreed that a surrender ceremony was to be held on 8 April at Tha Mae Oo.

Saw Ba U Gyi, on his return to Insein, immediately informed Hunter Tha Hmwe and Major Aung Sein at the Taungoo headquarters of his signing of the agreement but both informed him that they were not happy with the agreed conditions. They put forward a list of further proposals. These included

‘1. The cessation of hostilities throughout Burma and the declaration of a truce for further negotiations;

  1. The provision by the Government of facilities for a meeting of the military and political leaders of the insurgents and that frontier leaders should take part in the negotiations;
  2. The holding by the insurgents during the period of the truce of the areas they have occupied.’[24]

The Karen leadership knew that the AFPFL would never agree to these requests, especially point 3 allowing them to keep territory they had newly occupied. The biggest problem, however, was the fact that the agreement had already been signed. To overcome this obstacle, it was agreed that Saw Ba U Gyi had, in fact, signed the agreement on behalf of the Karen National Union while in reality the military action that had taken place was the responsibility of the KNDO which had been the organisation declared illegal by the government.

It was decided therefore that Mahn Ba Zan, the KNDO commander, should be the one charged with negotiating any agreements. On 5 May, Mahn Ba Zan went to meet with U Nu’s representative San Ba U to put forward the new Karen proposals. After San Ba U had contacted U Nu it was decided that Mahn Ba Zan should then meet with the AFPFL’s Chief of Foreign Affairs U Aye Maung. Here he outlined the problems regarding the fact that the agreement had failed to take into account Karen aspirations. A hostile U Aye Maung had replied that failure to comply with the signed agreement would result again in war, nonetheless it was decided that Mahn Ba Zan should meet with senior leaders of the AFPFL.

At the meeting with U Nu it was again put forward that the agreement was not designed to settle the Karen political dispute, only the military stalemate. Therefore, the Karen would not be able to comply as they could not agree to being disarmed until the greater problems affecting them were addressed. U Nu refused to accept any changes and the negotiations ended in a return to armed conflict on the 9 April.[25]

With hostilities recommencing it was hoped that Karen forces from Taungoo would be able to break through government line at Pegu and help those at Insein. The situation was not to be favourable, however, under repeated attacks from the Burma army the once held 10 miles of Insein had shrank to five as the defenders ammunition and strength was slowly sapped.

Soon troops began to desert. Those civilians who had remained withdrew into the confines of the jail to protect themselves from stray shells and rifle fire as the frontline was gradually pushed towards them. Karen troops by the end of May came under the direct control of Saw Taw Plo who saw more and more of his men disappearing. Saw Ba U Gyi, aware that there was little hope for reinforcements arriving from Taungoo moved to the west of the Hlaing River in preparation for a full withdrawal.

On the night of 20P May 1949, large numbers of Karen troops and civilians were able to slip across the swollen Hlaing River to safety. The battle had lasted three months and 21 days with the possibility of, according to one source, a thousand Karen casualties with fatalities as high as 350-400, half of those were most likely civilians killed in the shelling alone. Although Insein had been lost the Karen were still able to hold on to other areas of the country. The fall of Insein may have lost them the battle, but it had not ended the revolution.


[1] ‘Memoirs of the Four-Foot Colonel’, Smith-Dun, SEAP, 1980

[2] Smith-Dun quoting ‘Saw Po Tu’

[3] Ibid.

[4] Smith-Dun quoting ‘Saw Bellay’

[5] ‘Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity’, Martin Smith, Zed Books, 1999

[6] Smith-Dun

[7] Smith-Dun

[8] The author has been unable to verify the existence of the document or find anybody who has seen it.

[9] Letter dated 25th June 1987 from Sgaw Ler Taw to Harold E Klein. Quoted in ‘The Karen of Burma Their Search for Freedom and Justice’. Unpublished manuscript.

[10] The document apparently contained the same article for both. Ibid

[11] See Guy Horton, ‘Dying Alive’ also quoting Klein, for further discussion,

[12] Two of these documents were seen by the author in 2003. The first was in Burmese and the second in English which was dated July 12th 1997 and came from an Arakanese source.

[13] ‘A Journalist, A General and an Army in Burma’, U Thaung, White Lotus, 1995, p 15

[14] Ba Saw Khin, ‘50 years of Struggle’

[15] Mika Rolly, ‘Insein Battle’ unpublished material

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ba Saw Khin

[18] Mika Rolly

[19] Law Yone and Mandelbaum,‘The Pacification of Burma’, Far Eastern Survey, October 1950

[20] Ba Saw Khin

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] ‘Burma and the Insurrections’, Government of the Union of Burma, 1949

[24] Negotiations in Burma Breakdown’, From our Correspondent, The Times, April 11th, 1949

[25] ‘Karen History’, Sgaw Ler Taw, Karen National Union , 1974

Shanni Nationalities Army (SNA) formed


Yet another disturbing development as occurred in relation to Myanmar’s ethnic landscape with the announcement of yet another armed ethnic group. SHAN has reported the creation of the Shanni Nationalities Army (SNA) which was posted on Facebook last week.

Described as an independent organization “not under any other group,” the SNA claims to represent the Shan peoples of northern Myanmar. With a population estimated at 300,000, the Red Shan—translated to Shan-ni in Myanmar and Tai-leng in Shan—largely live in southern Kachin State, particularly near Mohnyin and Bhamo, and in Sagaing Division, the report said.

Apparently, one of the SNA’s promises is to “protect local people bullied by other armed groups.” Since the 1960s, the Shan Ni, or Red Shan, communities have been situated between the Kachin Independence Army/Organization (KIA/O) and the Myanmar Army. They report having suffered abuses from both sides in the conflict, which has reportedly contributed to the organization of informal Shan-ni militias over the years.

The SNA has reported one clash with the government this month. An outbreak of fighting was reported on January 11 on the Myanmar-India border. Three SNA soldiers were allegedly arrested by the Myanmar Army and one SNA sergeant was killed.

Only last week another group was formed that could further complicate the peace process. Mizzima reported last week the formation of the Kachin Republic Party (KRP) and its military wing the Kachin Republic Army (KRA).  According to Acting General Secretary Lashi Yawna, ‘. . . we will form the KRP with the objective of establishing an independent republic seceded from the current union.’ He also added that KRP offices are to be opened in China and Thailand!