The formation of the DKBA

An excerpt from my forthcoming book, ‘A Just Country – The Karen of Burma: Nationalism and Conflict’ (Photos courtesy KHCPS archive – Orginal source KNU)

The pagoda at the KNU controlled Thu Mwe Hta village was located at the conjunction between the rivers Moei and Salween and had originally been consecrated on the 20th of April 1989. The monk who built the pagoda, U Thuzana, was a cousin of the wealthy KNU Forestry Minister, Padoh Aung San. U Thuzana had built a number of pagodas throughout Karen State and this, like the others, gave solace to a large number of Buddhist practitioners in the area. Unlike the others, however, the location of the pagoda and the actions of a number of errant KNLA officers were to transform the location into a battleground and a place where Karen would fight each other and the revolution would see a major rebellion.


In 1975, a meeting had been convened by Gen. Bo Mya. He invited the Buddhist clergy to attend and appoint a Karen Buddhist council to minister to Karen Buddhists. Among those chosen to sit on the executive council were U Thuzana, the Khaw Taw (Myaing Gyi Ngu) Sayadaw and U Wizzana, the Noh Poh Sayadaw. Some years later U Thuzana asked permission to build a pagoda at Thu Mweh Hta and it was granted by General Bo Mya. However, it was requested that the pagoda not be whitewashed or have a zinc roof and that a Chedi not be placed at the summit. It was feared that this could be used by the SLORC to target the area. Further restrictions also imposed were to include preventing Thai pilgrims from crossing the river to visit the pagoda due to fears that SLORC agents could infiltrate the area from the Thai side of the river.

The Beginnings of Dissent

The first problems began to occur when a notorious Karen commander, Saw Charles, a cousin of General Bo Mya’s wife, was asked to deal with a number of issues that had been occurring at the monastery. Saw Charles, according to the one observer, had been able to achieve his relatively high position due to:

‘. . . favouritism from Bo Mya because of the ties of affection between them. Although being loyal to his nation…Saw Charles was to blunder according to his whims and fancies. To correct Saw Charles shortcomings, it seems that Bo Mya tolerated him with a rank to get him to change for the better.’ [i]

To help his relative, Bo Mya had overturned a previous promotion decision made by Gen. Hla Htoo, Lt Gen. Tamla Baw, Gen. K’ser Doh, and vice-president Than Aung. He appointed Saw Charles to be the Second Gate-in-Charge and 2nd company commander at the main trading gate at Mae Tha Waw, an extremely sought after position. In 1989, he rose to become company commander at Maw Pokay. However, it was during his command that it was brought to the attention of GHQ that summary executions, rape, robbery and over-taxation had become prevalent throughout the predominantly Buddhist area. It was reported that some villages were being taxed at over 100,000 kyats. After a problem with the local township committee for Hlaingbwe, he was finally recalled to headquarters and detained.

It is believed that the alleged actions perpetrated by Saw Charles against the local Buddhist population may have angered the revered U Thuzana. The KNU realising the damage that had been done requested that Em Marta, then KNU Foreign Affairs Minister, ask the monk to return to Thu Mweh Hta and finish the pagoda, work on which had been halted, as an act of appeasement.

Saw Charles, not long after the battle of Sleeping Dog Mountain, was appointed Chairman of the Hlaingbwe Township Committee and had immediately implemented a policy of forced portering, ie. press-ganging the local people to work for the KNLA. This included a number of residents who had been living in Buddhist monasteries, an act that was regarded as highly deplorable by local Buddhists. It was due to the heavy handedness of Charles’ leadership that a number of villagers were forced to flee. In addition, he was also well known to despise the KNLA’s Buddhist troops, not only in the districts but also those at GHQ. [ii]  Unable to tolerate his behaviour the KNU leadership was, once again, forced to recall and detain him.

Thu Mweh Hta itself had begun to grow since the building of the pagoda. U Thuzana on his return formed a thriving Buddhist vegetarian community which was able to feed over 800 adherents. The ability of the monk to feed so many people began to sow suspicions among some KNU leaders who believed he may have been given support by the SPDC. Such doubts were further enhanced by the fact that it was generally regarded by Tatmadaw units in the area that the monk’s followers were free from forced conscription and portering. Travelling papers provided by the monk allowed their carriers to pass freely without hindrance through Burmese army checkpoints. Originally, the followers of the monk also received similar treatment from the KNU and adherents were spared from joining the army or portering for KNLA operations.


General Bo Mya


It was this sedate life in the village that had apparently led some KNLA soldiers to choose to leave the army and join the commune. A situation that had not escaped the notice of General Bo Mya. With most of his soldiers Buddhists, Bo Mya, feared the rise in power of the monk and the possibility of further defections. He asked Saw Charles, in May 1993, to deal with the situation. Which Saw Charles allegedly did by abusing the followers from the monastery and then evicting them. The situation was further inflamed when Colonel Walter, who was responsible for overall security in the area, prevented the erection of a Hti (an ornate umbrella) and purportedly threatened to shoot a number of the performers who were celebrating the event. Col. Walter figured largely in the affair and was accused of assaulting a number of pilgrims, an action he denies.[iii] Despite a number of complaints being made against him, especially by Col. Kyaw Heh, 4th column commander of 102 Battalion which had been tasked with security in the area, Col Walter was transferred and then apparently promoted.

Angered by the problems caused by Saw Charles and Colonel Walter, a number of Buddhist civilians and KNLA soldiers, led by Bo Aye, set off for Manerplaw but found their way blocked. The boat in which they were travelling in was fired upon killing two people. In response, over 500 people including 200 KNLA soldiers on the 10th of May, [iv] rallied and demonstrated at the KNU headquarters, before finally being placated by General Bo Mya, who had agreed to look into the incident. In response to what was perceived as agitation by U Thuzana, officials were appointed to monitor him and some of his followers. The KNU began to believe that the unseen hand of the SLORC was behind the continuing unrest amongst the soldiers.

On the 17th of May, an inquiry committee led by Padohs Thackabaw and Aung Shwe were dispatched to investigate the alleged abuses at the site of the pagoda’s construction where over a thousand people had now gathered. Unhappy with the response they had received from the Headquarters, once the committee’s finding had been put forward, over a thousand people led by U Thuzana and a group of about seventy KNLA soldiers including Warrant Officer Kyaw Than went to Manerplaw on the 18th of May to meet with Bo Mya. They demanded some form of redress. Bo Mya apparently promised the group that action would be taken against any offenders and gave a written reply stating that ‘Religion shall not be used for furtherance of political ends.’[v]

Although the KNU’s actions had placated the Buddhists’ resentment, many within the KNU leadership still believed that the Tatmadaw were behind U Thuzana and were seeking to split the revolutionary forces. On the 24th of November 1994, an emergency meeting of the Kawthoolei Sangha was held at Manerplaw. Despite U Thuzana being invited, he failed to attend. [vi]The meeting was attended by over 102 monks and lay people, as well as by KNU leaders and observers. The problems of the Khaw Taw (Myaing Gyi Ngu) Sayadaw were addressed and the final recommendations were to be implemented by the Sangha;

Not to be involved and inhibit the political, military and administrative proceedings in carrying out the religious or mission works.

People who desire to go into monk hood, must be examined in accordance with the laws and rulings set down by the Buddha re: fitness for monk hood.

To stop mission works: such as building of religious constructions and others within battle areas and regions.

No action detrimental to the unity among the people and the clergy and among various religions must be committed in the name of religion.

Cases or problems arisen from among the Sanghas (clergy) or any case of complaint, big or small between the Sanghas and the regional officials must be submitted to the Kawthoolei Sanghas’ Association and the decision laid down by the said association must be adhered to.

To oppose any penetration of undesirables into the fold of the Sanghas and to condemn anyone who tries to use religion as a scapegoat.

On the occasions of constructing religious temples and the pagodas, the Laymen arid the Laywomen must coordinate and cohese with the regional authorities.

For many of the local Buddhists however, especially those loyal to U Thuzana, the Kawthoolei Sangha Association was seen as nothing more than a KNU Buddhist front. It had been set up by Bo Mya and headed by U Wizzana. They saw the implementation of such rules as an attempt by the KNU to stifle the influence of not only Buddhism but also that of the much revered Khaw Taw (Myaing Gyi Ngu) Sayadaw. Regardless, on the second day of the meeting, a message was received from U Thuzana stating that he would no longer be involved in the building of pagodas and those that had been built would be entrusted to the Kawthoolei Sangha while he himself was to begin a 49-month retreat.

Open Confrontation

By the 1st of December, U Thuzana and a number of his followers had left Thu Mweh Hta and had returned to Khaw Taw (Myaing Gyi Ngu). While the monk was on his journey back, a number of KNLA soldiers began to leave their positions at Manerplaw and make their way back to the pagoda. The first to arrive was an NCO, Pah Mee (Karen Blood) with around 18 men shortly followed by a warrant officer, Kyaw Than and approximately 110 men. [vii] Both had led a number of their own subordinates from their positions and on encountering other soldiers asked them to join their ranks. Those who refused were disarmed.

The deserters began to stop boats, used for trade and travel, on the Moei and, according to some sources, asked the occupants if they were Buddhist or Christian. Those who refused to answer were beaten and regardless of religious affiliation, all were robbed before being allowed to continue their journey. Manerplaw was informed of the incident. The then Justice Minister and KNDO Commander, Colonel Htoo Htoo Lay and a number of other committee members,[viii]  travelled to Thu Mweh Hta to hear the grievances put forward by Kyaw Than. In a meeting attended by the rebel soldiers and local villagers, Kyaw Than accused the KNU of Buddhist oppression and of conspiring to force U Thuzana to leave. He gave Col. Htoo Htoo Lay a statement that asked the KNU to ensure that Buddhists be treated fairly and to take legal action against those responsible for:

Discrimination and religious oppression.

Offences against religious buildings.

Offences against religious doctrines and teachings

Offences through both verbal and action against religious workers

To offend, harass, and to act against freedom of worship which are against the law. [ix]

On the 6th of December, a delegation of monks from Khaw Taw (Myaing Gyi Ngu) arrived at Thu Mweh Hta and asked to meet with members of the KNU leadership. Col. Htoo Htoo Lay, who had been staying in the monastery and acting as liaison, requested a negotiating team be sent to talk with the delegation. The meeting the next day between the Buddhist defectors and a negotiating team consisting of Gen. Maung Maung, Padoh Mahn Sha, and Padoh San Line ended cordially around 11.30 am. However, when members of the KNU team attempted to leave they were prevented in doing so by armed dissidents. Attempts to locate Kyaw Than proved impossible and after another meeting, it was agreed that Gen. Maung Maung and Col. Htoo Htoo Lay could return to Manerplaw.

The situation in Thu Mweh Hta was in chaos. As soon as Kyaw Than had returned to the monastery he was accused of being a traitor for letting the two KNU members leave. Meanwhile, a separate faction of deserters, commanded by Pah Mee, had broken away and were planning to execute Col. Johnny who had been at the monastery at the time and had also been arrested. This group had then gone into the holding cell and had taken away three Christian prisoners, a KNDO Captain, Kyaw Eh, a customs officer and a civilian leader from Thaw Leh Hta. Kyaw Eh and the civilian were both executed while the customs officer was able to escape.

Colonel Htoo Htoo Lay and Gen. Maung Maung returned to the monastery and found that the situation was deteriorating rapidly. Those KNLA soldiers who had initially abandoned their positions had been replaced by a number of undisciplined militias and militant rebels. It was also noticeable that a number of monks could be seen brandishing firearms. Whether these had been those from Khaw Taw (Myaing Gyi Ngu) was unclear.

While KNU suspicions about SLORC involvement had yet to be proven they were further substantiated by the arrival, on the 10th of December, by a group of militant monks from Papun. These monks immediately arranged a meeting for that evening which was attended by about 500 followers from Thu Mweh Hta village and KNLA defectors. Col. Htoo Htoo Lay, who was also at the meeting, recalls that when the monks were addressing the crowd they regularly used SLORC terminology to discuss Karen areas. At one point one of the monks demanded that the KNU be informed that Bo Mya was to come to the monastery to meet them. When he was reminded that the KNU had already agreed to meet with defectors on neutral ground in Thailand, another monk in the Papun party retorted:

‘They are Christians and you know there crimes. If Bo Mya does not arrive by 9 a.m. tomorrow you can take action against them as you please.’ [x]

Pah Mee and a group of fifty to sixty soldiers buoyed on by the proceedings decided to take matters into their own hands. Believing they were charmed they set off towards Manerplaw in an attempt to confront the leadership. After being able to overcome the first checkpoint, which had radioed ahead to GHQ about the situation, the group was finally repelled at the second checkpoint. It opened fire killing two of the defectors, Pah Mee and a Thar Thit Ka Lo. The rest retreated in disarray back to the monastery.


After this assault the leadership at Manerplaw decided to shell the perimeter of Thu Mweh Hta compound as a warning. [xi] One villager was accidentally killed in the attack and three others seriously injured. The chaos caused by the shelling led to one monk, U Pyinnya Thermi, bursting into the holding cells brandishing a pistol and radio and threatening to kill Col. Johnny. Although the monk finally calmed down, it was not long after that another group of soldiers arrived issuing the same threat. The two Buddhist KNU members of the negotiation committee, Padoh Mahn Sha and San Line, were separated from the Christians who were bound and taken out of the cell but later freed.

At 6 a.m. on the 15th of December, the KNLA 7thBattalion launched an offensive forcing the dissidents commanded by Kyaw Than and Kyaw Heh to withdraw from Thu Mweh Hta. They retreated to a safer position near Ohndaw village leaving the monastery, and 500 civilians, to be defended by a hundred armed men.

A mediating team comprising Naing Aung from the ABSDF, Nai Pe Than Zar, from the NMSP, U Tin Aung from the NLD-LA and a monk from Sutse Monastery in Thailand contacted the defenders of Thu Mweh Hta. They asked them to negotiate a settlement on the Thai side of the border. The KNU prisoners, accompanied by U Pyinnya Thermi, U Kuntinyya and Bo Kyaw Ka, boarded a boat at 1 a.m. and were taken to the rendezvous on the Thai side of the Moei where they met with the KNU mediating team. This team included Lt. Gen. Tamala Baw, Padoh Ba Thein, Em Marta, Padoh Mahn Yin Sein and intelligence commander Lt. Col. Soe Soe. Here an agreement was signed with both sides agreeing;

To form a committee representing Buddhists

This committee to find the right approach to solve any argument that arise

The KNU to take full responsibility to ensure that yebaws (comrades), Sanghas and other people involved in the incident are not punished, arrested, killed or jailed.

The respective command leaders to be given the right to judge should a case occur concerning the shooting of Buddhist yebaws (comrades) and commanders.

Strict action to be taken against hindering freedom of worship with a view to propagating religion.

Commanders Kyaw Than and Kyaw Heh, who had retreated from Thu Mweh Hta before the signing, rejected the five points and after meeting with U Thuzana at Khaw Taw (Myaing Gyi Ngu) on the 20th of December, refused to further negotiate with the KNU. On the 21st of December 1994, they formed the Democratic Kayin Buddhist Association (DKBA) led by U Thuzana and civilian leaders from Papun. They were supported by a force comprising over 250 men from 102 and 104 battalions, local KNDO units and a number from 1st Brigade. The DKBA stated their intentions in the first of a number of declarations:

Declaration 1/94 Dated 21st December 1994.

  1. For the purpose of building a peaceful and prosperous Kayin State, the Democratic Kayin Buddhist Association (DKBA) has been founded on the 4th waning of Nattaw, 1356 (21 December 1994.)
  1. The Programme of the DKBA is roughly as follows:-

(a) Will strive to build a peaceful and prosperous life for all national groups of the Kayin State.
(b) Will give priority to developing all national groups of the Kayin State.
(c) Will strive to develop the economy of all national groups of the Kayin State.
(d) Will do utmost to strengthen and promote religions, cultures and traditions of all national groups of the Kayin State

3 Details of Organisation will be announced separately

Seven days later another policy statement was issued renaming the DKBA as the Democratic Kayin Buddhist Organisation (DKBO) and clarifying that the DKBA would be known as the Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army (DKBA):

Announcement No 2/94 28 December 1994.

  1. Democratic Kayin Buddhist Association in paragraph 1 of the Announcement No 1/94 of the Democratic Kayin Buddhist Association is amended as Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Democratic Kayin Buddhist Association as Democratic Kayin Buddhist Organisation (DKBO).
  2. The Democratic Kayin Buddhist Organisation accepts the guidance stated in Announcement No 1/94 and will proceed to ensure consolidation of nationals, freedom of worship and equitable benefits and to perpetuate the Union.
  3. This Organisation believes that the majority of the human race is confronted with all kinds of social sufferings due to a group of people who ignore kindness and compassion and oppress and bully the people who are weak and ignorant.
  4. This Organisation is absolutely independent of the KNUstarting from the issuing of the announcement. It is announced that all members of the Organisation have resigned from the KNU.
  5. In accordance with this conviction, we announce that our Organisation will form different levels of the following bodies with the aim of setting the people free from all social sufferings and establish peaceful state in order that the noblest of worldly values such as political, economic and religious freedom may be enjoyed equitably with consideration among fellow human beings.

(a) Patrons comprising six members of the Sangha including U Thuzana as chairman,
(b) Central Committee members comprising nine including U Tha Htoo Kyaw as Chairman and necessary committees under its control will be formed,
(c) Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army HQ and units under its command will be formed as necessary.

With the formation of the organisation a number of other dissatisfied soldiers began to defect and leave their positions, sixty men from 6th Brigade; Bo Cha Teik, 1stCompany, 19th Battalion; Bo Kyaw Kalei, 2nd Company 21st Battalion and Bo Takee, 5th Company, 104th Battalion among others.


Lt.Col. Law Wah Dee training Wa National Organisation troops


General Bo Mya, who has claimed constantly that U Thuzana had been deliberately sent by the SLORC with the intention of splitting the KNU by exploiting religious dissatisfaction, ordered KNLA operation’s Commander Lt Col. Law Wah Dee to shell the dissidents. Aware of the consequences of a rebellion within the ranks, the general wished to take a harder stance in his own words:

‘We must fight and crush those who revolt against us. We can no longer employ the means of charity or love.’[xii]


However, a number of Central Committee members including Em Marta, Padoh Kaw Soe and Padoh Yoh Shoo approached Law Wah Dee and persuaded him to refrain from such direct action. Instead the KNU, on the 26th of December 1994, issued a deadline to the dissidents to disarm and return to the organisation by midnight 31st of December. They said that failure to do so would result in retaliatory action. In a further attempt to try and convince the defecting Yebaws, back to the ranks General Bo Mya issued another request, via his traditional Karen New Year speech on the 29th of December 1994, for unity in the face of what he obviously believed was SLORC involvement in the Karen split:


‘There have been 46 years of fighting since the 1949 revolution began. Just as there has been unity in the past, we have to continue the fight unitedly with the leadership of the KNU till freedom is obtained.

Karen nationals,

One regrettable episode of 1994 is that we are misunderstood and opposed by some yebaws, who due to instigations, are saying Christians oppressed Buddhists and denied them rights. This act is the scheme of the enemy. The enemy struck at us to cause our disintegration.

It is explicitly prescribed in the KNU organizational rules that all religions shall have freedom of worship.

It is prescribed that religions be not of lower or higher status, that they be equal and shall not find fault in each other, that they be united.

According to the words of the elders, unity brings success. What the enemy said about Christians oppressing Buddhists is totally untrue. The truth is, Christians and Buddhists are friendly. They help each other. When monasteries are built, the required timber and other items were given. Help was given to each other as necessary.

Because we leaders truly desire peace and unity, none of the yebaws who believed the enemy will face action or be punished. We forgave and wrote off all their acts.

As our elders said, just as the sky is not free of clouds, no one is free from faults. Therefore, all those who have believed the enemy’s instigation should revert to what is right and collectively take part in work that will be of benefit to Karen nationals. I want all Karen nationals to be united and work together with one mind in 1995.

Karen nationals, all yebaws,

You will see that if the faces of roosters which are creatures, are smeared with pot-black and set against each other, they will fight. In making them fight thus, the one who makes them do it does not suffer. Those who fight suffer. The enemy has smeared us with pot-black and made us fight one another. If we fight against each other, who will suffer? We Karen suffer. If Karen fight each other, the enemy will applaud and will be happy.

In a past episode, the enemies used Karen to assassinate Kawkasa Saw Ba U Gyi. The enemy issued weapons to them and made them fight the KNU. They sacrificed their lives for the enemy in vain.

Therefore, build the unity that will be of benefit to Karen nationals with a view to forging unity of the entire Karen nationals. As 1994 comes to a close, forsake the instigation of the enemies and march toward unity. May all Karen nationals find unity, peace, prosperity and success on this auspicious Karen New Year.’ [xiii]

The deadline passed without comment while U Thuzana, trying to rally support and create a civilian base, sent a letter, dated the 2nd January 1995, to all refugee camps in Thailand stating that:

‘Weapons must be confiscated as quickly as possible from every Christian leader who settles in these camps. All Karen Buddhist refugee families can come to Burma by car from Mae Ta Wah freely to Pa-an city. From Pa-an city you will be sent to your own native village. There is a launch already prepared for anybody who will return you will be safe on your trip.

No Christians, only Karen Buddhists are allowed to go. No Christians will be given safe passage. Do not let any hesitation or hindrance stop you from returning.

Time of peace in Karen State has come.’ [xiv]

Refugees were also allowed to return to Myaing Gyi Ngu and Thu Mweh Hta , however, those wishing to do so had to follow strict rules:

To remain vegetarian forever inside and outside the camp.

No one is to argue or to cause trouble outside the camp.

There is to be no division between races.

Everybody must keep the 5th Commandment of the Guatama Buddha (Do not kill).

Do not gossip or use slander that will cause harm to anybody in the compound.

No political discussions or arguments are allowed to disturb the people in the compound.

No religion apart from Buddhism is allowed to be discussed in the compound. [xv]

With the passing of the deadline and DKBA attempts to turn Buddhist Karen against Christians full-scale fighting was inevitable. On the 3rd of January 1995, fighting broke out at Thu Mweh Hta monastery. Khaw Taw village (Myaing Gyi Ngu) was shelled the next day destroying two monasteries and the ordination hall. The DKBA force, consisting of about four hundred men, and backed by the Tatmadaw, immediately began an offensive against Manerplaw.

Continue reading The formation of the DKBA


U Thuzana reappears

Interesting to note a recent report on the Karen Times website suggesting that further conflict could emerge between the Kyaw Htet led DKBA and the DKBA/KKO.

While such conflict is unlikely to be news, neither the DKBA/KKO, KNLA or BGF have shown much love for Kyaw Htet (see Conflict Over Highway Taxation in Kayin State) the fact that the newly formed Kyaw Htet DKBA has somehow sworn allegiance to the original patriarch, U Thuzana, of the first DKBA splinter group is an interesting twist.

According to the report, Saw Three Htoo, a former DKBA/KKO Major and now a member of the Kyaw Htet faction, said that conflict began after Major Thura, a leader of another DKBA faction, presumably the DKBA/KKO, began to disobey orders from his senior and brigade Commander Major General Pah Bi (sometimes spelt Po Bi) and was arrested on 1 April 2016.

Major General Pah Bi, then a Lt. Col., was head of Karen BGF 1012 until they defected to the DKBA units led by the late Saw Lah Pwe who had refused to join the BGF plan. Pah Bi kicked out his Myanmar military advisors, on 24 May 2011, and ordered his 500 troops to join the DKBA. After this he took up positions around Mae Tha Waw the area where the Karen Times report states that ‘Major Thura was appointed and assigned special duty by the influential monk Oo Thuzana to man the border gate and be in charge of the monastery in Mae Ta Wor. . without the knowledge and approval of Major General Pah Bi early this year. Thereafter conflict began when Major Thura said that he would no longer take and obey orders from DKBA or KNU, and considered Oo Thuzana as his only true leader who he will obey in the future.’

Major Thura has not been released and his whereabouts are still unknown according to the report.

The re-emergence of U Thuzana who has kept a relatively low profile over the last few years and the fact that, according to the report, the Kyaw Thet DKBA is supported by U Thuzana should be a major concern. Once again taxation of the local people to support individual armed groups, and possibly the building of more monasteries (although that remains to be seen!), once again appears to be the order of the day.

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.