CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Burmese troops have attacked a group of ethnic Karen soldiers in the country’s southeast, leaving one man dead and raising concerns about the government’s commitment to a nationwide ceasefire, Karen sources say.
The alleged attack on the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) at an outpost in Tenasserim Division comes as the government army continues a much more publicized offensive in the country’s far north against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
About 80 soldiers from the Burma Army attacked more than 10 soldiers from KNLA Brigade 4 on Saturday at a frontline outpost in Dawei Township, Tenasserim Division, according to Saw Tamular, an official with the KNLA’s political wing, the Karen National Union (KNU). Citing information from KNLA Brigade 4, he said government troops seized two guns from the Karen soldiers, who belonged to Battalion 11.
“They knew we had an outpost there and that our soldiers were there. They asked our troops to raise their hands, and when our soldiers raised their hands, they shot,” he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “The one who died was shot three times—at his arm, his eyebrow and his chest. It is clear that they deliberately shot him.”
The KNU is the oldest ethnic armed group in Burma and has been fighting against the Burmese government for greater autonomy since 1948. After President Thein Sein began a peacemaking program with ethnic groups in 2011, the KNU signed a bilateral ceasefire in 2012.
“We have asked our leaders to investigate and solve the problem. It is not fair that we suffer attacks after agreeing to a ceasefire. We want peace,” Tamular said. “We have tried to avoid military means, but this will be difficult if they don’t avoid it. If our soldiers are attacked and killed repeatedly, we don’t guarantee anything.”
He said lower-rank military officers and soldiers were unhappy about the attacks but wanted KNU leaders and concerned government officials to handle the conflict in an appropriate way.
“We want them to solve the problem in a timely manner and to ensure that it won’t happen again. This is not the first time they have attacked us,” he added, citing a similar attack on Friday without any casualties.
He said several months ago government troops also attacked soldiers from KNLA Brigade 4, Battalion 203, along Yay Naunt River.
“They shot our soldiers from Battalion 203 on a boat. They said they mistakenly fired. We didn’t report the incident because none of our soldiers died at the time. But this time we lost our soldier, so we reported it to our higher leader,” Tamular said.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Burmese government-associated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) met with ethnic leaders from the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, over the weekend.
“They said the government peace team wants to hold another round of talks at the end of this month and sign nationwide ceasefire agreement as soon as possible. But we didn’t agree to that because we are not ready. We need to discuss a draft document [of the nationwide ceasefire] with other ethnic leaders,” Nai Hong Sar, chairman of the NCCT, told The Irrawaddy.
Asked about the government army’s alleged attack on KNLA troops in Dawei, he said, “This incident weakens trust that the government had gained from the ethnics.”