This month, Karen armed groups have been engaged in almost daily skirmishes, resulting in several casualties, following the decision
by the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) to sack military leaders San Aung and Kyaw Thet, who reportedly control some 500
troops between them.
A source on the ground said that the Burmese government wanted the pair sidelined because of their control of unlawful toll points
along the newly built Asia Highway 1, which connects Thailand’s border town of Mae Sot to Burma’s commercial capital, Rangoon. A
total of three Karen armed groups levy fees on the highway, with many trucks now avoiding the route to escape an impost that can
amount to 100,000 kyats [US$83] for the journey between Myawaddy and Kawkareik.
Questions linger as to why DKBA chief Saw Lah Pwe failed to protect the two men. San Aung and Kyaw Thet have both earned their
stripes for the Karen cause, taking a major role in 2010’s election day fighting in Myawaddy against the Burma Armed Forces against
a backdrop of alleged vote tampering and election fraud in the town.
Sources close to the DKBA say that the outfit’s ailing chief, who is battling throat cancer, received 5 million kyats ($4170) from
Saw Chit Thu for medical treatment in Singapore during a visit to Rangoon. The decision to cut San Aung and Kyaw Thet loose is
believed to be the result of a quid pro quo.
San Aung and Kyaw Thet are now being aggressively hunted by a joint force of the DKBA, the Border Guard Force and Brigade 6 of the
Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).
Whatever the provenance of the fighting, and whatever the government’s role in stoking the flames, to outsiders the latest conflict
will be seen as nothing more than another sorry battle in a long line of Karen factional feuds.
While KNU president Mutu Say Poe supports the efforts towards brokering a nationwide ceasefire agreement, his deputy Naw Zipporah
Sein has publicly stated her doubts. It is noteworthy that Zipporah Sein was recently selected to represent the political wing of
the Karen armed struggle in future ceasefire negotiations.
On the sideline, the government waits with a soft voice and a big stick, ready to take advantage the next time divisions boil over.
Previous divisions splintered the Karen resistance into five armed groups, leading to pitched battles and assassination campaigns
waged against rival leaderships. On every occasion, the government has shrewdly capitalized and the military has consolidated its
hold over Karen territory.
Those on the ground fear that once San Aung and Kyaw Thet’s forces are wiped out, the next move will be on KNLA Brigade 5 in
northern Karen state, led by Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Baw Kyaw Heh. He controls the strongest contingent in the KNLA and has
doubts about the current peace program as a result of the military increasing its presence in his territory during ceasefire