Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – At least 1,000 refugees over the weekend fled fresh clashes between junta troops and units from a breakaway brigade of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army in the east of Burma’s Karen State, ethnic armed groups said.
The villagers escaped to the south of the Thai border town of Mae Sot, joining about 200 who had fled late on Saturday when clashes erupted between Burmese troops and the breakaway faction of the DKBA, one of the many such battles this month, Reuters also reported.
Fighting broke out in two locations on November 8 as DKBA splinter battalions seized parts of Burmese border town Myawaddy, across the Moei River from Mae Sot, Thailand. At least 20,000 villagers crossed into Mae Sot and five Thais were wounded when rocket-propelled grenades landed on the Thai side. At the same time, other breakaway DKBA units took over Payathonsu, a town about 333 miles (535 kilometres) to the south of Myawaddy near Three Pagodas Pass, sending at least 2,500 refugees into Sangkhlaburi, Thailand.
In the most recent of clashes between the two sides, DKBA Battalion 901 led by Bo A-One fought a Burmese army column from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 406 near Three-hut village, between Kyeinchaung and Chaungsone villages, about 18 miles west of Payathonsu.
“This battle is not an ambush it’s engagement. Bo A-One told me over phone this morning that they had no casualties. We also didn’t hear of any severe casualties among junta troops,” KNLA Brigade 6 Captain Hte Nay told Mizzima.
He predicted that the battles might continue for the next few days. The situation was under observation by the KNLA and it would help the DKBA faction fight junta troops if the current conflict escalated, he said.
Meanwhile, DKBA Battalion 902 led by Colonel Kyaw Thet ambushed junta troops from IB 61, 547 and 230 on Saturday and Sunday as they were being sent to reinforce comrades in Myawaddy Township. The ambush took place near Phalu village, 12 miles south of Myawaddy, killed one junta soldier and wounded eight, a splinter DKBA battalion commander said.
“First they just used small weapons then the junta fired 81-millimetre mortar shells from positions on the Dawna mountain range, west of Phalu village. But these shells were wasted as we had moved out of the area,” he told Mizzima.
But aid agency Karen Human Rights Group [KHRG] reported yesterday that while shells might have missed DKBA troops, they were definitely having an impact on civilians across Dooplaya District, especially in the north where Phalu is situated.
“Clashes were most recently reported this morning, November 28th 2010, at 8 a.m. near Palu [Phalu] Village, Kawkareik Township, Dooplaya District. Fighting in Palu injured at least one villager yesterday and, according to villagers that spoke with KHRG, most residents have fled to seek protection in Thailand,” the agency reported in a news bulletin yesterday.
Fighting was expected to continue, the KHRG report said, citing a DKBA officer who spoke with its members yesterday morning, who said that the Burmese military command appeared to be sending reinforcements.
“Civilians taking refuge in Thailand will need continued protection. Refugees from Palu who spoke with KHRG say they are currently able to stay in Thailand and are receiving support from relief organisations. Thai soldiers are all around them, they said, and some worry they will be ordered to return the moment sounds of fighting are no longer audible,” KHRG said.
Fighting started in Phalu yesterday at 3 p.m. with clashes kicking off again at 8:13 p.m. and ending at 8:30 p.m. the KHRG reported.
“At least five shells also fell in or near Palu starting at 9:15 p.m. and ending at 9:40 pm. One civilian, Saw Ht--- [sic] … was injured by [junta] mortars and, according to community members providing support to refugees from Palu, [was] taken to a hospital in Thailand. His condition has yet to be confirmed,” it said.
Dr. Cynthia Maung’s Students’ Clinic from Mae Sot led social, women’s and young people’s organisations to help the refugees, providing them with food, water and medicine, clinic assistant Thar Win told Mizzima.
“They have been crossing the Thai border in boats since Saturday evening. Many more crossed the border yesterday. From the Thai side we saw [Burmese Army] artillery shells landing on Burmese territory. Most of these refugees are children, women and the elderly,” Thar Win said.
Thai border police and military have rounded up most of the refugees and were observing the situation. These refugees would be sent back to their homes when the clashes subside and the normality was restored, a source said.
DKBA Brigade 5 under Colonel Saw Lah Pwe, aka Bo Moustache, has refused junta orders to join its Border Guard Force (BGF) under Burmese Army command. Ten days ago, 38 of the splinter group’s members rejoined the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the Karen National Union, long-time foes of the DKBA, which broke away and signed a ceasefire deal with the junta in 1994. The KNU refused to sign.
Mizzima and Reuters have reported that the clashes underlined tensions between the Burmese ruling military junta and Burma’s many armed ethnic groups, which have fought for autonomy or some form of self-determination since independence from Britain in 1948. More than a dozen have tenuous ceasefire deals with the government.
Most of the ethnic militias have resisted the BGF idea and the larger armies were braced for offensives, which could result in heavy casualties, it reported.
Six of the ethnic militias early this month formed an alliance promising to support each other by keeping the Burmese Army busy in one area if the army was attacking another member of the alliance, Mizzima has reported.
The junta denied attempts by several leaders to form political parties to run in the November 7 national election because of their refusal to transfer their fighters to the BGF. Most distrust the junta and believe Burma should be a federal republic.
Many analysts expect war is imminent, a scenario that will worry Thailand and key political and economic ally China, who fear protracted conflict, a refugee crisis and a disruption to trade and vital energy projects, Reuters reported.
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