Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Fighting between a breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and Burmese junta troops broke out in Myawaddy, on the Burmese side of the border with Thailand, this morning and clashes were continuing, residents in the town and in the Mae Sot on the Thai side said.
About two civilians have reportedly been killed in crossfire and at least 5,000 refugees have fled across the border to avoid the battles, according to Thai government sources, residents of both towns and witnesses.
DKBA Battalion 902, under Brigade 5, led by Lieutenant Colonel Saw Kyaw Thet, was involved in the clashes and had fired heavy weapons near the Thai-Burmese Friendship Bridge, a resident in Myawaddy told Mizzima over the telephone
The two fatalities were a rickshaw driver and his passenger, a resident said.
A Myawaddy resident said at about 1:30 p.m. (Thai time) he saw more than 400 DKBA soldiers in position on the junction of Kyangin Road and Asia highway, which runs west, about 100 yards (90 metres) from the bridge.
Mizzima spoke to a person stranded at a shop on that junction during the clash, who said DKBA troops were firing rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns and throwing grenades against junta forces who had taken up position on the Myawaddy end of the bridge.
“I had to take cover. The rebel forces are in front of this shop. They fired about 10 RPG shells towards the Myawaddy bridge. We dare not go out and see, maybe the bridge has collapsed because of these explosions. There are a lot of rebel forces outside,” he said.
Heavy casualties were being taken on both sides, a DKBA commander told Mizzima.
The number of people fleeing across the river was increasing and had reportedly reached 5,000, on fears that after a brief lull in battle, fighting would resume later in this afternoon, Thai government sources and witnesses said.
At about 9 a.m. today, rocket-propelled grenades exploded at the entrance to the bridge across the Moei River in Mae Sot, the resident said.
Meanwhile, fighting also broke out between DKBA and Burmese junta troops in Kawkareik, Karen State, according to an unconfirmed report from a military source. He said the DKBA had launched an attack on junta troops, which were being sent from Hpaan to reinforce the troops in Myawaddy.
Another Myawaddy resident also said the DKBA unit had forcibly taken at least 500 civilians as porters up towards Three Pagodas Pass, as the Karen force aimed to cut off the Burmese Army reinforcements.
“We daren’t go onto the streets … [which are] deserted now. We’re worried about being killed in crossfire. The power supply is cut in the area and we can’t do anything. We can’t go anywhere else. We heard the explosions and gunfire,” the resident said.
Many shots also crossed onto the Thai side of the border, the Bangkok Post reported, the Thai border, forcing evacuations of people in Tak province’s Mae Sot district.
Tak Governor Samart Loyfa said he had instructed authorities to close down the road to Burmese border and evacuate Thai residents and traders from the area immediately, the report said.
Samart confirmed that many shells had landed on the Thai side of the bridge and outside Mae Sot’s immigration checkpoint, the Post reported.
Some Thai people had sustained bullet wounds and were taken to Mae Sot Hospital for treatment, the Post report said, quoting him.
Thai Fifteenth Infantry Regiment commander Supachoke Thawatpeerachai said troops were patrolling along the river Thai-Burmese border. This claim was supported by a Mizzima reporter, who photographed Thai soldiers, some on four-wheel motorcycles, riding along the river towards the conflict zone.
“The Thai army will retaliate with heavy weapons [artillery] if the situation gets out of control and affects Thai people,” Supachoke told the Post.
The checkpoint at Mae Sot had already been closed for months. “Thai soldiers have been ordered not to fire back but to monitor the situation very closely,” Lieutenant General Wanthip told the Post.
Gunshots were still being heard in border areas, reports said.
DKBA Brigade 5 led by Colonel Saw Lah Pwe, aka Na Kham Mwe or Bo Moustache; is the only DKBA faction to reject the junta’s border guard force (BGF) proposal. Tension between that group and the junta’s army has been mounting since the group rejected the BGF plan.
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