Friday, May 29, 2009

Cease-fire groups transitioning into “Border Guard Forces” join government patrols following Moulmein bombings

By Kon Hadae and Blai Mon

(Mon News) -Two ethnic Karen cease-fire groups are participating in security patrols at Three Pagodas Pass following bomb blasts in Moulmein earlier this week. The joint patrols are unprecedented and precede the groups’ planned transformations into controversial government “Border Guard Forces” (BGF).

Following three bomb blasts in Moulmein on May 27th, authorities in Three Pagodas Pass, on the Thai-Burma border, began conducting nightly security patrols. Beginning at 7pm on the night of the blasts, trucks of soldiers and police began driving around the border town.

According to local residents, Burma’s State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) army and police typically conduct such patrols in Three Pagodas Town. The recent patrols, however, have featured trucks filled with a mix of soldiers drawn from the SPDC army, police and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen Peace Force (KPF).

The DKBA and KPF both operate checkpoints inside Three Pagodas, and joint DKBA-SPDC patrols are common in Karen State, but a combined operation with all three groups, inside the border town, is unusual.

“The day that the bombs exploded in Moulmein, the authorities made night patrols in the town that evening. Not only SPDC soldiers took part in the patrol, but also soldiers from the DKBA and KPF joined with SPDC soldiers,” an eyewitness from Three Pagodas told IMNA. “This is the first time these three groups combined to make a patrol. Before, they had never done this.”

The joint patrols are a likely product of the groups’ planned transformations into BGF battalions. The SPDC is currently pressuring ethnic cease-fire groups across Burma to disarm or transform themselves into BGF battalions, which will feature mandatory training by the SPDC army and command structure joined by SPDC officers.

The push for transformations into BGF battalions is a controversial one, which the majority of Burma’s ethnic cease-fire groups have avoided via protracted negotiation, stalling or – in the case of the United Wa State Party, Burma’s largest armed ceasefire group – outright refusal.

The ethnic Karen groups, which both split from the large Karen National Union (KNU) in the late 1990s, have been less reticent to make the change. The KPF has been officially reported to be transforming into a BGF, with planned training to take place near Waekalee and Yethagon villages in Thanbyuzayat Township, Mon State.

Though the DKBA has not officially announced it will be forming BGF battalions, it is widely known to be doing so. In January, the Irrawaddy reported that DKBA Commander Chit Thu of Battalion No. 999 had been saying as much in Independence Day celebrations. And yesterday, the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) released a report documenting a new recruiting push by Commander Chit Thu, which a KNU official quoted by HURFOM attributed to DKBA desire to form multiple BGF battalions.

Details on how BGF battalions formed by different groups will interact have not been released, and it is unclear what territory or duties they will command. The Irrawaddy story from January, for instance, predicted that the DKBA would be acting as border guards in the Myawaddy area, north of Three Pagodas Pass.

Increased security following the Moulmein explosions has also been reported by sources in Myawaddy, though IMNA could not confirm participation by the DKBA or KPF. “Soldiers are standing security outside the USDA [Union Solidarity and Development Association, a government-supported civilian organization] office, because they [the soldiers] heard the bomb was detonated near the USDA office in Moulmein,” an eyewitness from Myawaddy told IMNA. “They are guarding it at night time. They have rotating duty for guarding USDA office. For each hour, four soldiers have to guard the office – in rotations for the whole night.”

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