Thursday, June 11, 2009

Joint Forces Concentrate on Mortar Attacks against KNU

The Irrawaddy News

Burmese and Democratic Karen Buddhist troops (DKBA) have fired more than 200 mortar rounds in clashes with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade 7 in Pa-an District in southern Karen State since early June, according to Karen sources.

The Burmese army fired six mortar rounds on Thursday morning, at least 19 rounds on Wednesday and about 30 rounds on Tuesday, sources said.

In this photo released by Free Burma Rangers, a Karen mother and her baby flee in the rain from the clashes between Burma army and Karen guerrillas. (Photo: AP/Free Burma Ranger)

About 100 soldiers from joint Burmese and DKBA forces have been killed or injured in the fighting while two soldiers from the KNLA were injured, according to a Karen relief group. The KNLA is the military wing of the Karen National Union (KNU).

David Takapaw, the vice chairman of the KNU, said that about 20 soldiers from the joint force have been killed and about 40 injured. “The more they [DKBA soldiers] come, the more they die. The Burmese army is just firing mortar rounds,” he said.

Sources said the joint force has not launched ground attacks because of extensive KNL landmines around their positions.

Poe Shen, a field director for Karen Human Rights Group, said dead and injured soldiers from the joint force were mostly DKBA soldiers forced to fight in the frontline positions while the Burmese army stays behind and fires mortars.

About 10 Burmese battalions—numbering about 2,000 soldiers—under Military Operation Command 4 based in Rangoon Division’s Phugyi recently arrived in southern Karen Sate as reinforcements, according to Burmese military sources.

One Karen source close to the DKBA said that more troops from the Burmese army are coming. He said DKBA soldiers have arrested civilians traveling along the Moei River near the combat zone and forced them to serve as porters and soldiers.

The mortar attack is designed to weaken KNLA forces and will likely be followed by a ground attack, said a source close to the DKBA.

The joint force plans to attack KNLA Brigade 7 until it has removed it from the area it controls. One source said the joint force is prepared to lose 500 soldiers in the operation before it seizes the KNLA area.

Due to the clashes, an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 Karen villagers have been displaced, with many arriving in Thailand as refugees. Many villagers are also hiding in the jungle in Karen State, according to Karen relief groups.

Sally Thompson, the deputy executive director for the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium that assists refugees, said, “The people want to able to return to their villages as soon as possible. But, we don’t know if the situation would allow it or not. There is no ground attack at the moment. But, there is still shelling in the areas.”

The most recent attacks were being launched by Burmese battalions under Light Infantry Division 22 and DKBA battalions 999, 555 and 333. The force is reportedly about 9,000 soldiers strong, according to Karen sources.

Meanwhile, Kyaw Ye Min wrote in an article in a state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, on Thursday that the regime has managed to make peace with other ethnic armed groups for national reconciliation, but KNU troops have showed no sign of wanting peace with the government.

The writer said, “There remains only a handful of KNU remnants, and they are taking shelter at the refugee camps in Thailand. Then, they frequently leave their camps, secretly enter Myanmar, and wage guerrilla attacks.”

“However, the government has still opened the peace door to the remaining groups. This has been said again and again,” the writer said.

The newspaper rebuked the Thai government for its recent criticism of the trial of the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It said the Thai government is not a good friend and is interfering in Burma’s internal affairs.

“If you cooperate with us with genuine goodwill and consider yourself as a good friend, there will be no burden or threats at your border due to [the] internal affairs of Myanmar [Burma],” the article said.

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