Thursday, June 25, 2009

KNU Headquarters Overrun: Now What?

The Irrawaddy News

After a long offensive, the Burmese army and its ceasefire militia, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), has overrun the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade 7 headquarters.

The question now is: What’s next?

Karen sources and analysts said the fighting will continue as the joint Burmese army and DKBA troops focus their attacks toward the KNLA Brigade 6 area.

Analysts said powerful business interests are supporting the offensive.

(Graphic: The Irrawaddy)

The Burmese regime’s goal is to control all of central Karen State, where the Karen National Union’s KNLA Brigade 7 and 6 are now located, in order to dominate the business and border trade activity with Thailand, said one DKBA businessman who asked for anonymity.

Once dominated, many industries, companies and infrastructure will be improved and supported by the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said the businessman.

Important activities will include logging and mining natural resources, including zinc, he said.

He said the Burmese authorities and DKBA troops will construct roads to connect between army headquarters in Myaing Gyi Ngu and border areas.

Once the clashes end, the relationship between the DKBA and local Thai authorities and businessmen in Mae Sot will expand when compared to the past, businessmen said.

During the recent fighting, a KNU leader said two DKBA leaders were spotted in a car traveling with Thai police near the border where Karen refugees have sought shelter in Tha Song Yang District in Tak Province.

Analysts also said the situation will be more dangerous for the KNU and Burmese opposition groups in exile when the border area is controlled by DKBA troops.

Maj Hla Ngwe, the joint secretary (1) of the KNU, said the loss of KNLA Brigade 7 headquarters could affect the work of Burmese opposition organizations based in Mae Sot.

“The opposition movement will be limited. They might not launch campaigns as they did before,” said Hla Ngwe.

Border sources also say more assassinations could be expected in the border area, where many Burmese and ethnic opposition groups are based.

In February 2008, the KNU’s late general secretary, Mahn Sha, was gun down by two DKBA members at his home near the center of Mae Sot. Many sources claimed the assassination also involved Thai border police.

Border sources said that DKBA members will have easy access to Mae Sot once the relationship between the DKBA and Thai border authorities is established.

A sign of the evolving transition in the power center, said the businessman, is that DKBA soldiers are now receiving medical care in Mae Sot. What’s happening is “very obvious,” he said.

The DKBA plans to expand its troops from 6,000 to 9,000 in preparation for its transformation to become a border guard force under the Burmese army. The DKBA split from it mother organization, the KNU, and signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese regime in 1995.

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