Monday, June 15, 2009

KNU Rejects Regime Version of Fighting

The Irrawaddy News

The Karen National Union (KNU) has rejected a Burmese government statement saying the thousands of Karen refugees fleeing fighting in eastern Burma are not civilians, but members of the KNU’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and their families.

The KNU also challenged claims by the Burmese Foreign Ministry that no Burmese army troops were involved in the fighting, which the regime maintained is solely between the KNLA and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA).

The regime claims came in a Foreign Ministry statement, issued on Saturday in response to one from the European Union presidency, expressing concern about the exodus to Thailand of up to 6,000 Karen refugees since early June. The Foreign Ministry charged that the EU was reacting to inaccurate information from insurgent groups and biased media reports.

Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win described the EU statement as politically motivated. David Takapaw, vice chairman of the KNU, dismissed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs response as regime propaganda.

Karen villagers have been fleeing fighting in areas of southern Karen State controlled by the KNLA Brigade 7.

A base manned by KNLA Battalion 21 was seized and burnt down by the joint force on Sunday, 14 June, according to Karen sources. The DKBA have also taken the camps of KNLA Battalions 22 and 101, the sources said.

Camp 22 fell on the morning of Monday, 15 June, said Don Ka Ohn, a relief worker with the Free Burma Rangers (FBR). The DKBA soldiers are now deployed around the area, he said.

In its statement on the fighting and the flood of refugees, the Burmese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “It is obvious that those who fled across the border are none other than members of the KNLA and their families. Thus, there is no cross-border fleeing of civilians as alleged by the EU’s declaration.”

David Takapaw responded: “The Burmese regime is cheating and spreading its propaganda because the fleeing refugees are real Karen civilians who are mostly farmers.”

His assessment was endorsed by Sally Thompson, deputy director of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, who said refugees from the fighting who were arriving in Thailand were villagers, mostly women and children. They were fleeing not only the fighting but also the danger of being recruited as soldiers or army porters.

Don Ka Ohn of the FBR also stated that two pregnant Karen women named Naw Wah Rah and Daw Tay were reportedly raped and killed by Burmese soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 205 led by Than Htet and Kyi Myo Thant.

The two Karen women, who lived in Kwee Law Ploe village in Hlinebwe Township in Pa-an district, were killed by the Burmese soldiers on June 12, while their husbands were hiding in the jungle to avoid serving as army porters, according to the report.

The Foreign Ministry statement’s denial that any Burmese army troops were involved in the fighting said: “The fighting took place between the two armed groups DKBA and KNU/ KNLA. Members of the government armed forces had no role whatsoever in the recent scuffles.”

David Takapaw accused the regime of engaging in “psychological warfare to make our Karen people misunderstand each other.”

Takapaw said the Burmese army was directing frontline attacks while giving mortar cover. In this way, the regime could say the fighting was between two armed Karen groups, he said.

Five battalions of the Burmese army’s Light Infantry Division 22—numbering about 500 troops—were involved in the ongoing fighting in KNLA Brigade 7 areas, according to Takapaw.

The Burmese government says it has reached ceasefire agreement with 17 ethnic armed groups since 1989, with the exception only of the KNU.

Karen people around the world have, meanwhile, collectively called on the UN Security Council to pass a binding resolution calling for an immediate end to military attacks, and imposing a global arms embargo on the Burmese government on the grounds that it is a threat to regional and international peace and security.

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