Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Junta Hit Men

The Irrawaddy News

Col Chit Thu, the commander of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) Battalion 999 is now believed to be the most powerful man in the DKBA administration.

According to Karen sources on the border, he ordered the week-long offensive against the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade 7 that ended on 21 June, and he has ordered his forces to move against KNLA Brigades 6 and 5.

Though other commanders like Gen Kyaw Than, chief of the DKBA, and Thar Htoo Kyaw, chairman of the DKBA’s political wing, are more senior, Chit Thu is more popular because he gets things done, the sources said.

“Chit Thu is an active man,” said a DKBA source. “He is also popular for his community development work in education, health care, and Karen culture, and he is good at lobbying people.”

Chit Thu is now believed to the most powerful decision-maker in both the DKBA’s military wing and its political administration.

DKBA sources report that Col Chit Thu owns large businesses dealing with logging and auto trading, and is involved in drug trafficking. He regularly flies to countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong to facilitate his car importing business, the sources said.

The DKBA remains the only ceasefire group that has signed an agreement with the military regime in June to transform its troops into a border guard force.

Since April, Chit Thu has been overseeing the conscription, possibly forced, of new recruits for the new battalions of the border force. Each battalion must consist of 326 soldiers.

The DKBA has also been assigned the role of cleaning up the KNLA areas and reinforcing troop strength along the Thai-Burmese border.

During the recent attacks against KNLA Brigade 7, the DKBA soldiers were paid to take front line positions, and local Karen villagers were forced to work as porters in the front line with them.

Col Chit Thu, the commander of the DKBA Battalion 999. (Photo: Phil Thornton)

Some DKBA leaders realized that they were wrong to attack fellow Karen in the KNLA and Karen civilians, Karen sources said.

“The DKBA leaders knew that they were being used by the Burmese regime. But there is no possibility for DKBA leaders to rejoin the KNU [Karen National Union] because of their business interests,” said one Karen source on the border.

Many members of the DKBA get nothing while their leaders get richer and richer, however.

“This inequality will just get worse,” the border source commented.

According to a DKBA businessman, the DKBA plans to join the Burmese authorities in managing the border trade after they have destroyed the KNLA bases along the Thai-Burma border.

The DKBA leaders are hoping to increase their business activities and build a road connecting their headquarters at Myaing Gyi Ngu with the Thai border, he said.

DKBA ventures involve logging, mining minerals such as zinc and tin, and building factories and business enterprises.

However, the border trade will be controlled directly by the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the businessman said.

“Once they have become a border guard force, the DKBA soldiers will be paid by the Burmese regime. So, I doubt they will be able to earn big profits. Most of the money will go to the Burmese regime,” he said.

Among the DKBA leaders, Col Chit Thu is thought to have the best relationship with the Burmese military, and he has been the most effective in following junta orders, said border sources.

Chit Thu was reportedly given large sums of money by the Burmese authorities for the attack on KNLA Brigade 7.

Meanwhile, disagreements are said to be growing among some of the DKBA leaders. The latest victim was San Pyote (aka Soe Myint), the influential commander of DKBA Battalion 7.

San Pyote was ambushed and killed by an unknown armed group while traveling by longtail boat on the Moei River on June 26.

Karen sources speculated that Col Chit Thu was involved, but others said that it might have been the result of a personal conflict.

“The attack looked intentional as they only shot at the boat carrying San Pyote,” said a DKBA source.

Border sources say that the DKBA is not interested in politics, but only in doing business, and will do anything for money.

After separating from the KNU and signing a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese in 1995, the DKBA staged daring attacks on several Karen refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border with the help of Burmese troops.

In 1997-98, Huay Kaloke refugee camp, about 10 km (6 miles) from Mae Sot, was attacked and burned down by DKBA soldiers.

After the assassination of the late KNU general secretary, Mahn Sha, in February 2008, many border sources have reported that San Pyote was given hundreds of thousands of Thai baht by the Burmese authorities.

The DKBA appear to be playing the role of junta hit men on the Thai-Burmese border.

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