While the rest of the world is fighting the Coronavirus pandemic, the Burma Army ordered the Karen National Union to close its Covid-19 screening post it had set up in Doothathoo (Thaton) district on 30 April 2020. The Burma Army interference came despite requests from the community, government officials and a Member of Parliament.
Doothathoo (Thaton) district is a mixed controlled area and lacks any Covid-19 screening facilities other than those operated by the KNU’s health department.
KNU Thaton District officials said they had set up a total of nine screening posts in their controlled area, since the beginning of April, to aid in the prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The KNU’s initiative came under criticism from local Burma Army pressure, and in response closed three screening posts in the Mos-ko areas – six screening posts now remain active in the area.
Padoh Saw Soe Myint, Secretary of the KNU’s Thaton District, said they shut down one of its Covid-19 screening posts following several complaints from Major Aung Ko Ko, Deputy Commander of Artillery Battalion 502 operating in the area. Padoh Saw Soe Myint said Major Aung Ko Ko made several visits over two days, from April 25 to 27, and delivered a South-East Command directive banning the setting up of screening posts in mixed administrative areas.
Padoh Saw Soe Myint told Karen News that on April 30, 2020, to avoid creating tension with the Burma Army, the KNU shut down its Covid-19 screening post at Zay-ma-thwe village in Mos-ko area of Thaton District and according to government administration, it is in Thaton Township of Mon State, an area that is under mixed administration.
Padoh Saw Soe Myint said the local community wanted the KNU to set up a screening post and the local government administration and the Member of Parliament had also given the testing facility the green light. Padoh Saw Soe Myint said the Burma Army closures did not make sense.
“Deputy Battalion commander [Major Aung Ko Ko] told us we needed to get permission from the State/Region government to set up screening posts. We put in place the screening posts, as the government side had not done anything – we had requests from the local community. We consulted with the government administrative board and members of parliament were in the know. And they all agreed it should be done. However, the army was not pleased and came time and again, to tell us to shut the facility down. Initially, we thought of continuing the work, but we did not want problems. The military even threatened action could be taken against us for doing the screening”.
Padoh Saw Myint Soe said under the supervision of the KNU Health Department, the local community leaders and youths took part in the screening – taking temperatures of travelers, asking people to wash hands and put on masks and making a list of incoming and outgoing people.
“If the government had done it, we would not have a need to set up screening posts,” added Padoh Saw Myint Soe. “We did it because no one was doing the work. In fact, they could have come and consulted with us. The whole world is fighting to prevent this disease, we are also part of the global fight and have no desire to gain a political advantage. We can’t help but suspect they [Burma Army] disapproved of our work in order to let the virus spread and infect our Karen people in the area.”
When Karen News contacted Colonel Maung Maung Lat, a spokeperson for the Burma Army South-Eastern Command for comment, he responded by stating, “Either armed persons or uniformed persons cannot come into the area. The objection was probably due to that account.”
It was not the first time KNU screening posts upset the Burma government. On April 17, a KNU Covid-19 after setting up a screening post in Htone-bo-gyi village, the Karen/Kayin State Security and Border Affairs minister sent an objection letter to the KNU Central Liaison Office, telling the KNU not to interfere in the district administration, and to abide by the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) terms and conditions.
With the aim of undertaking measures to prevent and control the Covid-19 disease in regions where the Ethnic Armed Organizations are based, the Myanmar Government President’s Office had issued a statement, dated April 27, announcing the formation of the “Committee for Coordination with the Ethnic Armed Organizations for the Prevention, Control and Treatment of Covid-19”.
The KNU Thaton District officials said that they had set up a total of nine screening post in their own area, starting from the beginning of April, for the prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, due to local Burma Army’s pressure, they had shut down three screening posts at Mos-ko areas with only six screening posts remaining active in the areas.
Karen News is lead to understand that on April 30, two columns of Burma Army soldiers had taken up positions near the roadway where the KNU screening post is situated – this led to the KNU shutting down the post to avoid further tensions leading to armed conflict.