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Villagers Panic as Burma Army Camps Take Up Position in Temples – KNLA Accuse Burma Army of Violating National Ceasefire Agreement

Civilians from Kyauk Ket village are worried. They fear the increase in soldiers now settled at two Burma Army camps near the village located 30kms south of Thai-Burma border town of Myawaddy will escalate conflict with local ethnic armed organizations.

By Sa Isue

Villagers told Karen News, Tamadaw (Burma Army) soldiers came to the area on February 17, this year and are now permanent in two areas locally know as Lu Koh Hta and Kler Klo. Villagers fear as these two areas are located in the Palu Village Tract of Myawaddy Township and are under the control of two Karen armed groups the addition of Burma Army soldiers will increased tensions. The two areas are under the control of both the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Union’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) 6th Brigade – both groups are signatories to the stalled Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.

A villager told Karen News that at first, they thought the Tatmadaw troops would be in the area for a short time.

“We thought, they will go back soon but they are still here. Their numbers have even increased. We don’t want them to stay here. We told local [EAOs] leaders, but they seem to be doing nothing about it. We can’t do anything as civilians. We are worried there will be fighting and we will get caught in the middle.”

The villager said as many as 30 soldiers are staying at the temple in Lu Koh Hta and near Kler Klo village.

A local KNLA officer said on February 17, Tatmadaw soldiers from Infantry Battalion #432 led by Major Kyaw Thurein and under the Military Operation Command #13 came to Lu Koh Hta and troops from Infantry Battalion #358 led by Major Soe Moe Naing under MOC #13 came to Kler Klo.

The KNLA officer said currently the Burma Army were rotating its troop – IB #432 at Lu Koh Hta was replaced by IB#559 led by Major Myo Min Nyo and IB#358 at Kler Klo was replaced by IB#560 led by Major Soe Paing –it’s estimated 60 soldiers were involved.

A KNLA officer who spoke to Karen News (under the condition of anonymity) said the Tatmadaw‘s move is a violation of the NCA and causing great anxiety for local villagers.

“This is a violation of the NCA. The presence of the troops in the villages worries villagers. We have reported this case to our Headquarters. We are now waiting on a response from our superiors before we can do anything, we’ll just wait and see if this will be resolved through the NCA mechanism or not.”

The KNLA officer said this case is complicated to handle as it is involved a mixed control area under the DKBA and KNU.

Lieutenant General Saw Steel, Vice Chief-of-Staff of the DKBA, said there was no communication from the Tatmadaw over the new camps and the reasons for its taking of these aggressive positions.

“We were told by the KNU [Kawkareik Township] about the case. We told them to take action according to their superiors’ order. They [Tatmadaw troops] didn’t discuss anything with us when they came. I don’t know what is their purpose or objective.”

In an earlier interview with Karen News, villagers said since the increased presence of the Tatmadaw troops in the area, they are now worried about their security, especially working on their farms, as they fear armed clashes are likely to happen between the armed groups.

According to the NCA provision in Chapter 3, Article 9.K and 9.Q, the setting up of army camps in public buildings including schools, hospitals and religious buildings is prohibited – the provision also warns against causing civilians fear and anxiety.

Despite the NCA been signed between the Tatmadaw and 10 ethnic armed organizations in October 2015, they are still unable to start negotiations to get agreement on troop positions and territorial demarcation where accusations from both sides frequently arise over territorial disputes resulting in frontline clashes.

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