January 24, 2024. (Karen Information Center/ Thanlwin Times and editors)
Major General Saw Tun Hlaing, BGF’s chairperson asserted that BGF had already notified its decision to cease receiving salaries and benefits from the Military Council since last month, choosing to operate independently. He reaffirmed BGF’s unwavering commitment to it original decision to declare an autonomous Myawaddy zone.
The BGF leader explained his stance,” We have worked together with them (the Myanmar military) for nearly 30 years, so we do not want any conflict. We aim to be a military force in control of our territory, seeking peace with the Military. By not taking their salary, we will not have to follow their orders anymore”, he said.
Thai PBS, a Thai Public TV Broadcaster , first reported that the BGF decided to separate from the Military Council after an agreement between the Myanmar coup regime and the Thai Army, to crack down on illegal online casinos and telecom scam operations located along the border of the two countries.
According to Jason Tower from USIP who closely follows Chinese -Myanmar affairs as reported in Chinese language media, Beijing is also keeping up the pressure to the Junta to crackdown on the telecom scam operations that are still flourishing in Shwe Kokko under the vigilant protection of the BGF.
BGF sources in interviews with KIC, made no mention of this pressure from various parties including the Vice Senior General Soe Win to cooperate with an international crackdown on Chinese criminal syndicates in Myawaddy led by the notorious Shwe Kokko complex and how this was almost certainly the major motive for severing longstanding alliance with the regime’s armed forces.
This was clearly a major consideration in their decision to end their longstanding alliance with the regime’s armed forces.
Since their decision to break away from the regime , BGF leader Colonel Saw Chit Thu, ordered a withdrawal from joint deployments with the Military Council on the frontlines. Many BGF troops were recalled from the frontline areas in Hpapun District of Karen State to the rear headquarters in Shwe Kokko. Witnesses confirmed to KIC that over the past few days, more than 300 BGF troops stationed in Hpapun District have pulled back from their positions.
Following a raid by resistance forces led by Commander Eh Say Wah of the resistance in April 2023, Colonel Saw Chit Thu implemented stringent security measures around Shwe Kokko, fortifying it like a fortress town, and stationed troops in its vicinity. Moreover, continuous reinforcements were being deployed to bolster BGF.
The Myanmar Junta emerges as the big loser if the Karen BGF carries out its plan to establish an autonomous zone. Vital supply-lines along key roads in Myanmar that have been guarded by several BGF battalions, will now be vulnerable to KNU and PDF offensives.
As one veteran observer of ethnic affairs remarked that having seen the string of military defeats for the regime in Shan State, “ now The BGF is behaving as the rats deserting the sinking ship.”
Jason Tower from USIP also views Chit Thu ‘s BGF as “no longer viewing the Myanmar regime as a safe bet as a security guarantor for their Shwe Kokko operations. ”
Secondly the Junta will further lose credibility with China over the dwindling capacity of the coup-regime to be a reliable protector of Chinese investments and interests.
What does the BGF plan next in their bid for special autonomy status? Major General Saw Tun Hlaing mentioned that it is too early to discuss the future plans that will operate as an independent force. He stated that this objective will be implemented step by step.
However he did explain that, “ When BGF was under the Military Council, it was compelled to clash with other Karen ethnic armed groups, creating confusion among the Karen people about which side to rely on, ultimately prompting BGF to abandon the Military Council and choose to stand independently.”
These sentiment prompted BGF to convene a forum of all different Karen factions and groups including:KNU splinter group KNLA-Peace Council (KNLA-PC), the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and even their battlefield enemy the mainstream KNU/KNLA. ,
The KNU has made its position clear is that will not side with those who protect the cyber-scams of Shwe Kokko. Padoh Saw Taw Nee the KNU spokesman has declared, “If we are to fight illegal activities and crimes that are rampant along the border, I would like to request especially China and Thailand to effectively combat those crimes. We heartily welcome and are ready to cooperate ally with these two countries to fight illegal activities.”
However the KNU is avoiding a military assault knowing the Chit Thu’s 13 well-armed battalions cannot be so readily toppled, as the 1027 operation over-ran cyber-scam centres in northern Shan State. Myanmar analyst and commentator Kim Jolliffe recently tweeted” there is no appetite for Karen fighting Karen. The KNU strategy is to combine
diplomatic, political and military approaches rather than relying on a dramatic military operation as in Shan State.”
Observers warn this is very fluid situation where the coming days are unpredictable withdrawal of a strong BGF from the military regime and it also points to a steady decline in the authority of the coup regime.