The Myanmar military has denied accusations from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade 5 that it fired artillery into Karen villages in Papun District, Karen State in the first week of February.
Tensions between the two sides have increased over the military’s rebuilding of a road in the area.
Myanmar military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy Tuesday that his troops fired artillery only at a KNLA base and did not shoot into the villages.
“It was meaningless to say that our army shot artillery into their village. Our army shot artillery where there was a KNLA base only,” he said.
KNLA Brigade 5 sent a letter to the military’s Southeast Regional Command in Moulmein, Mon State and the Southern Command in Taungoo, Bago Region on Feb. 9, saying that the military fired artillery into the village over 40 times and that many villagers were afraid.
The letter also said that the actions of the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, could destroy trust amid ongoing attempts to work for peace.
“The Tatmadaw violated the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and we strongly condemned the action,” the letter said.
The Myanmar military reported that they fired the artillery in response to actions by the KNLA, including intermittent attacks.
“They ambush us to shoot our soldiers sometimes. They planted landmines to kill our soldiers. Therefore, we responded with our attack as we need to protect our soldiers for their security,” said Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun.
A Tatmadaw soldier stepped on a landmine and was wounded on Feb. 2 in Nyaunglebin, Bago Region and another soldier was wounded when a group of KNLA soldiers attacked the Myanmar military base in Kaw Mu, Karen State on Feb. 6.
Military tensions between the Tatmadaw and KNLA Brigade 5 have escalated as the sides seek an agreement regarding the military’s transportation of food and road construction in the area.
KNLA Brigade 5 allows the military to transport food only by horse and on foot in the areas they control in Papun District. The Tatmadaw has rejected the policy and wants to use vehicles for transportation, leading to an ongoing disagreement despite several meetings in Kyaukkyi Township to address the issue.
The Myanmar military is allowed to use vehicles to transport rations in KNLA Brigade 3 territory in Nyaunglebin, Bago Region and in KNLA Brigade 2 territory in Bu Sar Hkee, in Bago’s Taungoo District. But in Brigade 5 territory, the Tatmadaw is only allowed to transport food by horse and by foot, according to Major Saw Kler Doh from Brigade 5.
“It was not practical to say to us that we could not transport our army rations with vehicles and that we need to use horses. We do use different means of transportation—people, mules or vehicles—and we can use them as long as it is not for the military operations,” said Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun.
Maj. Saw Kler Doh said that the Myanmar military informed Brigade 5 this week that they will use only horses and no vehicles.
“They did not inform us with an official letter. But their officer on the ground informed us that they will use horses for ration transportation. They told us that they use vehicles only in the area where we agreed to let them use it,” he said.
Clashes have sometimes broken out between the KNLA and the Myanmar army when the army enters KNLA-controlled areas, according to Brigade 5.TOP IMAGE: Members of the Karen National Liberation Army in at the group’s headquarters in Lay Wah on the 70th anniversary of Karen National Revolution Day in 2019. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy