Fighting in Myawaddy & the Unclear Positions of Some Karen Armed Groups

Myanmar Spring Chronicle – April 21 Scenes
MoeMaKa, April 22, 2024

Fighting in Myawaddy & the Unclear Positions of Some Karen Armed Groups

In early April 2024, during the peak of the summer and the El Niño event, battles between the military council forces and the KNU/KNLA forces, the PDF joint forces, and the DKBA Klo Htoo Baw forces around Myawaddy in Karen State intensified. Before the Thingyan holidays, the KNU captured battalions, bases, and strategic camps in Thin Gan Nyi Naung, and they revealed to the media their intention to completely capture Myawaddy before Thingyan. A few days before Thingyan, the KNU captured the Military Council’s Infantry Battalion IB-275, also known as the Garrison Battalion of Myawaddy. The soldiers of that battalion sought shelter under the Friendship Bridge on the banks of the Thaungyin River at the Thai-Myanmar border, with assistance from the former BGF armed group led by Saw Chit Thu.

Since then, people have closely monitored the situation in Myawaddy with great interest. With no more activities from the military council forces and the police, questions arose about who would control and manage Myawaddy, as well as how border trade and city administration would be handled. After the military council troops withdrew from IB-275, non-military council armed organizations were seen patrolling in cars and demonstrating their strength in Myawaddy. However, they have yet to take over administrative, revenue, and immigration matters. Although there are no longer military council troops or armed groups in Myawaddy, some civil departments continue to operate. For instance, the immigration department at the Thai-Myanmar border gate bridge remains under the control of military council civil organizations.

Questions have emerged about whether Myawaddy will be evenly ruled by the KNU and the BGF-transformed KNA, which are the main forces in the town, and how they will discuss distribution. However, there are still no answers. People are also curious whether the remaining troops of IB-275 are waiting for reinforcements from the Southeastern Military Command based in Mawlamyine near Bridge No. 2, whether the KNA, transformed from the former BGF, is providing protection to those troops because it has not yet reached an agreement with the military council, and how the BGF transformed group will decide and align themselves.

Most neighborhoods in Myawaddy have not yet experienced fighting. The residents are perpetually on edge, waiting day and night to see if fighting will erupt in their town. The threat of houses being destroyed by fire and property and assets being looted and damaged weighs heavily on their minds. Despite the risks, many residents are hesitant to flee, fearing that if they leave, they may not be able to return to salvage their belongings. Instead, some family members choose to stay in their homes, hoping to extinguish any fires that may break out in time.

For the armed groups, the potential tax benefits from controlling Myawaddy and the fact that the town is on the main trade route between Myanmar and Thailand make it an attractive target. The differences in positions among the Karen armed groups in Karen State, their alliance status, shared interests, and history of formation have become more apparent in the attempt to capture Myawaddy.

What will be the common interest, goal, and consensus among the Karen armed groups? This situation raises questions about whether there is cooperation on matters of mutual interest, such as national unity, income generation for armed groups, or income for group leaders.

The nationalist-oriented statement and stance that the Karen national armed forces do not want to fight each other often emerge, but in the past few decades, there have been more than two or three Karen armed groups, and they have fought each other. After the separation of DKBA from KNU and its transformation into BGF, the Karen armed groups fought each other due to mobilization, instigation, and division by the military from the central government.

After the military coup in Karen State, the balance of political and military power has changed from the previous decade. The manpower to expand the armed forces is readily available, and with the intensification in the strength of the PDF columns, which include a variety of Myanmar ethnic people under the supervision of KNU, the areas under KNU’s control have expanded. However, it is still difficult to organize unity among the Karen armed groups in recent times. Due to these circumstances, the answer to who will be able to capture Myawaddy and who will govern it is still difficult to grasp and not easy to answer simply.

Furthermore, it should be noted that while there is both domestic and international interest in the Karen issue, the goals, participation, and joint activities of the Myanmar Spring Revolution forces are not being seriously discussed concurrently.

It raises the question of whether this situation will lead to the creation of a new destiny for ethnic forces or result in co-existence with rival forces, such as the military council, through negotiation instead of a step toward federalism.

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