Karenni BGF battalions confirm role in recent raids on junta outposts

An armed group that was serving as a Border Guard Force (BGF) under the command of Myanmar’s military has confirmed that it took part in a series of raids on regime targets in eastern Karenni (Kayah) State last week.

Troops from the Karenni National People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF) were among the allied resistance forces that attacked a police station and three military outposts in the state’s Mese Township on June 13, a member of the group’s central committee told Myanmar Now.

KA troops on the 147th Karenni National Day on June 22 (KnIC)

“Two BGF battalions took part in the fighting in accordance with the KNPLF’s directions,” said the central committee member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was the first time that the group—which broke away from the Karenni Army (KA) in 1978 and later signed a ceasefire with the military before becoming a BGF in November 2009—has acknowledged a role in fighting the Myanmar military since it seized power in February 2021.

The two battalions in question—Battalion 1004, based in Pan Tein in Mese Township, and Battalion 1005, based in Ywar Thit in Bawlakhe Township—are among around 20 controlled by the group in Karenni State.

Both battalions fought alongside troops from the KA, the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force, and the People’s Defence Force in last week’s coordinated attacks in Mese Township, which borders Thailand.

According to one KNPLF member who took part in the operation, junta troops at one of the targeted outposts abandoned their weapons and fled across the border.

“We didn’t even have a chance to really fight with them. Seven of them just started running and blended in with the refugees heading for Thailand,” he said.

According to another source close to the group, junta troops embedded in the BGF with the KNPLF fighters have also turned against the military.

Despite its longstanding ceasefire agreement, the group has had tense relations with the military over the past two years.

On February 12, 2021, less than two weeks after the coup, the KNPLF issued a statement condemning the military takeover. However, it did not make any move at the time to join the anti-regime resistance movement.

Later that year, four members of Battalion 1004 were killed by regime forces when they attempted to intervene on behalf of civilians who were later burned to death in Karenni State’s Hpruso Township on Christmas Eve.

That incident may have contributed to reports that the KNPLF had turned its guns on the military as early as last year, but it wasn’t until earlier this month, after a column of around 200 troops based in Hpasawng Township crossed the Salween (Thanlyin) River into Mese Township, that the two sides began to engage in open hostilities.

“We warned them not to come east of the Salween, but they ignored us and attacked with massive force, so we had no choice but to fight back,” said the KNPLF member who took part in the June 13 raids.

Since then, the military has used airstrikes and heavy artillery to attack KNPLF positions in Mese Township, including its command centre in the town of Hose Myothit and the Battalion 1004 base in Pan Tein.

Despite these efforts to reclaim control over Mese Township, however, resistance forces remain active in the area, with serious clashes breaking out daily, according to the KNPLF member.

The fighting has taken a heavy toll on local civilians, including many already displaced by earlier clashes. Volunteers say that at least 5,000 people have been forced to flee in recent weeks.

While Thailand has permitted many of the displaced villagers to enter the country, some 2,000 who have fled their homes since June 13 are currently stranded on the Myanmar side of the border, according to relief workers.

“They are in urgent need of food, shelter, and medicine, as the roads don’t reach the forested areas where they are staying. Rain and flooding make it difficult for even small vehicles to pass through,” said one volunteer.

The wet conditions and lack of sanitation have also raised serious health concerns, he added.

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