Tatmadaw denies torching house, as Kayin state tensions flare

A military spokesperson has denied claims that troops based near a village in Kayin state’s Hpapun (Mutraw) district were responsible for burning down a house there on Sunday.

Gen Zaw Min Tun, chair of the military’s True News Information Unit, told reporters in Naypyitaw on Tuesday that it was “just an accusation” that the Tatmadaw torched the house.

According to local sources, the fire broke out on Sunday in the village of Mae Wai, where Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 339 is garrisoned.

“The Tatmadaw is camped in Mae Wai, close to where the house burned down,” said Saw Kyaw Lin of the Karen Youth Network.

The fire is just the latest sign of growing tensions between the military and the Karen National Union (KNU), which controls the area.

Clashes between government troops and the KNU’s Brigade 5 have broken out several times since early December over what the KNU sees as incursions into its territory.

Thousands of civilians have fled the area since the fighting began, and Mae Wai is said to be nearly deserted amid fears that a full-blown conflict could erupt for the first time since the KNU signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) more than five years ago.

In other villages in the district, thousands more have protested against the threat posed by the military’s expansion into areas where confrontations with the KNU are almost inevitable.

Regarding the latest incident, KNU Secretary Padoh Ta Doh Moo said that the details were still being investigated and declined to comment further.

“For the time being, we can say nothing. We are still waiting for information,” he told Myanmar Now.

However, in an interview with the Karen News Agency on Monday, KNU spokesperson Padoh Saw Mann Mann put the blame for the blaze squarely on the shoulders of LIB 339.

While denying this claim at the press conference on Tuesday, Gen Zaw Min Tun also dismissed KNU concerns about the Tatmadaw’s presence in Hpapun. 

He said that 14 military bases in the district had been shut down, and that 61 were removed from KNU territory in Kayin state and Bago region between 1990 and 2000.

“I just want to say that what is happening in that area is related to interests in natural resources,” he said.

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