A ceremony to mark the transformation of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) into a Border Guard Force yesterday was joined by senior Burmese military officials.
Around 40 army officials were appointed positions in the new Border Guard Force (BGF) during the ceremony in DKBA-controlled Karen state’s Hlaingbwe township, in a move that will see DKBA troops assimilated into the Burmese army. Two other transformations are reportedly tabled for 22 August, including that of DKBA Brigade 999, led by Colonel Chit Thu.
But there are fractures in the once-staunchly pro-government militia, with renegade commander Na Kham Mwe having rejected the BGF transformation and now in hiding with some 1,500 troops – the first major split within the DKBA since it was formed in 1994.
A source at the ceremony yesterday said that around 600 DKBA troops had attended led by the group’s vice chairman, General Kyaw Than. Burmese troops and civilians brought the total number to around 5,000, the source said, although influential monk, U Thuzana, who has been in poor health, was absent.
Also attending was Burma’s intelligence chief, Ye Myint, who was part of a convoy that last week came under fire from Karen National Union (KNU) troops in Karen state. The DKBA is formed of former members of the KNU, whose conflict with the Burmese government is thought to be the world’s longest running.
The DKBA is thought to number some 4000 troops, which are likely to be divided among six BGF units.
But Na Kham Mwe’s faction is not the only resistance to the government’s plan; a number of other ethnic armies, including the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), have refused, and observers warn that the government could react with force to those who refuse.
The BGF plan appears part of a wider strategy to wrestle control of Burma’s volatile border regions back from the country’s multiple armed ethnic groups. Incentives for senior signatories include offers of money and houses, although for those who join it would mark an allegiance to a government that has waged an often fierce campaign to dominate the whole of Burma.