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Firefighters in Karenni state have been given weapons by a local Burmese army battalion and tasked with keeping security in villages, a relief group has said.
The move is aimed at compensating for army troops who have been sent to the frontline, likely further south in Karen state where Burmese troops are fighting a coalition of ethnic armies led by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA).
The directive for firefighters in Loilen and Tee Se Khar village tracts to carry arms was sent out following the November 2010 elections, said the Karenni humanitarian group, speaking to DVB on condition of anonymity. The men have reportedly never been given military training.
“It is the militia’s duty to protect the people and the fire brigade’s to handle fire,” said the source. “But now, the militias are being sent along with the army to the frontline. The fire brigade members were given arms and tasked with security in the [villages], and also could be sent to the frontline if necessary.”
Despite having one of Asia’s largest standing armies, the Burmese ‘Tatmadaw’, as it is known, is being stretched in its conflict in the remote Karen border region. The DKBA is joined by the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), the former having fought a six-decade conflict with the Burmese junta.
The army is regularly accused of co-opting civilians into its ranks. In recent weeks numbers of prisoners have been used as porters to carry troop equipment and act as human minesweepers, forced to walk in front of patrols to ensure troops don’t take the full blast of a landmine.