Karen guerillas inflict severe casualties on Myanmar troops

More than 250 Burmese troops have perished in a week of fighting with the Karen ethnic rebels in a considerable setback in an area earmarked for regrouping by the Burmese urban rebel recruits.

The fighting has intensified this month after the Myanmar army launched an offensive against the bases of the Karen National Union (KNU) after receiving information that they were training and arming ethnic Burmese volunteers to raise urban insurgent units.

Hundreds have joined these outfits, among them Burmese beauty queen Htar Htet.

Those killed in the fierce fighting included a colonel and a lieutenant colonel of Tatmadaw, the official name of the armed forces of Myanmar.

The clashes escalated in Hpapun, Shwe Kyin and Thaton districts in Karen and Bago regions after the military wing of the KNU, Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade 5, seized an outpost near the Salween River in Thi Mu Hta held by the military’s 349 Light Infantry Division on March 27.

The KNU Brigade 5 also overran a military border post on the banks of the Salween River in Thaw Le Hta, near the border with Thailand’s Mae Hong Song Province, on April 27.

From March 27 to early May, 194 soldiers were killed while another 220 soldiers from Myanmar military were wounded in the clashes.

Nine soldiers from the KNLA were also killed and 10 were injured, a spokesperson for the KNU Brigade 5, Lieutenant Colonel Saw Kler Doh, told IANS.

During this one month, the military launched 27 airstrikes into the KNU Brigade 5 area, fired 47 artillery shells, and there were 407 clashes between the two sides, said Lt. Col. Saw Kler Doh.

Moreover, the Brigade 5 recorded that the military fired 575 artillery shells into local villages and farmlands. The air raid killed 14 civilians, wounded 28 people and destroyed 20 houses and two schools.

Currently, the military has been reinforcing its troops in these areas, according to KNU.

Lt. Col Saw Kler Doh told IANS that the KNLA’s attacks are to show support for the newly-formed National Unity Government set up by the elected lawmakers from the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government.

Recently, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that about 40,000 people have fled their homes in Papun District in Karen State and Shwe Kyin, Kyaukkyi and Nyaunglebin townships in Bago Region, following the coup and military airstrikes in the areas.

An estimated 1,000 refugees – mostly the elderly, sick, women and children – have taken refuge in Thailand.

The army is fighting the rebels of the Kachin Independence Army for a month now but has failed to make much headway.

It is also up against a spirited resistance in the Chin Hills, where armed townspeople are resisting the Tatmadaw’s advance into the town of Mindat with hunting rifles.