The Myanmar military has denied a Karen National Union (KNU) claim they have been building up their troop deployment in Hpapun district of Kayin State.
A statement dated May 15 issued by the KNU claims the Tatmadaw (government forces) are building up their forces in the area controlled by 2nd, 5th and 7th Brigades of its military wing Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).
In this statement, the KNU claims that in exploitation of the current ceasefire between them, the Tatmadaw is building up their forces especially in Mu Kyaw district (Hpapun district) controlled by 5th Brigade of the KNU and adjoining areas controlled by 2nd and 7th Brigades. It also says that the building up of forces up to twice normal strength and building new outposts in these areas undermine the confidence building which is crucial for strengthening the ceasefire.
KNU General Secretary Pado Saw Tado Mu said, “There are two parts. The first part is building outposts. In this part, there are new more outposts including the BGF (Border Guard Force). And another part is personnel deployed at these outposts. We found that more personnel were sent and deployed at these outposts. And then they deployed more heavy weapons such as howitzers that were never deployed in these areas. This is not a good trend for us. It is the significant things which can be pointed out.”
Tatmadaw True New Information Team Secretary Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said that they did not send and deploy any more troops and any more new heavy weapons in these areas but their military columns which were performing their security duty were attacked by sniper fire from KNU troops.
“Firstly, I’d like to say, they claimed they opened COVID-19 checkpoints and then they shot at our military columns with sniper fire in Hpapun. Secondly, we absolutely did not do anything in sending and deploying more troops and new heavy weapons in the areas controlled by their 2nd, 5th and 7th Brigades as they are claiming. We have already had Joint Monitoring Committee - State-level (JMC-S). I would like to say it will be more helpful for both sides and ongoing peace process if we can resolve this issue through dialogue. There is absolutely no military buildup as they claim.”
Although the Tatmadaw said disputes between two sides could be resolved through JMC-S mechanism, ethnic armed groups said that this JMC mechanism was not practical and workable and called for it to be rectified.
KNU General Secretary Pado Saw Tar Doe Mu said that peace process was currently stalled because of COVID-19 pandemic and dialogue between them had difficulties so that they were trying to explore means to resolve this incident.
The areas controlled by KNU 2nd, 5th and 7th Brigades are strategically important as they are contiguous in the region. Tatmadaw built the Khay Pu - Lae Mu Palaw road in Hpapun district (Mukyaw district) which prompted fighting by the KNU as they saw this road building as the preparation for a military operation.
Tatmadaw C-in-C Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and KNU Chairman Gen. Saw Mutu Say Poe met on October 27, 2018 in informal talks to discuss the road building and they agreed to suspend this road building temporarily. But the situation remains unresolved and there is frequent fighting in the area.
The area in which Tatmadaw is allegedly building up forces is in Hpapun district (Mukyaw district) controlled by KNU 5th Brigade, 2nd Brigade is in Taungoo district and 7th Brigade is in Hpa-an district.
In December 2018, the two sides had fighting between them after the KNU claimed the Tatmadaw was trying to build road in the areas controlled by their 2nd Brigade in Taungoo district, 5th Brigade in Hpa-pun district, 3rd Brigade in Nyaunglebin district and 1st Brigade in Thaton district.
In the KNU statement of ceasefire and lasting peace issued on May 9, they say they believe confidence building and national reconciliation can be in progress only if restrictions imposed on them can be eased with the intention of observing nationwide ceasefire and these restrictions must be rectified in accordance with principles laid down in Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and that all are abiding by these principles.
The KNU signed Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on October 15, 2015 along with other seven ethnic armed organizations (EAOs).