Five ethnic Karen armed rebels were killed in fighting with Myanmar government troops in southeastern Mon state near the border with Thailand, raising tensions that have forced civilians to flee villages and schools to close, police said.
The insurgents from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) were killed and two government soldiers injured in the clashes near Kyaikmayaw township, a police officer was quoted saying in Shwe Wah Gyaung village by the Irrawaddy online journal.
Hundreds of villagers have fled and about 30 schools shut their doors in Kyaikmayaw since fighting began on Sept. 20, the worst in the region since the government signed bilateral cease-fires with Karen rebel groups in 2012.
The township administrator and police chief have yet to give the go-ahead to reopen the schools, all of which are along the Attaran River which DKBA forces can use to ferry their troops, Aung Naing Oo, a township education official told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Kyaikmayaw has a total of about 70 elementary, middle, and high schools.
“The children will be scared if they hear the sounds of weapons being fired,” said Than Kyawe, a local village administrator in the area. “That’s why the schools were closed.”
Weekend of unrest
Weeks of tensions between Myanmar’s military and the DKBA as well as other, smaller ethnic Karen rebels led to fighting last weekend at several locations in southeastern Myanmar, including Kyaikmayaw, and Myawaddy in Kayin State, also close to the border with Thailand.
Reports said the unrest began on Friday during a scheduled meeting between the DKBA and government security forces at a rebel base in Kyaikmayaw, where the rebels detained several security officers.
In response, the Myanmar Army unit stationed near the base launched an attack to try to free the officers.
The standoff continued when the DKBA took the weapons from the officers and released them, the reports said, then fought their way out of the base and retreated to the countryside.
The fighting came as Myanmar’s armed ethnic rebel groups and the government failed to reach a nationwide cease-fire agreement on Friday after five days of talks in Yangon, the commercial capital.
Fighting also forced the closure of schools and shops in Myawaddy on Saturday morning after the DKBA fired on a military convoy traveling along the Asia Highway in the area, the Eleven Myanmar media group reported.
DKBA troops used a middle school near the town’s entrance as cover and fired heavy weapons and about 50 rounds of gunfire from the schoolyard, the report said.
Military soldiers did not return fire because the school was open, and students were inside, it said.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo, Kyaw Tun Naing and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.