Four civilians were killed and nine injured in southeastern Myanmar’s Kayin state at the weekend when ethnic Karen rebels attacked their convoy, a military official said, amid clashes between the rebels and government troops in the region that have caused hundreds of residents to flee.
The civilians were killed just before noon on Saturday as they made their way in separate cars to the state capital Hpa-An from Myawaddy, on the border with Thailand, an officer with Myanmar’s Border Guard Force told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“The DKBA (Democratic Karen Benevolent Army) attacked a queue of passenger cars that was heading to Hpa-An from Myawaddy,” Major Naing Zaw Maung said.
“Four men were killed, and a monk, six men, and two women were injured.”
The Irrawaddy online journal quoted Major Saw Zorro, a liaison officer from the Karen National Union (KNU) in Myawaddy, as saying that the travelers had been hit by an artillery shell after stopping for lunch at a small eatery along the way, but that it was unclear who was responsible for the act.
“One shell landed in the village [Kawkareik] and hit travelers. But we don’t know who fired it,” he said.
Saw Zorro said that the injured had been treated at the local hospital in Kawkareik.
Three of those killed, including a boy, died on the spot, he said, while the fourth victim succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.
Meanwhile, separate fighting also continued on Saturday in the Mae Tha Waw region of neighboring Hlaingbwe township, the Irrawaddy reported, with military troops trading fire with the DKBA, forcing hundreds to flee their homes.
The fighting broke out on Friday when two military battalions launched an offensive on DKBA-controlled territory, Captain Thayeni of the rebel army’s Kawkareik township communications office told RFA.
“Our troops have stayed in our area. The government military troops from Battalions 546 and 230 attacked us,” he said Friday.
“We have to fight back against them when they attack us, even though we are staying in our areas. There were about 150 government troops last night and I guess there are now around 500.”
Residents of Kawkareik also confirmed to RFA that the fighting had been initiated by government troops making incursions into DKBA-held territory.
Around 260 villagers fled the fighting on Friday and traveled to Thailand to seek safety, but the Thai army returned them across the border the following day after providing them with food and temporary shelter, sources told RFA.
The fighting had also led to the closure of the road connecting Myawaddy to Thailand’s neighboring city of Mae Sot, while Thai police have raised border security because of the proximity of the clashes, the sources said.
Sporadic fighting between the DKBA and government troops has occurred since late September in Myawaddy township and farther south in Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw township.
According to the Irrawaddy, one DKBA and one KNU soldier were killed in separate standoffs with the Myanmar military and government-aligned militants around the town of Myawaddy.
Recent skirmishes also erupted in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state, where five government soldiers and two Shan ethnic rebels have died, according to rebel groups.
The fighting comes despite nearly all of Myanmar’s ethnic armed rebels having signed bilateral cease-fire agreements with the government since President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration took power from the former military junta in 2011.
The government is also negotiating with all of the country’s ethnic armed groups to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement, though the process has been repeatedly delayed.
Talks last month between the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, representing more than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups, were stymied by disagreements over military and other issues.
The two sides, however, agreed to a fourth draft of a nationwide cease-fire agreement, whose points would require internal discussion before they meet again this month.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.