Short Update | Fighting breaks out between Tatmadaw and KNLA breaks out near the proposed Hatgyi dam site
The following Short Update was written by KHRG staff, based on reports from the field. KHRG trains community members to local human rights conditions.
On 28th August 2018 at 9:30 AM, fighting broke out between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Company #4 and the Tatmadaw Light Infantry Division (LID) #44 subordinated Infantry Battalion (IB) #2 in Bu Tho Township, Hpapun District. A first skirmish occurred at Htee Meh Klar, located between Noh Hta village and T’lar Aw Koh village.
The tension between the two armed groups had increased after the KNLA rejected a request from the Tatmadaw to patrol the area to look for soldiers from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) splinter group.
The following morning, at 7:50 AM, a second skirmish occurred to the east of T’lar Aw Koh village.
On the morning of August 31, the Tatmadaw resorted to the indiscriminate firing of 81 mm and 61 mm mortar shells around Ka Nyee Naw village. They fired 20 mortars in the surroundings of the village, with the goal of clearing the area of the DKBA splinter group.
Context of the fighting
A group of soldiers from the DKBA splinter group has been hiding in the area around Htee Tha Dawt Hta village tract.
On July 12 2018, Tatmadaw LID #44 organised patrols in the area to wipe out the DKBA soldiers. The KNLA Company # 4 had given them permission to enter the area under their control. They patrolled the area for a week without finding any DKBA soldiers. On July 19 and July 20, the LID #44 IB #2 withdrew from the area.
On August 23, the Tatmadaw LID #44 IB #2 returned to the area. They came to Htee Lah Beh Hta, a strategic site where a bridge crosses the Yuzaline river. They communicated with the commander of KNLA Company # 4, Saw Hsa Yu Moo, to ask for permission to enter the area again.
This time, the KNLA Company # 4 did not give permission to the Tatmadaw to patrol the area in search of DKBA splinter soldiers. The KNLA told the Tatmadaw LID #44 IB #2 Commander that they will look for the DKBA splinter soldiers themselves.
Despite this, the Tatmadaw LID #44 IB #2 entered into the area under KNLA control. This led to tensions between the Tatmadaw and the KNLA, which erupted into a series of skirmishes.
According to reports received by KHRG, these skirmishes did not result in any deaths on either side. A KNLA commander believes that the Tatmadaw was claiming to patrol in search of the DKBA, when in reality, they wanted to gain more control over the area because of its proximity to the proposed Hatgyi dam site.
Military confrontations around the proposed Hatgyi dam site are not new – they have already occurred several times in 2014, 2015 and 2016. In 2016, the violence has displaced 5,000 people from 30 neighbouring villages in Meh Th’ Waw area. The recent skirmishes come just a few months after an outbreak of violence in April 2018, which displaced a further 2,400 people from 5 villages.
Impact on local populations
When the local communities heard about the tension, many families fled the area. These communities have a history of displacement since 1995. At the time, many villagers fled to Myaing Gyi Ngu, an IDP site established by the monk U Thuzana. Although many families have since returned to their villages, they flee to Myaing Gyi Ngu in cases of renewed violence.
Families from Noh Hta and Ta La Aw Koh villages sought temporary shelter in Oh Taung monastery. After the skirmish ended, they returned to their village.
On September 2, KHRG has received reports that not a single person remained in D--- village, because they had all been displaced from the violence. The D--- village head reported that the KNLA came to the village to hold a meeting with the local community to inform them of the situation. Although the KNLA encouraged villagers not to flee, they left their homes to different areas. “We are afraid of the growing tension”, he said. “By the time the Tatmadaw arrived in the village, not a single person remained. We are afraid of the fighting”. Many families are afraid to return because of the threat of landmines. They are worried that their cattle, which they depend on for their livelihoods, will die by stepping on a landmine.
Based on updates KHRG received on September 3, villagers from Weh Gyi and Ka Nyee Naw have not been able to return because of the presence of the Tatmadaw in their villages. They are worried about the threat of ongoing fighting. They have sought shelter in a number of different sections of Myaing Gyi Ngu, including Mar Lar Yut, Moe Aye Myaing, Moe San Myaing, Lay Lone Myaing and Deh Htaw.
KHRG field researchers counted seven households from Ka Nyee Naw have fled to Mar Lar Yut village in Hpa-an District. A further 11 households have fled to Deh Htaw.
On September 7th, KHRG received an update from the field that Tatmadaw LID # 44 is retreating from Ka Nyee Naw village.