Forces that the armed ethnic group, the Karen National Union, the KNU, claimed to have captured an outpost belonging to the Burmese army close to the Thailand border with Myanmar. Witnesses in Thailand said heavy fighting erupted before sunrise. Karen National Union KNU forces had reportedly burnt down the Army outpost. I got the latest from a southeast Asia correspondent,
Jonathan Head from Bangkok
Well, there’s no denying what happened because it was very visible from the Thai side. That post was very isolated. It was cut off from the rest of the Myanmar army. And in fact, the soldiers there had begun to depend on Thai soldiers to leave the food. They didn’t even have enough food, so they were very vulnerable. The current national union moved in the very early hours of this morning, around five o’clock. People on the Thai side heard all the gunfire, some louder explosions to suggest it was quite a bit of fighting, and then saw the various huts that have been put there by the Burmese to accommodate their soldiers being set on fire. The Thai sides confirmed that’s what’s happened. It looks like Kenya has taken the post. But I think what’s important is it reminds us that there has been continued fighting in Karen State over the past month. Often the Myanmar military is defending what the Karen National Union says are encroachments. They believe the army has essentially expanded its footprint under the cover of a nine-year-old cease-fire and is trying to hold on to that. And the Myanmar military has been using airpower, including ground attack aircraft, has been bombing villages in the air. It’s been using artillery as well with thousands of people displaced. So this is an ongoing conflict and it’s linked to the larger conflict in Myanmar because the current national union has been the most the strongest supporter among the ethnic armies, the various ethnic armies in Myanmar of the civilian opposition. It’s sheltering, we think, maybe 2000 people who fled from the cities. So when the Myanmar military goes after them, they have that in mind as well.
And just briefly, Jonathan, after the coupon on the 1st of February, have things escalated significantly, or has this been simmering for many months?
Jonathan Head from Bangkok
Well, now this is tied into a broader conflict him, and that’s really what’s happening, which is very problematic for the military because it’s moved a lot of units into the cities to try and contain the opposition it’s facing to its coup, but it does need them in these ethnic areas, too. Now so far, a lot of the ethnic armies have given verbal support to the new national unity government. The parallel government set up by the was elected in last November’s election. But the coroner really the only one we can see who is giving very active support if those other ethnic armies start to engage the Myanmar military as well. It is possible it might find itself very overstretched. And people are waiting to see whether that unity government, which includes the ethnic armies and a promise of a federal system, whether turns into a much more powerful armed challenge to the generals who now rule Myanmar.