Sunday, 9 October 2011

Karen National Union (KNU)

As mentioned in my previous post (long, long ago), on to the first case.

Myanmar vs Karen National Union (KNU)
Quick summary & history from a New York Times article

The Karen union is one of more than a dozen ethnic groups that for decades have sought greater autonomy from Myanmar's central government. Many other groups have signed formal cease-fires with the military leaders of the country since 1988, but the Karen never reached a formal agreement to lay down their arms. 

The group once had a powerful guerrilla army in Myanmar's eastern border region, but Myanmar Army offensives, coupled with divisions within the organization, reduced the guerrilla group's military presence considerably over the past decade. Most of the group's senior leadership resides in Thailand, while its military bases are mostly located just across the border in Myanmar.
Military tactics
This article from Mizzima details some of the tactics employed by KNU troops. A bit difficult to check the authenticity of this article, but still interesting reading nonetheless.

Hit-and-run tactics are not new for low-intensity conflicts, but some of the points highlighted are worth discussing.

1. highlighting command-detonation
Using command detonated Claymore mines reduce civilian casualties, as compared to conventional pressure-activated landmines, thus "showing" that the KNU is more humane.

2. standardisation of booby traps
Presumably, this allows for easier deployment (less trial-and-error), and indirectly also possibly reduces malfunctions (e.g. failure to explode, accidental detonation).

3. avoid fighting at Thai-Burma border
The KNU understand the importance of keeping the border open, both in terms of supply lines, and also implicit support from Thailand. 

4. showcase deep-strike capability
This is perhaps a "show of force" to tell the Myanmar government that no place is safe for its troops.

5. highlighting lack of civilian support for opposing side (DKBA)
Legitimacy is key here. Having the support of the local population is important, but things can sometimes change quickly.

Other issues?
- targeted killings/assassinations?
This CNN article highlights a tactic common to counter-insurgency operations, of targeting the rebel leadership. It is key to note that the KNU leader was killed in Thai territory, hence the implied admission that high-value targets are worth risking a raid across borders (and the inherent possibility of a backlash by the neighbouring country).

- humanitarian issues
The UN IRIN news service reports the following
"Fierce fighting in eastern Karen State at the border with Thailand in June 2009 forced more than 3,000 refugees to flee across the border for safety, according to the regional office of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Bangkok."
This results in increased suffering for civilians, but strangely, also helps counter the oft-used argument that Myanmar's issues are internal, and that it's national sovereignty must be respected.

- child soldiers
Myanmar is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and Concluding Observations have highlighted the use of child soldiers by both sides.

Future trends?
With the Myanmar government restarting peace talks, the next few months will be one of tension, with KNU likely to be wary of the government's intention. As for it's armed groups, it will be a time of consolidation. Recent news of a reunion with DKBA will make things even more interesting.

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