Anonymous sources within Karen State, Burma, have told SOFREP that the Burmese government (the same government currently attacking the Rohingya) are using a ceasefire with them to expand their front lines into Karen territory. That way, if the fighting breaks out again, they will have the advantage of existing infrastructure to help attack both combatants and civilians alike — for example, now they have the potential to more effectively use heavy artillery against these targets.
Most of the world is currently watching Burma’s treatment of the Rohingya. After the conflict began, the Burmese military killed over 1,200 children under five years of age in the first month of the offensive, many from beatings, getting thrown into fires, or being burned in their homes.
The state-sponsored media Burmese media has pushed the narrative that the Muslims were extremists and they are responding appropriately. However, this is the same military that has continuously committed human rights violations and war crimes since the end of WWII, perpetuating the longest-standing civil war in modern history. This includes violence against ethnic minorities all over the country, not just the Rohingya and not just Muslims — Christians, animists and Buddhists as well. These include the Karen, Karenni, Kachin and the Shan, to name a few.
The Karen people have long suffered at the hands of the Burmese government, facing terrible fates that the Rohingya are facing today — babies thrown against trees, rape followed by murder, summary executions — just like the Rohingya, hundreds of thousands were on the run, but instead of heading to Bangladesh, they headed to Thailand (the Rohingya are located on the west of the country, the Karen to the east).
But there has been a ceasefire, signed and honored by both the Burmese military and the Karen people. The fighting has stopped, but the Karen remain uneasy.
First of all, the Burmese military remains in a position of power. They are the ones with the functioning military and infrastructure to support it. The Karen are mostly a people in the eastern jungle and hills, and resources in the context of a civil war are limited. The military also has a long history of breaking peace agreements and going back to violence.
For example, the government essentially calls all Karen-owned land a “forestry land,” and therefore it is under the protection and control of the government. If they want to develop there, they can kick out local Karen who have lived there for longer than anyone can remember. If the Karen refuse, they can use police force — if the Karen fight back, the government can say they were the aggressors, and the government was simply enforcing the law.
Now multiple Karen sources on the ground have reported widespread fear of the government using the ceasefire to their advantage. Under the pretext of peace, they can build roads, railroads and military posts, pushing the front line forward — after all, there is a ceasefire, so there is no front line, right?
If the teetering ceasefire breaks and the fighting starts again, the Burmese government will have effectively pushed their front lines deep into Karen territory, enabling them to use other weapons to their advantage. They have historically used mortars on civilian targets; now they could use full-blown heavy artillery on a more regular basis. One anonymous source said there were fears of the precise mile markers on roads to be used as indicators for indirect fire of all kinds. This way the military could fire with relative ease and accuracy on any target they please — Karen combatants or civilians.
The Karen continue to hold hope that the ceasefire will turn into a full-blown peace agreement. If they were to be considered regular Burmese citizens, they could develop and grow alongside the other tribes and those in central Burma — but for now they rely on the sanctity of an uncertain ceasefire.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.