Continued Fighting in Dwelo Township
1 May 2020
Dwelo Township, Karen State
Tee Law Thee Village, Dwelo Township
It’s January 2005 and a young Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) soldier is hiding in the jungle near Tee Law Thee Village, Dwelo Township. His unit knows the Burma Army is in the nearby village and they are waiting to respond. The Burma Army finds out where his unit is and blocks them. Moving through Dwelo Township from another direction, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a Burma Army proxy force, attacks them from a different angle. They are able to fend off the attack and four DKBA are killed in the clash. Later that year, the DKBA and Burma Army attack again in Dwelo Township. After defending against these attacks, this young soldier leaves Dwelo, not to come back on a mission for 15 years.
Since that time, Dwelo Township has been a consistently violent place, with attacks by the Burma Army continuing – despite a ceasefire – to the present day. That young KNLA soldier from 2005 is now a Free Burma Rangers team leader. With Burma Army attacks continuing in that area, as detailed below, he recently returned to the area, this time for a relief mission.
3 January 2020
Wah Tho Kho Village, Dwelo Township
Saw Dee Kah, age 63, is helping with a funeral in the village. Unbeknownst to him, earlier that day the Burma Army had run into a KNLA platoon resulting in a clash which caused the Burma Army unit to run and hide in the village. Saw Dee Kah and a friend were carrying the possessions of the deceased when they came around a corner and unexpectedly heard the Burma Army soldiers yell something at them. Before they could get away, the soldiers shot them, hitting Saw Dee Kah twice, once through the collar bone and once through his side, and his friend once, with a bullet going straight through his leg. Both men survived. The Burma Army then came out of hiding, beat a witness and arrested him without any cause.
22 February 2020
KNLA 3 Company holds an outpost along the border between Mu Traw and Doo Tha Htoo districts. The Burma Army has been pushing a car road north through Doo Tha Htoo District and have yet to push it into southern Mu Traw District, which has not agreed to Burma Army road construction. Without agreement from district leaders, it is a violation of the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) for the Burma Army to build new roads and the KNLA treats undesired construction as an act of aggression. On Feb. 22, the Burma Army pushed forward into Mu Traw District and clashed with 3 Company. While the KNLA soldiers called in reinforcements and held their line, a group of Burma Army soldiers flanked them and burned down their camp. As the KNLA special forces deployed to help, the Burma Army withdrew but lost three soldiers in the clash.
5 March 2020, 12:45 p.m.
Near Meh Way Burma Army Camp, Dwelo Township
Saw Maw Aey Thar, a forest worker, is working near the Burma Army camp, when, without warning, he is shot and killed by Burma Army soldiers. According to the information officer from KNLA 102 Battalion, it was Pyit Pyo Aung, the second-in-command for Burma Army Battalion 338, who ordered the shot that killed the 23-year-old.
21 March 2020
Three trucks drive the dusty road carrying the Free Burma Rangers Mu Traw District team. That former young KNLA soldier is returning to the area for the first time in 15 years, now leading an FBR relief mission, FBR’s first here in five years.
Dwelo Township hosted a lot of fighting prior to the 2015 NCA. 24 Rangers, mixed from FBR headquarter elements, a Luthaw team, a Butho team, some Doo Tha Htoo District team members and five medics, travelled to Dwelo Township and performed three Good Life Club (GLC) programs. They encouraged as many people as they could, including Saw Dee Kah who was shot twice, and KNLA 3 Company who is still there, holding their position against an ever-encroaching Burma Army.
In each village the Rangers visited they called nearby villages to gather together. Each village commented how they have never gathered together with neighboring villages for a celebration before: it’s always been to mourn or run. Each group received briefings from the area health secretary on the COVID-19 situation, an update from a KNLA battalion commander on the situation between the KNLA and the Burma Army, and then was introduced to FBR.
In total, the team conducted three large village programs with over one thousand villagers attending. The medics treated nearly 400 patients at their medical clinics. The team visited KNLA 3 Company at the front line, and encouraged and prayed with them. They spent time with the KNLA 102 Battalion, putting on a concert and encouraging them.
The Ranger team leader thinks back fifteen years, to when he was one of those young soldiers, and as he remembers the fighting he faced in Dwelo Township in 2005, he thinks of what he would have wanted to hear. He looks at the villagers and soldiers and says, “We are with you. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. FBR has not forgotten you. God has not forgotten you. Don’t be afraid. Never surrender.”