An interview with Commander-in-Chief Bee Htoo, of the KNPP forces

Paskorn Jumlongrach

The fight for liberation of Karenni land and their opposition against the Myanmar Army’s occupation have lasted for over 70 years. In the latest battles since May 2021, and the recent aerial bombs of Loikaw and various areas in the Karenni State counts as one of the fiercest wars. 

Loikaw is now littered with debris of houses and buildings while hundreds of thousands have fled for their safety. The majority of them have headed toward Southern Shan State, while others have opted for a refuge at the Thai border. 

Sharing a Thai border by Mae Hong Son’s Muang and Khun Yuam Districts, the Karenni State has Loikaw as its capital city.

Today, the rich and ancient culture has vanished and been replaced by a deserted city due to the indiscriminate and heavy bombardment without considering if the target areas are security-related or civilian areas including religious sites, schools, medical facilities or whatsoever. A number of buildings have been razed to the ground by the bombs.

The Myanmar Army has fiercely attacked Loikaw causing much devastation since 6 January 2022 until now.

One of the leading forces that have long fought against the Myanmar Army is the Karenni Army, of Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP).

Photo courtesy of Karenni Information Center- KnIC

“Initially, the Myanmar Army’s 55th LID was deployed to suppress the ethnic armed groups and the People’s Defence Force-PDF), but they had to retreat. Then, the Myanmar Army’s 66th LID was additionally deployed. Still, they have to suffer immense losses” said Commander-in-Chief Bee Htoo of the Karenni Army (KA), armed wing of KNPP in an interview with “Transborder News” regarding the latest situation. Even though the Myanmar Army has been able to raze Loikaw to the ground, but they have inflicted minimal damage on the KNPP forces since most of the troops were not stationed in Loikaw.

“The reason they attacked Loikaw was they thought if the people can survive, we (Karenni soldiers) would also survive. They therefore want to decimate the local population using tanks, bombardments, and artilleries. The Myanmar Army also declared they wanted Karenni State rendered into ashes.”

The KNPP’s Commander recounted the preceding fight between the Myanmar Army and the Karenni Army which begun to escalate after the military coup and the seizure of political power from the Aung San Suu Kyi government in Myanmar led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. And on 20 February 2021, people at all levels have risen up barehandedly. Still, they were met with shooting and killing by the Myanmar soldiers who also rammed their vehicles into the crowd causing casualties among the young people whose parents have also been killed. With their disillusionment, they have escaped and joined the armed training, and some have trained with the KNPP.

Photo courtesy of Karenni Information Center- KnIC

Asked if this was the reason that gave rise the Myanmar Army’s rage and the bombardment of Loikaw, Gen. General Bee Htoo refrained from directly addressing the question. He simply said that “All the rules are imposed by the Myanmar state while people fight barehandedly. Suddenly, they set fire on the villages, fired artilleries into their villages against innocent people. Therefore, our young people have the right to defend the people and their property.”

Asked about the ultimate goal of KNPP, the Commander of the Karenni Army said that “A self rule, and democratic rule.”

“We have been fighting for over 70 years and the People’s Defence Force about 10 months since February. In my opinion, we are victorious this time since the number of troops in the Myanmar Army has shrunk from 70,000 to 50,000. Many have deserted, other got injured or killed. The troops they have now could be gone sooner or later and there have been no new recruitments, no reinforcement. People at all levels have no intention to help the Myanmar Army and they are finding every means possible to oppose them.”

After the military coup, the Myanmar Army has attacked the ethnic armed organizations capitalizing on their aerial prowess with modern jetfighters supplied by the superpowers including China and Russia. Still, they have been unable to exclusively take back the control of the areas from the EAOs, similarly to the situation in Loikaw.

“Just tonight (11 January 2022), they bombed us nine times, but none of our troops have been affected. They even injured their own troops. The next time, they might planes with chemicals, packed in their ammunition. If we are exposed to them, it can cause skin burning. That’s all the Myanmar Army has, jetfighters, tanks, artilleries. The day before yesterday, they sent planes to bomb indiscriminately in Loikaw.  They shot everywhere. It terrified people and prompted them to run away. The mortars they now use are different from the previous ones; they become bigger and cause louder noise.”

Photo courtesy of Karenni Information Center- KnIC

“Their main target is the people, since without the people, there shall be no opposition groups” said the KNPP Commander reiterating his view toward the targets of the Myanmar Army. 

Asked how to address being a target of the aerial attack by the Myanmar Army, Gen. Bee Htoo laughed and replied, “The weapons we now have are only digging a hole.”

Asked why the EAOs which have been allied with one another for a long time have yet decided to launch their offensives concertedly, the Karenni Commander refused to give his candid opinion, but said that “It is unspeakable. We are still allies, although each group may adhere to different opinions.”

“But for me, this will be the last battle in my life” said the steely eyed Karenni Commander indicating his sheer determination and veteran experience. 

“This will be one of the last times and we shall emerge victorious. Some groups do not want to lose anything, they only stand to gain” he reiterated. 

Asked why he believes so, Gen. Bee Htoo said that “Apparently, the Myanmar Army’s troops are nearly depleted. Whatever soldiers they have will be gone without reinforcement. They can no longer find new recruits except if they hire foreign mercenaries to fight against us.”

At present, apart from the battle with the Myanmar Army, the KNPP troops’ other mission is to assist people who have escaped from the Myanmar Army’s attacks. They have to hide themselves in various places which are not easily accessible. 

Photo courtesy of Karenni Information Center- KnIC

The current situation in Myanmar is critical and it is descending into a full-scale civil war. Sharing more than 2,000 kilometers of border with Myanmar’s ethnic groups, Thailand is obliged to get ready.

The Karenni people have had long relationships with the Thai people, particularly in Mae Hong Son. Humanitarian aid should therefore not be impeded. 

Somehow, we have to strike the balance between the friendships of the peoples through humanitarian channel, and the cozy relationship between the Thai leaderships and the Myanmar military leaderships. 

——————

This is a translation of the Thai article https://transbordernews.in.th/home/?p=30125

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