A battalion of regular troops from the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) on Dec. 11 launched a short attack on the Burmese army in Manerplaw, and have remained active in the area. Manerplaw was the headquarters of the KNU from 1948 until it fell into Burmese army hands in 1995.

Located in Hlaingbwe Township in Karen State at a picturesque juncture on the Moei River, which seperates Thailand and Burma, Manerplaw was the KNU’s most strategic base during the reign of Gen Bo Mya, the former chairman of the KNU. Its fall into enemy hands—primarily due to the notorious betrayal of the KNU by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA)—marked a turn in the decades-old civil conflict which resulted in several ethnic armies signing cease-fire agreements with the military regime, while members of the KNU were forced to flee to refugee camps in Thailand or to small guerilla bases in remote parts of Karen State.

After the Fall of Manerplaw in 1995, the KNU was unable to launch major offensives against government forces around that area, and it became a Burmese army stronghold and an ideal base to coordinate cross-border trade, especially logging.

KNU sources said that Battalion 202 from Brigade 7 of the KNU’s military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and some members of a Karen specialist unit known as the “Special Force” were involved in a skirmish with government forces involving gunfire and mortar attacks.

The KNU fighters retook some of their former bases around Manerplaw, and are now patrolling along the trails and hills of Kachaw Wah Lay, Htee Thit Kee, Manerpaw, Htoo Wah Lu, Law Kwa Lu and Yadae Nee, said the sources.

Nang Paw Gay, the editor of the Karen Information Centre, said that the KNLA’s Battalion 202 led by Maj Saw Tamla and the “Special Force” have been much more active in the area since the beginning of December.

Small skirmishes between Burmese government troops (assisted by DKBA regulars who are now part of the border guard force) and KNU Brigade 7 have been occuring on a near daily basis since early December in the areas surrounding Manerplaw, souces said.

The worst fighting broke out on Dec. 10-11, which resulted in some 300 local villagers fleeing to the Thai side of the river to seek refuge in Sop Moei District in Mae Hong Son Province, according to one source who visited the refugees.

Mahn Mahn, a leader of the Backpack Health Worker Team, a medical relief group which works in Karen State, said, “Some pregnant women who are ready to give birth were among the villagers. We had to make preparations to deliver their babies en route.”

The refugees will be unable to return home while the fighting is ongoing, the sources said. Some refugees who tried to get into Mae La Oon refugee camp in Mae Hong Son Province were prevented by the Thai authorities.

Relief workers have said that there are several refugees who are sick among those held up at the border.