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Karen Armed Group Allied to Myanmar Junta Denied Officers Retirement Amid Recruitment Crisis


A military parade on the anniversary of the Karen State Border Guard Force in 2019. / The Irrawaddy 

Myanmar’s regime is stopping officers in the junta-affiliated Border Guard Force (BGF) in Karen State from retiring amid fierce fighting with resistance forces.

A junta order on August 6 about the appointment of BGF battalion commanders and their deputies forced seven majors who had reached retirement age to remain in position instead of replacing them with younger officers.

BGFs are former ethnic insurgent groups and are under de-facto military control under the junta-drafted 2008 Constitution.

The official retirement age for BGF officers is 55. Each battalion is headed by a commander and two deputies. The commander and one deputy are from the original insurgent group and the other deputy is a military appointee.

The denial of retirement points to low morale and a recruitment crisis, said a Karen Nation Union (KNU) spokesman. Both of the KNU’s armed wings, the Karen National Liberation Army and Karen National Defense Organization, are fighting the regime in Karen and Mon states and Bago Region.

“It has become difficult for the regime to control its battalions and recruit. And it can’t easily find new commanders. There is no support from the people and morale within the regime is declining. Things have changed. Not only BGFs but the entire regime is facing these problems,” the KNU spokesman said.

A BGF source said commanders are denied retirement out of necessity.

A BGF major, who asked for anonymity, said: “We have a personality cult and subordinates tend to step down along with their leaders. But commanders are being kept on to maintain battalion stability.”

Shortly before the coup in February last year, the military pressured Karen State BGF leaders Colonel Saw Chit Thu, Major Saw Mote Thone and Major Saw Tin Win to resign over the controversial China-backed Shwe Kokko new city project in Myawaddy on the Thai border. Some military and BGF officers were involved in the project.

Around 90 officers, including 13 majors who command BGF battalions, resigned in solidarity with the three officers. They withdrew their resignations after the junta asked them to rethink.

It is unclear if the three officers remain in position amid the post-coup chaos.

“They remain in their position though it is unofficial. They have signed the military’s resignation letters. But the military has not clarified since,” said a BGF source.

Karen State BGF was formed from splinter groups from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and Karen Peace Force in 2010. It consists of 13 battalions based in Hlaingbwe, Hpapun, Hpa-an, Myawaddy, Kawkareik and Kyainseikgyi townships.