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French ex-soldiers join up with Myanmar rebels Print
French ex-soldiers join up with Myanmar rebels
Reuters, 31 Jan 2006
By Nopporn Wong-Anan

PU BO MYA PLAW, Myanmar, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Former French commandos are helping train ethnic Karen guerrillas locked in a decades-long struggle against Myanmar's military junta, rebel leaders said on Tuesday.

Dressed in military fatigues, two foreigners attended a ceremony inside rebel territory to mark the 57th anniversary of the Karen National Union's (KNU) "Resistance Day", the start of what has become one of the world's longest-running conflicts.

"No, I'm French," one of the pair said when asked if he was American. He and his colleague, who appeared to be in their late 20s, refused to answer any more questions from reporters.

They were also reluctant to appear on film, moving away from television cameramen present at the ceremony in the guerrillas' jungle hideout around 150 miles (230 km) east of Yangon.

"They are French commandos who help us fight the SPDC," said Colonel Nerdah Mya, son of renowned and now wheelchair-bound, 79-year-old KNU supremo, General Bo Mya.

The SPDC -- or State Peace and Development Council -- is the official name of the military junta which has run the former Burma under various guises since a 1962 coup.

Nerdah declined to give details of the full extent of the French pair's involvement in the KNU's fight for an ethnic Karen homeland inside the southeast Asian nation which won independence from Britain in 1948.


Officials at the French embassy in Bangkok said they were surprised by the sighting and suggested the foreigners might have been masquerading as Frenchmen.

"I have no information about any French nationals staying with the Karen -- either mercenaries or not. But anything is possible," an embassy spokeswoman said.

However, analysts say it would not be unprecedented for former French soldiers to become involved with the KNU and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), which could have between 2,500 and 5,000 soldiers.

"There has been longstanding, if informal and sporadic, relationship between former French military people and the KNLA," said Anthony Davis of Jane's Intelligence Review in Bangkok.

In 1985, state media in Burma -- as Myanmar was then called -- said 28-year-old Parisian Jean-Phillippe Courreges-Clercq was killed when 150 Karen rebels attacked a Burmese military outpost near the Thai border.

An Australian, identified as Martin Donnelly, 26, alias Sonny Wingate, of Perth, suffered shrapnel wounds in the same incident and was treated in a hospital in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, the reports said.

Four years later, state media in Yangon said a French mercenary, Olivier Thiriat, had died of shrapnel wounds sustained during clashes with Karen guerrillas along the Thai border. (Additional reporting by Darren Schuettler and Ed Cropley)
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