TESTIMONY OF PORTERS ESCAPED FROM SLORC FORCES

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TESTIMONY OF PORTERS ESCAPED FROM SLORC FORCES

Published date:
Saturday, January 25, 1992

This report from January 1992 details the testimonies of four women conscripted for forced Labour by SLORC.

Following are the accounts of four women who were conscripted as munitions porters by the SLORC army, No. 1 Light Infantry Battalion, on or about December 23, 1991. They served for 22 days, experiencing all manners of suffering and atrocities, before escaping into the hands of the Karen National Union on about January 16, 1992.

Because of their weakened state after escaping and their understandable shyness about discussing what they’d been through, learning their stories was a slow process. The testimonies included here are actually summaries of what came out over the course of several conversations in Burmese.

Many of their experiences were common to all 4 women, so to avoid too much repetition not all the details of every incident have been copied into all four stories. For example, all four women described the looting and ransacking the SLORC soldiers did in villages, but it isn’t detailed in every written summary. The stories of the sick Karen boy and the women’s escape, which are written in Daw Hla Myaing’s testimony, were actually told in detail by all four women.

Other information:

Three of the women were forced to carry four 81mm mortar bombs at a time. One such bomb weights over 3 viss, or 5 kilograms. So 3 bombs makes a load of over 20 kilograms. The 84mm rockets carried by Khine Khine Soe are lighter, but by an insignificant difference.

December/ January is the coldest time of year, with nightly temperatures regularly below 10 degrees Celsius in the hills. This is why the women emphasise the lack of blankets. Most porters would only have the T- shirt and longyi they were wearing when arrested.

The women mention an officer as "Bo Gyi". This is not his name, but a generic way to address a senior army officer in Burmese. Similarly, "Byu Ha" could be used to refer to any large military camp, "Byu Ha" actually means "Advance Strategic Headquarters".

These four women are a small portion of the hundreds of escaped porters who have recently reached the Manerplaw area with similar stories to tell. And as the 1991/92 SLORC offensive continues, the number is increasing every day. However, as they point out, those who escaped are a small minority of those still held by SLORC troops. The atrocities these women describe are happening right now. But hopefully, by spreading knowledge of SLORC’s atrocities, these women have contributed to putting an end to them in the future.

VISS = Burmese unit of weight measure. 1 Viss = 1.6 kilograms

Note: All names and addresses have been changed to avoid reprisals against these women and their families by SLORC.

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Statement #1

Name:  Daw Aye Hla                         Sex: Female                     Age: 32
Occupation: Labourer                      Address: Thein Zayat Village, Kyaikto
Nationality: Burmese Religion: Buddhist.
Family: Married with 5 children.      Date: 24/1/92
Forced Labour: Porter for SLORC No. 1 LIB (Light Infantry Battalion), 22 days before escaping.

I was in the forest near the local monastery collecting firewood with Naw Wah Wah when 10 SLORC soldiers came for us. They ordered us to go with them to help them for a day. Along the way they told me I would be freed in exchange for a male porter at the monastery. But they took us to Byu Ha military compound instead, and we had to spend the night there. There were many porter there, both men and women. The next morning we all had to go with all the soldiers. They made me carry four heavy 81mm. Mortar bombs. I had to carry bombs for 21 days through the forest and over mountains, into the areas where they’re fighting the Karen soldiers. It was almost impossible to keep up because the load was so heavy and we got almost no food. If we were luckily, once a day we got a little rice, but nothing to eat with it. The rice was usually rotten, and if we passed a stream many porters would try to rinse their rice in the water so it wouldn’t smell so bad and they could eat it. But some days we got no food at all, and when we went over mountains there was never water for us.

At night the soldiers made us all sleep together on the ground, the women in one place and the men in another. We only had the clothes we were arrested in and there were no blankets, so it was very cold. All night long the soldiers would come and drag women away to be raped. They took turns and women were often raped by several soldiers in one night. I was raped frequently like the others. While I was being raped or trying to sleep I could hear the screams of other women all around. This went on all night, and then in the morning they’d make us carry our loads over mountains again. I felt especially sorry for Naw Wah Wah , who was being raped very badly every night and was much too small to carry her load. She cried all the time without stopping. I wished I could help her but there was nothing I could do. I could barely carry my own load.

After 21 days of this I just couldn’t take it any more. I no longer cared if I lived or died; I just wanted to escape. The SLORC soldiers were never going to let us go. So early in the morning while it was still dark and the soldiers were busy walking up and packing to leave, I called Naw Wah Wah to come with me. "Where are you going?", she asked, too loudly because she was still half-asleep and didn’t understand. I told her just to follow me, and we made it look like we were going to the toilet. Two other women joined us, and when we got into the trees we ran away. We travelled through the forest all day without knowing where we were going. When it got dark and we didn’t know which way to go, we followed a stream. We came to the Mae Seit riverbank, and luckily some Karen soldiers found us and took care of us.

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Statement #2

Name:  Daw Hla Myaing                         Sex: Female                         Age: 42
Occupation:  Labourer                          Address: Thein Zayat village, Kyaikto
Nationality:  ½ Karen, ½ Burmese          Religion: Buddhist.
Family:  married with 6 children.           Date: 24/1/92
Forced Labour:  Porter for SLORC No. 1 LIB (Light Infantry Battalion), 22 days before escaping.

Testimony: While I was cooking a group of SLORC soldiers came to my house and forced me to go along with them to Byu Ha military camp. At the camp they made me join a group of over 100 porters, including 40 women aged from 15 to 50. The soldiers gave me 81 mm mortar bombs to carry, the same load as they gave many of the male porters. They made us carry our loads over High Mountain all day, and then every night I was raped along with the other women. It was very hard for us to keep carrying our loads in these conditions. All we got to eat was a bit of rotten bad-smelling rice, and we didn’t even get that regularly. For instance, one night in the forest when the birds were singing the soldiers said it was the enemy’s signal, so cooking would be too dangerous. So we had to go hungry.

After 9 days I ran away with 3 other women, but the soldiers captured us in our hiding place. They were very angry, and they pointed their guns at us and shouted that if we ever tried to escape again they would kill us.

Along the way the SLORC soldiers were completely destroying the villagers we came to. I saw them steal paddy from the villagers and burn down their houses and paddy barns. I also saw them steal an elephant from one villager, and they killed many village animals for food, but we never forgot any of it.

All of us only had the clothes on our backs, which quickly got torn and dirty, so it was very cold and uncomfortable. One day it rained and we all got soaking wet, which made it even worse that night. We were all very weak, and many men and women were ill with chills and fever, but the hurt and sick were still forced to carry their loads and keep up, even if they had to be dragged. There was one twenty year old Karen boy from Ma Kyi Hta village who got a bowel disorder. He was very weak and always vomiting but the soldiers still forced him to keep up. When we were climbing Taung Ni, a very high mountain, he couldn’t go on and begged and pleaded with the soldiers to be let go. But the soldiers said he had to come. They forced the rest of us to keep climbing and the Karen boy fell behind. We never saw him after that, so I don’t know what they did with him.

Another 45-year-old man showed me a large unhealed gash on the front of his left thigh, and wounds on both sides of his head. He said he’d run away during some fighting but the soldiers had caught him. They cut his leg and beat him on the head. When he told me this he was very weak, but they were still making him carry big heavy rockets.

When it was still dark one morning I heard Daw Aye Hla say she was going into the forest. I thought she was going to escape so I went with her. The four of us didn’t know which way to go and walked all day in the forest. After dark, we followed a river until we heard someone shouting "Daw bway! Daw bway! [Sister! Sister! In Karen]. When I first heard the voices I was very afraid, but when it turned out they were Karen soldiers and they were kind to us I was very happy.

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Statement #3

Name:  Khine Khine Soe                         Sex:  Female                         Age: 20 years old.
Occupation:  Flower seller                      Address: Thein Zayat village, Kyaikto
Nationality:  Arakanese                           Religion: Buddhist.
Family:  Married with 2 children.             Date: 24/1/92
Forced Labour:  Porter for SLORC No. 1 LIB (Light Infantry Battalion), 22 days before escaping.

Testimony: Seven months age I came from Arakan to visit my older sister. Last month I was still staying with her and our mother, who is very old. My sister was 6 months pregnant.

Some SLORC soldiers came to the house and said my sister and I would have to go with them. We refused, but they forced us at gunpoint. On the way to Byu Ha military camp they raped both of us. When we arrived at the camp they put us together with a group of porters. We saw about 200 porters at the camp, 80 of who were women. Some of the women looked 50 or 60 years old. The next morning we had to set off as porters for the soldiers. I had to carry four 84 mm rockets.

I was not used to climbing mountains and it was very hard for me. The soldiers would never let us rest, and we never got any water when we went over mountains. The soldiers kept their water bottles to themselves and said they couldn’t spare any for us. If the soldiers were thirsty, they’d send some male porters all the way down the mountain for water. Then they’d refill their bottles, and if we were lucky there might be enough left to give us each one little sip.

All we ever got to eat was a little bit of rotten rice, but often we went hungry for more than a day. When we passed villages the soldiers would take all the villagers’ paddy and kill their animals without paying anything. But the soldiers ate all the meat themselves; if we begged for some they only threw us a few bones.

We had no blankets or medicine and the nights were very cold, so many people got sick. At night we tried to sleep all together, but the women had to go sleep wherever the soldiers dragged us. One officer the soldiers all addressed as "Bo Gyi" came and took away the same young Indian girl every night. Because of my youth, I was terrified every night so I always tried to hide among the elderly women. But even so, my turn usually came not long after the Indian girl. Most of the women were gang raped, one after another, all night long. Even my sister, 6 months pregnant, was not left alone. Then every morning we had to haul our loads again.

My sister got very weak and sick. After 10 days, one time I come back to the group after a brief absence and she was gone. The soldiers wouldn’t tell me what happened to her, and I still don’t know.

The soldiers all called me "84, come hear!" those of us carrying 84 mm’s had to go. They always sent us to the very front of the fighting, the "point". It was terrifying, being up there.

Compared to the danger I was in every day, the danger in trying to escape didn’t seem to matter. So when I thought the other women were going to run away, I went with them. Now the Karen people are taking good care of us; but I’m still sad and afraid, because I think of all the women who haven’t escaped. And I think that even women who somehow survive being porters will still have to suffer by finding out they’re pregnant after wards.

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Statement #4

Name:  Naw Wah Wah                         Sex: Female                     Age: 17
Occupation:  Labourer                         Address: Thein Zayat village, Kyaikto township
Nationality:  Karen                              Religion: Buddhist.
Family:  Single, brothers and sisters total 6.                                 Date: 24/1/92
Forced Labour:   Porter for SLORC No. 1 LIB (Light Infantry Battalion), 22 days before escaping.

Testimony: I was with Daw Aye Hla collecting firewood near our village when a group of soldiers came and ordered us to go with them. They took us to Byu Ha military camp, where we joined a group of at least 100 porters, including 40 women. We left the next morning for a long march over the mountains, and I had to carry four heavy 81mm mortar bombs, even though I am very small. They were so heavy I almost couldn’t hold them on my back, but the soldiers made me carry them over high mountains. They didn’t give us food very often, and when they did it was just some rice which had gone rotten since it was cooked. It was never enough to stop the hunger. Going over the mountains there was no water for the porters either, and every day we got weaker and weaker. But we had no medicine, and those who got fever were just forced at gunpoint to keep hauling there loads like the rest. I was to small and weak to keep up, and the soldiers all shouted at me, so I was always very frightened.

We had no blankets and only the clothes we were arrested in, so it was very cold at night and easy to get sick. But I didn’t have much time to think about the cold, because the soldiers always came for me at night. Because I am young and single, they all wanted to rape me and every night I got raped worse than most of the others. An officer who the soldiers all called "Bo Gyi" always came for me. He also raped a young Indian girl very often. All night long, the soldiers would gang rape all of us one after another. You could always hear women’s screams at night, if they were strong enough to scream. Then in the morning they made me carry the bombs again.

This went on day after day, and I just couldn’t bear it any longer. The other women said they pitied me but there was nothing they could do to help. They had their own loads to carry. I was so hungry and thirsty, tired and weak from carrying bombs and being raped that I was crying all the time. I never stopped crying and I was too weak to climb the mountains, and when the soldiers saw this they kept shouting at me and waving their guns, and this just frightened me and made me cry even more.

When the soldiers stopped to fight, it actually made me happy, because I thought if they fired lots of bombs then we wouldn’t have so much to carry anymore. But every time after the fighting, they somehow found more for us to carry, and I always had to carry four bombs.

Finally, very early one morning Daw Aye Hla called me to go with her. I didn’t understand and I asked her where she was going, but she said to just follow her and not ask questions. We ran away but we didn’t know where we were, so we travelled in the forest all day, and the next night we found some Karen soldiers who took care of us. They pitied me and gave me a warm jacket, which I still have, because I looked so weak.

I’m glad we survived, but now Khine Khine Soe says that any young woman who has been a porter for long will surely end up pregnant. It makes me very afraid to think about this, but I think she must be right.