An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
Manerplaw, February 26, 1992
These men all arrived at a Karen Army camp on February 13, 1992, after each spending over 2 months as porters for # 14 LIB of SLORC’s 66 Division. On arrival, the Karen soldiers noted that they were extremely emaciated and shaking from hunger and terror, both of their immediate past and their immediate future. This was clear when, despite their state of starvation, they were at first afraid to eat the rice given to them. By February 21, when this interview was conducted, they had already relaxed and recovered a great deal, but were still quite weak.
1) Name: Zaw Zaw Sex: M Age: 45 Occupation: Farmer
Address: Let Pa Dan Township Family: Bachelor
Arrested: At home
2) Name: U Kyaw Myint Sex: M Age: 45 Occupation: Farmer
Address: Let Pa Dan Township Family: Married with 7 children.
Arrested: At home
3) Name: Khin Myint Sex: M Age: 24 Occupation: Roofer
Address: Thayawaddy Township Family: Married with no children.
Arrested: While walking in the forest
4) Name: Maung Ni Sex: M Age: 51 Occupation: Farmer
Address: Thayawaddy Township Family: Married with one children.
Arrested: while walking in the forest
5) Name: U Pu Sex: M Age: 53 Occupation: Farmer
Address: Thayawaddy Township Family: Married with 5 children.
Arrested: At home.
6) Name: U Aung Myint Sex: M Age: 50 Occupation: Farmer
Address: Thayawaddy Township Family: Married with 3 children.
Arrested: At home.
We were all arrested by soldiers or police in the middle of December. They just told us we had to go with them without saying why. Our families weren’t told anything about where we were going. But the men had guns, so we had to go. We were taken to army camps, like Min Lat camp of 14 Battalion. We were all forced to become porters for 14 Battalion. A few people got free by paying the officers 1,500 Kyat. But from our work we can barely even get enough rice to eat, so we had no money to pay. When we first started marching there were about 650 of us with this battalion: 400 men, ages from 16 to over 60, and we saw about 250 women, aged from 15 to 50.
We were all given heavy loads to carry: rice, rations, ammunition, and U Pu had to carry a heavy machine gun. We had to carry everything for the soldiers, even their personal packs. They only carried their guns.
We got very weak and thin quickly, because all we got to eat each day was a very little bit of rice. They gave us one small cupful of rice each, once in the morning and once in the evening. That was all. We got no salt, chillies, or anything to eat with it. Sometimes we found a banana tree and cut it down to eat the stem. All this time the soldiers were eating the special rations we had to carry for them, they had tinned beef, milk, and biscuits along with their rice. But the last 14 days they said there were no more supplies because of the fighting, and they gave us nothing. During these 2 weeks we had to survive on a few banana trees, roots and seeds. At first the soldiers still had their rations, but later they had to eat these things too. We still had to work for them, and we were starving to death. We saw at least 7 porters die simply from exhaustion and starvation.
Whenever fighting was going on in the area they wouldn’t let us fetch any water, so we were very thirsty. The soldiers had water bottles, but they’d never share any with us. None of us were allowed to have a bath for over two months.
When we camped at night we had to take turns doing unarmed sentry duty. They always posted one soldier near every porter though, so they could watch us. We were too weak and exhausted to do this, but sleeping wasn’t very good either. We men had to sleep on the ground in a big circle, surrounded by a big ring of sleeping soldiers. We had no blankets, warm clothing, or medicine and the nights were freezing cold. So many of us got sick.
While we were trying to sleep surrounded by the soldiers, all the women had to stay nearby, in a separated pile all mixed with soldiers. There they were gang raped all night by any soldiers who felt like going over. This didn’t only go on at night, but also any time during the day when we weren’t on the move. Life was horrible for the women, because they also had to carry loads almost as heavy as ours and survive on the same food. Almost all of them were raped every night, usually by several different soldiers. We know of at least one woman who was raped by 8 soldiers in one night. Some of the women told us that others had been raped until they bled to death.
We always walked mixed with the soldiers, one or two porters in front of every soldier. When we started to slow down we were punched in the face. If you couldn’t hold up your load you were hit with a rifle butt. Many of us were sick, and all of us were weak from exhaustion, but everyone was forced to keep up. Anyone who couldn’t keep up anymore was killed. Sometimes the soldiers shot them, but they also stabbed or kicked many to death. If they didn’t die immediately they were just left in the forest die.
Sometimes when porters collapsed from exhaustion or sickness, the soldiers hit them with a rifle butt and then covered them with dead leaves as they lay on the ground. Some of these porters were half unconscious and some were wide awake, but all of them were still alive. Then the soldiers set fire to the leaves. The porter always started screaming, and some managed to roll out from under the leaves. But others who were too weak just burned to death with out moving. Any who survived this were just left there to die, badly burned and in agony, while we moved on. We saw the soldiers burn porters this way often.
During our time as porters, we saw soldiers kill 100 or 200 porters, male and female, by all of those methods. By the time we escaped, we’d guess that about half of the original 400 men were dead, and half of the 250 women. The other half of the women had been told to go home because they were all pregnant and extremely weak, and not much use to the soldiers anymore. But they might easily have been taken by other SLORC units on the long walk back.
We saw at least 7 porters killed during battles with the Karen. During battle we still had to run around carrying ammunition to wherever it was needed. If we didn’t the soldiers said they would shoot us.
We saw many porters try to escape at various times, and the soldiers opened fire on them. Some were killed this way, and any who were wounded were just left to bleed to death. But after 2 months of such suffering and 14 days without food, even the thought of being shot to death seemed better than dying slowly as porters. So when they sent us to fetch water without a guard once, we ran into the forest and were lucky to find some Karen soldiers.
Now the Karen are giving us food and medicine until our wounds heal and we’re strong enough to go home. We know this will be dangerous and we’re all afraid of being recaptured by SLORC soldiers or taken from our villages again. But while we’re hear all we can think of is our wives and children, and wonder how they are surviving without us there.
Khin Myint: "More than a month ago I tried to run away but the soldiers grabbed me. They brought me back and started beating my left forearm with a bamboo stick. THWACK! THWACK! THWACK! They just kept smashing it until my arm was broken. Then they didn’t give me any bandage or medicine. It was a whole month before I escaped again, and I still had to carry my load despite the agony in my arm. It still gives me a lot of pain, but at least now I have it splinted and bandaged."
Maung Ni: "I always got punched in the face when I was too slow. Hear, you can see a soldier knocked out my two bottom front teeth."
U Pu and U Aung Myint described the full details of the burning incidents. All other incidents were described by several members of the group.
This man was found laying alone in the forest by a group of Karen soldiers on February 17, 1992. He had a wound in his right foot caused by an 81 mm mortar shell splinter. The wound had never been dressed and was badly infected and smelly. He was alive but very weak and the infection was spreading. The Karen soldiers carried him back to their camp, where he had been recovering for 4 days when this interview was conducted on Feb.12, 1992.
Name: Pe Than Sex: M Age: 28
Occupation: Farmer, but forced by economics to sell his fields and become a labourer.
Address: Kyaikto Family: Married, no children.
I was taken as a porter for the SLORC army in December and forced to carry loads around the mountains for them for two and a half months. Usually they made me carry 7 81mm mortar shells. I was with a group of about 170 porters: 100 men and 70 women. We were all treated brutally, and when I was tired I was often beaten with a stick and kicked with army boots.
20 days ago [on Feb. 1, 1992] there was a battle between the group of soldiers I was with and the Karen army. I tried to jump for cover but as I did I was wounded in my foot.
While I’d been a porter I’d heard that most wounded porters died, but I hadn’t seen any definite evidence of this. I’d also heard that a few wounded porters were sent back with the wounded soldiers. But I wasn’t so lucky. After this battle the SLORC soldiers saw me, but they just left me lying there in pain. They didn’t even give me a bandage or any medicine. I was no use to them anymore.
After they left me alone I tried walking, but I could only stagger for about one minute before collapsing from the pain and exhaustion. I gave up trying that. I just lay on the ground and waited to die.
I was alone in the forest like that for 14 days without any food or water. I couldn’t sleep. I was usually awake but very giddy and always in pain. My wound kept looking worse and I had a bad stomach ache, but I don’t know if I had a fever. I was quite certain I would die, but it was taking a long time.
Then the Karen soldiers found me and carried me here. They treated my wound and started feeding me, and now I’m already feeling a lot better. When my wound heals I really want to go back home and see my wife again, although I don’t know how long that will take or how I can get there safely. Right now I just feel incredibly lucky to be a live.
[Note: Pe Than was quite insistent about the time period being 14 days. However, the lack of water suggests that it might have been less than that. In this condition it would have been easy to confuse the date of the battle and lose track of time. But whatever the time period was, the Karen soldiers insist from his condition and the movement of battles that it must have been a long time.]
These 2 men arrived at a Karen military outpost on February 2, 1992, after 1 ½ months of forced porterage for the SLORC army. This interview was conducted on February 21, 1992 when they had already regained much of their strength.
1) Name: Aung Myint Sex: M Age: 38 Occupation: Fisherman.
Address: Kyaikto Township Family: Married with 7 children.
Arrested: While sleeping in his boat
2) Name: U Win Myint Sex: M Age: 43 Occupation: Farmer
Address: Kyaikto Township Family: Married with 7 children.
Arrested: While sleeping at home
We were taken by soldiers in the night – one of us from a fishing boat and the other from house – while we were asleep. We weren’t told why, and our families weren’t told anything either. First we were taken to stay in jail, and then by truck to Kyaikaw military camp. At that camp we saw about 300 porters. We had to join a group of 130 porters going with #108 Burma Regiment.
We had to carry 5 or 6 81 mm mortar shells each, and we saw others carrying 75mm recoilless rifle shells, other ammunition, and rations. We also had to do other hard labour, like digging trenches for the soldiers, burying all their dead and carrying their wounded.
All we had to live on while doing this was half a small plateful of rice per day, and nothing to eat with it. Sometimes if we found a banana tree we cut it open and boiled the inside of the stem to eat, if the soldiers let us. Meanwhile, they ate a lot of good food: rice, beans, tinned beef and other things. We had to climb over a lot of mountains, and water was also a problem for us. We didn’t have bottles like the soldiers, and we often had to go all the way down a mountain to fetch water for them and ourselves.
Every night, each of us had to do two hours’ guard duty so more of the soldiers could rest. When we slept, it was in a pile on the ground, surrounded by soldiers. We had no blankets, only worn and torn clothes, and they wouldn’t let us light a fire to keep warm. It was hard to sleep in the cold, and many of us got sick.
We marched along with two porters in single file in front of each soldier. We were kicked or beaten with fists whenever the soldiers felt like it. All the sick porters still had to carry their loads and there was no medicine for them. They were beaten a lot because they were slow.
Porters who collapsed and couldn’t go on were beaten with G3 or G4 rifle butts until they were unconscious and bleeding heavily from the nose and mouth. Then they were left behind to die. But the soldiers never let us see them actually kill anyone.
Sometimes we entered deserted Karen villages, where the villagers had already run away to escape the SLORC army. The soldiers generally burned down the houses and shot all the animals for food, but they never gave us anything other than our usual handful of rice.
In battle we had to follow the soldiers with the 81 mm mortars, and others also had to run around behind whatever soldiers needed the ammunition they were carrying. We saw 2 porters killed in battle because of this.
Finally, one time during a battle the two of us just dropped our loads and ran away. We didn’t know where we were going and ended up sleeping in the forest for 4 nights while we wandered around. Then we heard a boat engine and followed it to the Salween River, where we found the Karen.
Now, we’re fairly strong again and just want to go home. But we’re afraid of the dangers of the journey, and nothing could be worse than being recaptured as porters along the way. So, for now we’re staying here to help cook for the Karen soldiers.
The following group of 5 men arrived at a Karen army post on February 13, 1992, having escaped after 2 months’ slave labour portering for #14 Battalion of SLORC #66 Division. This group had already regained most of their strength when this interview was conducted on February 21, 1992.
1) Name: U Maung Maung Sex: M Age: 54 Occupation: Labourer
Address: Thayawaddy Township
Family: Married with 3 daughters and 4 sons.
2) Name: Maung Khing Zaw Sex: M Age: 20 Occupation: Labourer
Address: Thayawaddy Township
Family: Married with a 1 year old son
3) Name: Maung Kyaw Win Sex: M Age: 23 Occupation: Labourer
Address: Let Pa Dan Township
Family: Married with 1 daughter and 1 son.
4) Name: U Hla Myint Sex: M Age: 37 Occupation: Construction
Address: Let Pa Dan Township
Family: Married with a 7 year old son.
5) Name: Maung Soe Aung Sex: M Age: 20 Occupation: Trishaw driver
Address: Let Pa Dan Township
Family: Married with a 1-year-old son.
In mid- December 1991, the police came to all of us and told us we would have to be porters for the army for 3 days without pay. They didn’t arrest us, but you can’t say no to the police, so we had to go with them to the police, so we had to go with them to the police station. We knew they might let us free for 300 or 400 Kyat, but we’re all very poor and can’t afford it. From the police station they took us to an army camp. Where we became part of a group of 300 porters and began a long trip to Ka Ma Maung by guarded troop train, truck, boat, and on foot. It had already been almost 3 days, and they hadn’t even told us where they were taking us yet. Then in Ka Ma Maung they gave us loads to carry over the mountains: U Maung Maung and Maung Kyaw Win had to carry two big biscuit tins of rice each on bamboo yokes. Maung Khine Zaw and Maung Soe Aung each had to carry 7 RPG [Rocket-Propelled Grenade] shells, and Maung Hla Myint had to carry 1,000 rounds of G3 and G4 ammunition. These loads weighed 15 or 20 viss [24-32 kg]. The porters carried all the soldiers’ rations and ammunition. The soldiers only carried their guns. Sometimes they even took off their boots and threw them on a porter’s back. If we couldn’t carry them we were kicked.
Even the young, old, and women had to carry heavy loads. There was one porter with us who was only 11 years old, several who were 15, and some as old as 60. The young soldiers went out of their way to be very rude to the old men, which would never be allowed back in the village. At one camp we saw a group of about 100 women who came along as porters, but they were with a different group of soldiers so we don’t know how they were treated, although we did see the soldiers slapping them in the face.
We had to carry our loads over mountains but we didn’t get much to eat. When we first left Ka Ma Maung they gave us a small plate of rice in the morning, with a few beans on good days, and told us to save half of it for evening. Then after awhile we only got a bit of salt with our rice, and eventually nothing but the rice. The last 11 days before we escaped they gave us nothing at all, and we had to boil the trunks of Banana trees, eat them and drink the broth to survive.
The soldiers would never let us fetch water on our own if we saw a stream, we just had to keep going, so we went thirsty most of the time, especially crossing mountains.
At night we had to sleep in a group on the ground surrounds by soldiers. We weren’t allowed to smoke or talk, and if we did they stuffed our clothes in our months for the night. There were no blankets for us, and it was freezing. Many of us got sick with malaria, dysentery, and fever.
The soldiers were brutal to all of us. We were all slapped and kicked whenever we couldn’t keep up. Maung Hla Myint was just sitting alone doing nothing wrong once when a soldier started beating him in the arm with a rifle butt. Sometimes when we were walking on steep mountains and a porter couldn’t go on anymore, the soldiers just kicked him down the mountainside. They fell a long way and there’s no way they could have survived.
When old porters collapsed in the forest, the soldiers beat them unconscious, stripped them naked and left them face down on the ground. Then they covered the porter with dry leaves and set fire to the leaves. The porters woke up screaming when they felt the flame and got out from under the leaves. But by this time they were close to death, and we just left them there, naked, burned, and with no supplies, to die slowly. We saw this happen regularly, on at least 7 occasions we can remember.
When we entered villagers, the soldiers ate whatever they saw and sometimes burned the village down. All the villagers had always run away by the time we arrived. The soldiers killed all the animals, but only ate the flesh and threw away the bones. We never got any of this. One of Maung Soe Aung’s friends once collected some of the bones the soldiers threw away and put them on top of his load to share with everyone later. But when some of the bones fell out on the way up a mountain the soldier behind him got angry, beat him and strangled him but didn’t kill him. Then he walked away and threw his knife into the porter’s back. Maung Soe Aung’s friend was lucky: the blade hit his backbone and the knife fell out so he survived. He continued as a porter, but was later wounded by an RPG and tried to go back with the SLORC wounded.
As the rice in our loads was eaten and the ammunition fired, they invariably found other things for us to carry to keep our loads heavy. In fighting areas we also had to dig trenches, carry the wounded, and bury dead soldiers and porters. When fighting occurred, we just dropped our loads and hit the dirt. But some porters were hit by bullets, RPG’s and landmines. When the soldiers saw a wounded or sick porter who couldn’t carry a load anymore, they beat him until they were sure he wouldn’t survive and then left him there. We never saw them use bullets on porters.
The soldiers told me if we tried to escape they’d kill us and they assured us the Karen would kill us too. We saw 2 porters who tried to escape. They were tied up and beaten severely with rifles, and then forced to go on as porters. But we still wanted to try an escape because there were only 130 or 140 of the original 300 of us still alive as it was, and we’d reached a point where life had become meaningless anyway. We didn’t care if we died anymore. So, we ran away very early one morning, without knowing where any other troops were. He ran into some Karen soldiers who were preparing to attack. We thought they’d kill us and we were shaking from fear and starvation after 11 days without rice. But they fed us, gave us warm clothing and treated us as friends. By now we’re strong again, but we’re all terrified we’ll be recaught by the SLORC if we try to go home. So until it’s a bit safer we’re helping to carry supplies to Karen soldiers. Now we have food, friends, and peace of mind. This is like some kind of heaven compared to the SLORC.
These 6 men arrived in a Karen army camp on February 18, 1992, having escaped after 2 months’ forced porterage for SLORC # 14 Battalion of 66 Division. They told their story on February 22, 1992. All of them are from Kyaikto Township.
1) Name: U Mya Sex: M Age: 49 Occupation: Porter/ Labourer
Family: 5 children, including a one and a half month old baby.
2) Name: U Daw Hla Sex: M Age: 60 Occupation: Carrier/ Labourer
Family: Wife and several grandchildren (2 children already dead)
3) Name: Aung Thaung Sex: M Age: 33 Occupation: Trishaw driver
Family: Married with 3 children. Left his wife in late pregnancy, and he thinks she must have given birth by now.
4) Name: U Shwe Aung Sex: M Age: 53 Occupation: Labourer
Family: Married with 3 children
5) Name: U Nyunt Myaing Sex: M Age: 50 Occupation: Railway porter
Family: Married with 6 children
6) Name: Sein Myint Sex: M Age: 27 Occupation: Farmer
Family: Single, 2 brothers and 4 sisters.
The SLORC village level [Ya Wa Ta] headman told each of us we would have to do 5 days’ village development work to fill a labour quota. But instead, the police came to our houses and took us in chains on December 12, 1991. The army then took us under guard by train and truck to Pa’an. We didn’t see them free anyone for money, and we didn’t have any money anyway. On December 15 we arrived at an army camp. We must have seen about 1,000 porters around the whole camp, all men, aged from 14 to almost 70. We were put in a group of 20 porters, one of many groups with 66 Division, 14 Battalion. There were about 40 soldiers with our group of 20. Much later over the mountains, we saw another unit of soldiers with a group of women porters carrying 120 mm mortar shells on their heads.
They made us carry rice, rations, and ammunition. Our loads often changed: sometimes 2 big biscuit tins of rice, or 8 RPG’s with 8 propellants, or something else. We also had to carry the soldiers’ haversacks, and often even their boots. They carried nothing. Closer to the fighting, we also had to dig their trenches and bury their dead. But not our dead - dead porters weren’t buried.
We had to survive hauling these loads over mountains on one meal a day. They gave us one big batch of boiled rice soup, and when we divided it we got about a half milk tin full [about 200 ml] of this soup each. We usually put some leaves in it to make it better. We were starving, and quickly got very thin and weak. Meanwhile, the soldiers ate a lot of rice, and the tinned meat, milk, and other such things that we carried for them. But for the last 12 days there were no supplies, and all that time they gave us no food at all. We had to scavenge for roots and banana trees [to eat the trunk]. The soldiers still had beans, dried noodles, and some rice, but eventually even they couldn’t eat much.
Once it got dark at 6 or 7 p.m., they wouldn’t let us make any noise, make a fire, or even smoke the leaves we’d picked up along the way to make cigarettes. When any of us made any noise or tried to speak to each other, we were kicked with jungle boots and beaten. We had to sleep all together on the ground under guard, freezing without a fire or blankets.
For 2 months, we never even went to the toilet without an armed guard.
We usually marched single file, 2 porters in front of a soldier. They poked us in the back with their bayonets to keep us moving. If we stumbled while climbing mountains we were kicked. There was never a day when all 6 of us weren’t beaten for not being fast enough. They often beat us in the back with their rifle butts, or in the arms or legs - every where except the head.
We know other groups of soldiers shot porters, because we saw their corpses along the way. We saw one porter step on a landmine just walking through the forest. It blew his leg off, and they bandaged it and sent him back with some wounded soldiers.
Many of us were sick with malaria and other things, but only the soldiers got medicine. The sick and wounded porters just had to keep carrying. Any porters who were very sick and too weak to carry anything were just made to carry the soldiers’ haversacks and boots. And any who simply couldn’t go on were just left to die in the forest. We know they died, because we saw their corpses when we had to go back carrying wounded soldiers.
When porters tried to escape the soldiers opened fire on them but usually missed. So they escaped - but then their load was given to the rest of us to carry.
During fighting, we just dropped our loads and looked for cover. But it was too dangerous to go either forward or backwards. Then in one battle the SLORC soldiers ran away from the Karen, we ran to the Karen.
Now we’re just getting medical treatment and trying to get strong enough to go home. None of us knows how our families are surviving: They many well be starving, and U Mya and Aung Thaung had to leave their wives burdened with newborn babies. Aung Thaung has not even seen his newborn yet. If the SLORC ever calls us to do "3days work" again, we’ll run away.
Of the soldiers we were with, we can’t remember many names, all of them were brutal to us. We know the commander of 14 Battalion is Major Aung Shwe, and our group commander was Captain Maung Myint. Another soldier with us was Warrant Officer Han Nyunt. And the soldier who was the cruelest to the porters was Private Kyaw Win Htay, who was also the Major’s favourite because he was a good shot.
U Mya: My younger brother Win Oo was a porter with another group near ours. One day he was too weak and slow going up a mountain. I saw him fall and the soldiers started kicking him. They just kept kicking him in the chest until a lot of blood poured from his nose and mouth. Then I had to watch my brother die.
U Daw Hla: I am 60 years old, but the young soldiers always swore terribly at every one, even at me, who could be their grandfather. They often punched me in the face for my weakness, and they even knocked out one of my teeth.
Once when two of us had to carry a wounded soldier I was too weak even to pick up my end of the load. A private named Hla Myo Le got angry and kicked me hard in the left side of my face, sending me falling down the steep mountainside. I would have died for sure, but I crashed into a clump of bamboo that stopped my fall. I was knocked unconscious for a minute. Maybe they would have left me there, but another porter climbed down and pulled me back up, and I went on.
[Note: When U Daw Hla first came into the Karen camp, witnesses thought he would die soon. He was very emaciated and shaking, and too weak even to be able to eat. He could only lie on the ground with a blanket.
Now he is stronger, but with his wounded leg he must lean on a stick to walk. The left side of his face is still bruised from the soldier’s kick.
At the time of the interview, U Shwe Aung had a visibly displaced and protruding collarbone on the right side, caused by a beating with a G3 rifle butt.
U Nyunt Myaing was so thin he was little more than skin covering bones. He says he was quite muscular before being taken as a porter.]
The following statements were made by Aung Aung, a farmer from Shwegun Township, 29 years old with a wife and 2-month-old child (as of December). On December 14, 1991 he was taken as a porter by 14 Battalion, and finally escaped to a Karen army camp on February 16, 1992.
When my load was too heavy and I couldn’t carry it, the soldiers stomped on my bare feet with their jungle boots."
"Once when I was carrying a big pot of cooked rice, the tump line broke and the pot fell from my back and spilt. An angry soldier boxed my ears hard for that. Now I can no longer hear in one ear."
"After a soldier threw down his finished cheroot, I tried to pick up the butt but I was punched in the face."
"We were each given 2 large spoonfuls of rice [cooked] twice a day. But if we asked for more we were punched in the face."
"For the last 12 days there were only banana trees and roots for us to eat."
"When porters were moving too slowly, the soldiers beat us on our legs and feet with thick bamboo rods they carried with them. Other soldiers poked slow porters from behind with their bayonets or beat them with their rifle butts."
"One of my friends was too exhausted to go on any more. He fell on his back and told the soldiers "Kill me if you want - I can’t go on." The soldier started stomping on his belly with his jungle boots. My friend screamed "I’m dying", but just then the Karen began to attack. After the battle the soldiers tried to finish killing my friend, but the officer stopped them. He went on as a porter, but he was always badly beaten after that."
This man arrived in a very weak state in a Karen camp in February after at least 3 months as a porter for the SLORC army’s 96 Battalion. He is 65 years old. He has now regained much of his strength, thanks to his powerful will to live and to tell his story.
Name: U Shwe Gyi Sex: M Age: 65 Occupation: Farmer.
Address: Shwegun Township Family: Wife, several children & grandchildren.
Life as a farmer in Burma is very hard these days. We have to sell our quota of rice to the army at a very low price every year, good year or bad. In a good year this quota is a lot of our crop. In a bad year it’s more than we can grow, and we often have to buy rice at high black market prices just to fill the quota and feed our families. Rice farmers have to buy black market rice! The army also comes around demanding money - you have to pay 50 or 100 Kyat or go as a porter. This used to happen every month or two, but recently they’ve started coming around 3 times a month. We’re poor, and there’s no way can pay them very time.
When I came home from my fields one night a bit late a group of soldiers was waiting for me. "Why are you late?", they demanded, and hauled me off to the police station. I spent one night in the police jail. Then they took me to an army base where I was imprisoned for 11 days.
For the first few days, I saw them let some people go for 800 Kyat. Then the bribe went up to 1,600 Kyat. We are poor, but my wife was willing to do anything to get me free. So she went and sold everything we own, and got 400 Kyat. When she brought it to the Sergeant, he said it wasn’t enough. But he said he pitied me because I’m so old, and he took the 400 Kyat and said he would arrange with the senior officer to have me freed. We never saw that Sergeant again, and they took me as a porter.
I had to carry more than 1,000 machine gun bullets, plus rice, and sometimes the soldiers threw even more on my load. Then when I couldn’t walk they yelled at me: " Why can’t you walk?" "Because I’m old", I always answered. Then they punched me in the face.
The soldiers were very young - many were only 15 or 16 - but they swore at me and called me " My f----ing son" all the time. To me, who could be their grandfather! They treated all of us like the enemy, and no matter how badly we needed something it was too dangerous to try to speak to them.
Usually once a day, we had to boil rice in a lot of water to make a sort of rice gruel. We got one cup of this each, and then we had to sit in a trench under guard while the soldiers ate the special rations we carried for them, like tinned meat, biscuits, and milk. Only after they’d eaten could we come up out of the trench. They also kept us very thirsty; even if we saw a stream they wouldn’t let us drink, because they said if we drank too much we wouldn’t be able to carry our loads.
At night they tied us together on the ground and guarded us. We couldn’t get a drink or go to the toilet, and if we made any noise, even a cough, they kicked us with jungle boots.
We were all kicked, punched, and beaten with rifle butts often. The sick and wounded were beaten or kicked down into the valleys to die. Eventually none of us even cared if we died anymore, and many porters tried to escape. Some were so desperate they just jumped down the mountainside into the valleys and probably died. Others ran away and the soldiers shot at them. The shots usually missed, but sometimes we heard a landmine explode in the forest a minute later. One time two porters suddenly appeared who had obviously escaped from another unit. When the soldiers saw them they knew they were porters, but they shot them dead anyway.
Finally, after almost 3 months, a group of us ran away in the dark before a big attack and found some Karen soldiers. Now we can talk about our experiences and I want to tell my story, so people will know the truth about SLORC. I never thought it was possible for people to treat each other like the soldiers treated us. But it was obvious to us all that they simply didn’t think of us as human beings.