An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
Manerplaw, June 12, 1992
The following Karenni men and women are now refugees in a camp on the Thai side of the border opposite Karen State. They arrived after a long trek southward from their homes in western Karenni State, fleeing a SLORC ultimatum to all villagers in a large part of the State where the Karenni opposition is strong to leave their villages or die. Their statements describe some of the SLORC army’s activities in civilian villages of western Karenni.
Name: Saw Hee Te Leh Age: 52 Sex: M Karenni, Roman Catholic
Family: Widower for 5 years, 7 children aged 5 to 20
The soldiers often came to our village. When they did, some of the villagers ran but some didn’t escape. Of the people they caught, they took as many as they wanted as porters, regardless of age or sex. Out of every 10 villagers they took as porters, usually only 7 or so would come back. I’ve been a porter 3 times already myself, for 2 or 3 months each time. Twice I escaped, and once the soldiers let me go.
When in the village, the soldiers also killed our animals – pigs, buffaloes, cows, goats, chickens, whatever they saw - took our food, and burned our houses. Usually they forced all the men into one house and the women into another and wouldn’t let them out. Then soldiers would go through all the houses of the village looting before they left. They often interrogated the women, and if they failed to answer they were beaten with a stick. They also took some young women outside to rape them. They beat any of the men they suspected of having revolutionary connections, and shot some of them dead.
This year I just couldn’t bear this oppression any more. I left the village on March 12, went and lived in the forest for a few weeks. Many other villagers were also living in the forest like this. One time when I returned to the village for supplies when the soldiers weren’t there, I saw an order the soldiers had left there. It said "All villagers in your area must move to the SLORC army camp in town immediately or when we come back we’ll kill you all". It was for all villagers in Pruso Township.
This was just too much for me, so I came here with my 4 younger children. We had to walk all the way, and we couldn’t bring anything at all with us. Two of my other children stayed behind to hide in the forest, and the eldest is a Karenni soldier. I don’t know if they’re still alright.
Most of the other villagers moved to safer villages in the Karenni–controlled area, some went to towns but not to the SLORC camps, and some came here to Kaw Thoo Lei. Now we have to wait here until the Burmese go back again. I hope it’s not more than a year or two.
Name: Gabriel Eh Leh Age: 45 Sex: M Karenni, Roman Catholic.
Address: Ghay Gkaw Village, Pruso Township
Family: Married, 7 children aged 3 to 20
Soldiers sometimes came to my village, tortured the villagers and killed our livestock. They collected the men together in one place and the women in another, and then went to steal the villagers’ property from our houses. They asked us to be porters and asked a lot of questions about rebels. Any villagers they didn’t believe they beat, sometimes to death. They especially picked on strong and muscular villagers.
This year, everyone in my village has been abused and forced to be porters at one time or another. I was a porter 5 times this year, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for 1 or 2 weeks or a month.
As porters we only got 1 meal a day, one small plate of plain rice that was weighed out on a scale. They made me carry more than 20 viss [32 kilograms] of ammunition and rations. If I couldn’t carry my load I was beaten. I didn’t see any porters die but many of my friends saw a lot die because of exhaustion, weakness, and malaria. I saw child porters as young as 15 and men as old as 60. There were also women, including some who were pregnant and some who were carrying infants along with their loads. The women had to carry the same loads as men, and some of them were raped. Some porters escaped and some were let go – I escaped twice and was let go the other 3 times.
Every time the soldiers enter any village, the villagers all try to run away because they’re afraid to be taken as porters. If the soldiers see anyone running away they shoot at them, even at women and children. They kill many villagers like this.
On March 15th the soldiers left a paper order that said "If you stay in your village you’ll support the Revolutionaries, so you must move to the army camp at Pruso Town by March 20th. After March 20th we will kill anyone we see in the area."
I left my village that day, and the Karenni soldiers sent me this way. I arrived here on March 28th with my wife and 5 of my children. One of the other two is a Karenni soldier, and the other is at a Burmese school. Nobody in the village went to the SLORC camp as ordered, most of us came here, to wait around until the situation changes.
Name: Ah So Ta Age: 23 Sex: F Karenni, Roman Catholic
Address: Gkay Gkaw Village, Pruso Township
Family: Widow, 2 children aged 2 and 4.
Occupation: Farmer, schoolteacher and mother.
My husband Moses was our village preacher [Catechist] for the Catholic Church. He was 30 years old.
Every time the SLORC troops came to our village, everyone ran. But one time, last November 12th, my husband Moses didn’t run. I don’t know if it was because he didn’t have time or because he thought they wouldn’t hurt the village priest. But he was left behind alone when the SLORC entered the village.
Like most of the others, we stayed hidden out in our hut in the forest where we have some rice stored. That time we stayed away from the village for 3 weeks. We looked for my husband but couldn’t find him.
Only after we went back to the village 3 weeks later, we found some bones and his clothes in the forest near the village. The soldiers had killed my husband. I don’t know how they killed him; we couldn’t tell.
I hate the SLORC. But there’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to think about trying to survive here with my children now. I was a schoolteacher in Gkay Gkaw. I’d like to be a schoolteacher again.
Name: Neh Ru Age: 40 Sex: F Karenni, Roman Catholic
Address: Ghay Ghaw village, Pruso Township
Family: Widow, 5 children aged 4 to 16
Occupation: Farmer and mother.
Every time the SLORC army used to come to our village everyone ran away - children, old people, everyone. We did this because we knew we’d be taken as porters if we were caught. They even take women as porters.
Usually we knew they were coming because people would come running from other nearby villages and tell us. I never got caught by the SLORC. When we ran we scattered into the forest. Some went to remote huts they have in their ricefield or hidden in the forest, while others just stayed under the trees. Sometimes we only had to stay away from the village for 1 day, but usually for at least a few days.
One time in January 1991 when we ran away from the village, I hid in the forest with my children. My husband, Heu Taw, who was 55, was hiding at our rice hut in our ricefield. The next day, on January 26, we went to the rice hut and found my husband dead. His body was alone in the hut. He’d been shot through the chest, but whether from near or far, in front or behind I don’t know. The soldiers must have just seen him there, sitting alone in the hut, and shot him.
Now, I have no idea about the future. I came here with my children because all the others were coming. Now I have to think about getting some money to buy vegetables somehow, because the only food we can get here is rice and salt. I want to send my children to school, and they want to go. But now my boys say they just want to become soldiers so they can kill the SLORC troops. I can’t blame them; I hate the SLORC too.