An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
Manerplaw, July 3, 1992
The following statements were made by ethnic Palaung men, from Palaung land in what is officially northwestern Shan State. They arrived in Manerplaw after being among the 2,000 convicts in Mandalay jail who were taken to be frontline porters at the Naw Hta front of the SLORC’s dry season offensive against Manerplaw. They escaped into the care of the Karen National Union. In the interest of their safety and that of their families, no details can be given which could be used to directly identify them. Their descriptions of the situation in Palaung land and of their time as porters are taken from personal experience. Their descriptions of prison life are a combination of personal experience, things they witnessed firsthand, and the personal experiences which other prisoners related to them.
Statements: The SLORC has a Four Cuts program against people in Palaung land. They try to cut off food supplies, communication with the people, and finances to the Palaung State Liberation Party (PSLP), and to cut off the heads of revolutionaries. As part of their Four Cuts policy, in January and February 1991 they forced all the Palaung villagers in the entire Palaung revolutionary area to move to the towns. The troops went into every village, collected the villagers and marched them to the towns with whatever they could carry. About 100,000 villagers altogether were forced to move to big relocation camps near the towns. These were like refugee camps, but they were guarded and there was no supply of medicine and never enough food. No one was ever allowed to leave the camps, and there was no way to build a house. Families just lived outside on the ground. Fortunately it was dry season so there was no rain.
Meanwhile, there were almost no more Palaung villagers in the countryside. Anytime SLORC troops saw firelight at night or any other sign of life in a village they went and burned the village down. They burned down 22 villages, 2 monasteries, a church and several schools in Palaung land last year alone.
At the relocation camps the troops interrogated anyone they suspected of knowing anything about the PSLP, raped a lot of women, and killed people every day. They kept telling the villagers "You should suggest to the PSLP that they make a ceasefire with us. Otherwise, all of you may die." The PSLP leaders heard that this was happening; and because they are Palaung themselves and love their own Palaung people who had always supported them, they had no choice but to make a compromise with the SLORC in late April 1991. They agreed to a ceasefire but would not lay down arms, and only on the condition that all villagers be released from the relocation camps. Now the villagers have gone back home and their PSLP still lives in the revolutionary area, while the SLORC troops mostly stay near the towns. Sometimes you even see a SLORC soldier and a PSLP soldier in the same town market, both carrying their arms. The people are still unhappy and support the PSLP, because they have no freedom and they know that the SLORC could still attack or imprison them again anytime they like.
As part of the compromise, the SLORC promised to do a lot of development in Palaung land. They’ve built one bridge between Pan Lo and Nam Shan, across the Myinge River, and a few pagodas the Palaung people are very religious – but that’s all. We see them taking a lot of logs on trucks out to China.
The SLORC’s compromise with the PSLP did not stop them from taking political prisoners. There are Palaung among the 500 or so political prisoners and the 7,000 ordinary prisoners in Mandalay Prison. In Mandalay, when political prisoners are first brought in they’re put alone into a "dark" cell. A "dark" cell is about 4 feet by 4 feet with no light and no window, not even in the door. When they shut you in it’s pitch dark, all the time. There’s just a bare concrete floor and no toilet. You have to urinate and defecated on the floor, and they never clean the cell except maybe between prisoners. Occasionally, a guard opens a little hatch in the ceiling to look in, but just for a moment. Twice a day they slide some food through a hatch in the bottom of the door.
Prisoners are kept in these dark cells as long as their interrogation period lasts; there’s no time limit. They’re only allowed out to be interrogated. One of them joked that "When I’m in the dark cell I’m a free man – free to sit down or lie down, whenever I like".
Dark cell prisoners are regularly taken for interrogation. They take them directly from the dark cell to a "bright" cell, which is a little bigger, about 6 feet by 6 feet, with very bright Lights in the ceiling. During interrogation prisoners are badly beaten, and most suffer broken ribs or teeth. Many also have to "ride the motorcycle": the guard makes you squat down and pretend to ride a motorcycle, making all the sounds with your mouth. He sits on your back and holds your ears and says "Make it like a real motorcycle! Go forward! Now turn left!", like that. When he pulls on your ears you have to make the sound of the horn. Then after doing this for a while, the questions and beatings start again.
When the interrogation period finally finishes, most prisoners are taken out of the special cells to go before the judge. By this time most of them can’t walk, and they’re very weak. Most of them have lost a lot of their memories, have no self-confidence, and are confused and a little bit crazy. The judges dress as civilians, but they’re under the control of the military. When they take you in front of the judge you have no lawyer. You can talk, to answer the judge’s questions, and then he sentences you.
After sentencing, most political prisoners are sent to ordinary cells, which they share with as many as 4 others. Any important political prisoners are either sent to ordinary cells where they’re alone, or kept indefinitely in a "dark" cell. In the ordinary cells light comes through the metal bars and it’s not as bad. You sleep on a thin sleeping mat on the concrete floor, and there’s a bedpan for a toilet which is cleaned out sometimes. Some prisoners have blankets their families brought them when they were sentenced. They’re lucky, because once you’re in the prison you can’t get any. Twice a day they bring rice, yellow beans and fishpaste to the cell. Between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., and from 2 to 4 in the afternoon, they open the cell doors and the prisoners can walk up and down the 15-metre hallway outside the cells and talk with each other.
There are about 500 political prisoners and 7,000 criminal prisoners in Mandalay Prison. The criminal prisoners are generally treated better by the guards, and they don’t face so much torture or isolation.
In March about 2,000 of us were taken from the prison. Only a few were political prisoners. The guards told us they were going to renovate the prison so they had to move us out, but they didn’t say where we were going. They jammed us all onto big and small trucks - each big truck held about 60 men standing crammed together – and we set off with a convoy that must have been nearly 100 trucks. We had to stay on those trucks for 4 or 5 days. We had to stand jammed together on the truck all day, and some days we got no food at all. Some nights, if there was a big empty building available, we got to rest on the ground under guard. But other nights we had to stay on the trucks.
Eventually we got to an army camp near Pa’an town, and then we were driven another 2 days to a camp near the Naw Hta front where the SLORC was attacking Manerplaw. We got off the trucks and they loaded us down with ammunition. Each man had to carry two 120 mm mortar shells, or sometimes rice, altogether 18 or 20 viss [30-32 kilograms]. It took a whole day to march up and down over the hills to the frontline. We went back and forth day after day, carrying ammunition and supplies up to the frontline and wounded soldiers back. They fed us twice a day, but it was only one small plate of plain rice, and we were always starving. At night they put each group of us inside a bamboo fence, and we rested on the ground under guard. There were no mats or blankets or anything; we were just in our prison clothes. We were allowed a bath about 3 times in 10 days. Fortunately, it was the hot and dry time of year so not many got sick. But one man in our group got diarrhoea, and he still had to keep working.
We were usually divided into groups of 30, 40, or 50, and when we marched there were about 5 porters to every soldier. We often saw porters beaten with fists and sticks. One time the tailpiece of a 120 mm shell somehow fell off and disappeared while one porter in our group was carrying it. When we arrived at the front and the soldiers found out, they were very angry and all 30 of us were beaten with sticks.
We didn’t see them kill any porters, but one time there were 4 porters who were too weak to go on any further. A couple of them could still stand, but the others couldn’t. The soldiers took away their loads and left them behind, telling them "When you can walk, follow us". We marched on, but as we left some soldiers lingered behind with the weak porters. We never saw those porters after that.
After just over a week, we were sick of being porters. Three of us planned to escape, and once when we were sent to get water for cooking without a guard at the frontline, we ran away. It didn’t take us long to find the Karen soldiers, and then all the torture was finally over – for us at least.
RELOCATION CAMPS 1991
Information provided by PSLF
(Palaung State Liberation Front)
|CAMP||VILLAGES RELOCATED THERE|
|Hu Mung, Ma Lone, Sa Naam, Ho Pan, Hu Wai, Ling Dtul, Maung Oo, Pang Long|
|Hu Maing Pang Swe, Nam Tam, Tha Ngam, Hu Bang, Hu Lao, Nam Yan, Bang Kem, Nam Sai Kow, Pa Ma Chong, Pang Rang Ray, Hu Nam|
|Aram, Man Mai, Hu Khin, Tam Sai, Ma Sat, Tong Kyaw, Nam Keu South and North, Hu Chaung, Daw – Keu- Daw Mile, Hu La, Nam Sai Kow, Pa Ma Chong, Pang Rang Ray, Hu Nam|
|Bang Sri, Hu Nam, Gaya Gyi, Jong Hay, Ka Nguang Do, Man Pak, Ngaw Swit, Gaung Kelaw, Alok|
|Kon Ka, Kying Kying, La King, Loi Jeree, Ban Kwe, Na Kaw, Kyau Lon Gyi, Ho Maung, Bang Hai, Bang Keng, Man Kau, Loi Weh, Bang Top, Hing Kut, Nyen Thap, Hai Kyat|
|6.||Mo May Town
|Ye Bon, Man Teng, Taung Gyi, Ma Young, Ka Ket, Mi Gyeree, Ho Pan, Pan La|
|Man Don, Loi Kang, Bang Pai, Rao Kying, Hu Noi, Rao Myo, Daw Maw, Ho Pan, Pan La|
|8.||Nam Tu Town
|Man Pat, Tha Ban, Bang Sai, Hin Pot, Man Top, Bang Wat, Bang Dong, Ka Lwee, Sun Oi, Kong Kat, Man Kya, Nam Keung|
|Nam Lin, Keu Kun, Bang, Bang Lom, Om Lot, Ma New, Ho Hop, Ho Pat, Hai Tong, Man Lam, Man Yai, Long Top, Man Wai|
|Zyan Gyi South & North, Ding Kaya, Bang Sumei, Hu Chong|
|Main Kong, Ba Lan, Bang Chong, Pa Bung, Bang Pao, Bang Cherok, Loi Kam, Na Ka Dong, Taw Mun, Pa Dang, Man Mun, Loi Pet, Ho Ko|
Total: 11 camps, 118 villagers, 77,200 people.
This list is not complete.
VILLAGES BURNED DOWN IN 1991: (Total 22)
Ka Kyet, Ye Bon, Hu Bang, Bang Se, Hu Mang, Mah Lone, Hu Kim, Mang Mai, Hu Mein, Man Pang, Ga Ya, Bang Seree, Hu Wai, Bang Dong, Na Aw, Wang Plong, Oi Law, Nam Sai Kau, Bang Su Mein, Man Mai, Nam Lin, Rau Bran.