(Including slavery under the United Nations Development Program)
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
Manerplaw, August 10, 1992
In Burma’s Karenni (Kayah) State, two opposition armies are actively engaged in fighting SLORC troops: the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF). Both of these armies derive moral support from the Karenni villagers. The SLORC’s response, as in other parts of the country, has been to direct their attacks as much at these villagers as at the opposition armies. Looting, burning houses and food, rape, beatings, interrogation, torture, and senseless executions are standard Burma Army practice upon entering Karenni villages. Many men and women are taken as slave porters never to return. Villagers flee to the jungle upon hearing that SLORC troops have entered the area, and many, especially men, just stay out in the forest indefinitely to avoid being taken as porters. Upon seeing men, women, or children fleeing a village, the SLORC troops gun them down. Villagers they encounter out in the forest are often shot on sight as "rebels".
In an attempt to cut off civilian support for the opposition by depopulating entire areas, in mid-March 1992 the SLORC gave orders to 76 villages in Pruso, Deemawso, and Loikaw townships of western Karenni State to leave the area by March 21. The orders said that any man, woman, or child thenceforth seen in the area would be shot on sight. The population of these villages totals over 20,000, all of whom were to move to SLORC relocation camps outside Pruso and Deemawso towns. But thousands fled instead into areas more firmly under opposition control, or to Karen National Union territory far to the south, or to the homes of friends and relatives in the towns. Other have simply hidden in the jungle to take their chances rather than submit to the camps.
However, an estimated 7,000 people were interned in Deemawso camp, and the KNPLF estimates a similar number in Pruso camp (although no eyewitness accounts from Pruso camp were available for this report). The camps are guarded, no one is allowed out without a special pass, and no food or medicine whatsoever is provided. The villagers have only whatever food they managed to bring with them. Starvation and disease are rampant. The villagers are frequently taken as slaves; in the following testimony, two men describe how they were taken among thousands of others to do slave labour building the Loikaw - Aung Ban railway with their bare hands. THIS RAILWAY IS A UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME (UNDP) PROJECT. It is part of the SLORC’s "Border Area Development" program, whereby they build roads and railways to give their army better access to opposition areas. While the UNDP seems recently to have joined its activities in Burma with those of other UN agencies under a new umbrella, its support of these projects still continues.
Some villagers have escaped the genocide of the camps and fled back to their home areas, then onward into the care of the KNPLF or KNPP. A KNPLF representative says they are currently supporting 1,500 such refugees in their area, and estimates that the KNPP is probably caring for similar numbers, while at least 1,000 people are still hiding in the jungle of their forbidden home areas.
Some have undertaken the 15-day walk southward through the mountains to safer Karen National Union (KNU) territory in northern Karen State. The villagers who gave the following testimony are among a group of over 100 refugees now in northern Karen State, receiving support only through the limited resources of the KNPLF. 74 of them arrived on July 18, 1992, most of whom had been interned in Deemawso camp.
All names have been changed. Please feel free to use, quote, or reprint any part of this report in any way which can help these people.
Name: Saw Klaw Reh Sex: M Age: 35 Karenni, Baptist
Address: Ku Bra Village, Deemawso Township
Family: Married with 6 children ages 1 to 13.
SLORC troops were almost always operating in our area. They came to our village often, took our livestock, raped women, and took villagers as porters. People taken as porters often disappeared for one to two months, and many never came back again. Over the years, there have been hundreds of people taken from Ku Bra who have never come back.
Every time SLORC soldiers were in the village they destroyed some houses too, and they went out of their way to destroy our churches. About 15 churches in our local area were destroyed many times. They made a point of destroying churches. Later, when they were ordering us to leave the village, they told us if all the Christian villagers changed to Buddhism we could stay in our villages and the SLORC would build a pagoda at the village for us. But you can’t believe anything they tell you.
In March we had to leave our village because we had no more food - the SLORC troops had taken or destroyed all of it - and because they told us they had orders allowing them to shoot any villagers they see after March 21. A few days before that, soldiers came to the village and told us we had 3 days to carry what we could to their camp in Deemawso town. But it’s one whole day’s walk - 35 miles through the hills - to Deemawso, so we could only make 2 trips carrying things on our backs and taking the children. We took only rice. There was no time to take anything else.
The soldiers stayed in our village for that 3 days, then left to go on patrol again. We all went to Deemawso camp. We didn’t want to stay there, but we had to because if we went back to the village the soldiers would kill us.
At the Deemawso camp, there were about 200 soldiers and 2,000 little houses they had made the people from Deemawso and Loikaw build for us. These were supposed to hold 12,000 villagers, but only about 7,000 people came. Our family got one little house. The camp was surrounded by a 5 foot high wooden fence and it was always guarded by soldiers from 102 Regiment, whose camp was nearby. We were never allowed to leave. There was a lake beside the camp we had to use for water, but it wasn’t very clean. We had to wash our clothes in it as well as drink it. Many people got sick. In one month, about 50 people of all ages died of dysentery – about 2 people every day. We had no medicine at all.
The only food we had was the rice we’d carried from the village, and nothing else to eat with it. Most families only had about one month’s supply of rice. If you also had some money, you could buy some rice, but many of the villagers had no money at all. By the time I escaped in May, some people had already died of starvation. Some people even had to beg or steal rice from other houses just to survive, even though those other families were also starving. Once a group of villagers saw a cow come near the camp, so they killed it and ate it. But the SLORC found out, and came and arrested them and sent them to jail. When I escaped the soldiers were already making the villagers do forced labour planting and growing rice outside the camp, but everybody knows the troops will take all that rice as soon as it’s harvested, and the villagers will get none.
I saw them take over 100 people from the camp to be army porters, and when I escaped none of them had come back yet. They also took many of us to work as slaves on the Loikaw – Aung Ban railway line. In April I was taken along with about 1,000 other men, while my family had to remain in the camp. They marched us to Fekhon, which is a whole day’s walk north of Deemawso. There is a car road, but they wouldn’t take us by truck. We had to work there for a whole month without going back. We worked from dawn to dusk carrying rocks and making the track bed. The soldiers always guarded us and gave us orders, and they often beat anyone who was working too slowly with their rifle butts. Sometimes they beat men unconscious and just left them laying there, so the rest of us had to go to carry them away and try to help them. At night we had to sleep on the ground where we worked, and we only had whatever rice we’d brought from our family supply at Deemawso camp, which we ate early in the morning and late at night. Many of us got very weak and sick with dysentery, malaria, and typhoid. I saw 8 men die of malaria while I was working on the railroad.
Finally after one month they made us march back to Deemawso camp, and took 1,000 more men out to replace us. The SLORC actually started building this railway about a year ago. I was already forced to do one month’s labour on it in August 1991, so this was my second time. A great number of Karenni villagers have been used as slaves on this railway over the past year.
Back at the camp the starvation was getting much worse. Some people were escaping at night while the soldiers were sleeping. On May 12 at night, my wife and children and I climbed over the fence and ran away with about 50 people altogether. We fled back into the hills and ended up staying as refugees in the KNPLF area. Many people were still hiding in the forest, and I heard that the SLORC troops shot and killed 2 people they found on June 26, like they had promised us they would do. On July 1 we left the KNPLF area for the long walk here where it’s safer, and arrived here on July 18. But I think even now there are 5,000 or more people in Deemawso camp.
Name: Naw Ler Eh Sex: F Age: 28 Karenni, Baptist
Address: Ku Gra village, Deemawso Township
Family: Married with 3 children, ages 3, 6, and 8.
[When noted, her husband Hte Bu, age 35, added to the interview]
The SLORC always took villagers from Ku Bra village as porters. Some times there weren’t enough men because they were all hiding in the forest, and then they’d take women. I was taken as a porter once, in March 1991 for a month. My children had to stay behind with their grandmother. The soldiers made me carry about 30 kilograms of their rations: rice, salt, sardines and other things. They only gave us a very little bit of plain rice to eat.
I was with 6 women and 20 men porters. When we couldn’t keep up we were beaten with rifle butts, including the women. The soldiers hit me in the face with their rifle butts. They beat two men and one woman to death while I was a porter. When we rested, it was just on the ground, with guards. I saw them rape 3 of the women. Every day they made us keep moving and carrying our loads, although they never fought with any Karenni soldiers. We all got malaria, but we still had to keep carrying our loads. The SLORC soldiers said we would have to work as porters for 2 months, but I couldn’t bear it. After one month, four of us ran away together. The soldiers opened fire on us as we ran, and killed two of us – one man and one woman. I was very lucky to survive.
Back at the village, the others finally came back – but not until two months after I escaped. They said two more porters had died of typhoid by then.
Then this year, the SLORC ordered us out of our village in March. They came into the village and said if we don’t move out of the village they would open fire on it. So we had to move out to Deemawso as they ordered us, just to save our lives.
It’s a long way to Deemawso and I had to carry my 3 year old girl on the front and a load of rice on my back. There was no way I could carry any other belongings, only as much rice as I could take. My 6 year old daughter and 8 year old son had to walk all the way over the hills with us, and we were very slow. It took us two whole days to walk. I tried to keep the children from crying by telling them, "We’re all going to Deemawso to play".
When we got there, the villagers from Deemawso Town had made houses for us in a special camp, about 2,000 houses in a camp ½ mile by ½ mile. SLORC soldiers guarded the camp and we were never allowed to leave. There was a rectangular lake, about 1 mile by ½ mile, beside the camp where we could get dirty water. We only had the rice we’d carried with us to eat. Some villagers finished theirs after one month, but we managed to make ours last 2 months, although we were always hungry. We were scared, because we had no money to get more.
Some people who ran out of rice went to Deemawso town to do hard labour for 20 Kyat per day [20 Kyat buys 8 small milk tins, about 1.5 kilos, of rice. Official rate: 20 Kyat = US$3.30. Black market: 20 Kyat = US$0.20 at the time of printing]. My husband went and worked as a gardener in Deemawso to get money like this when it was allowed. The soldiers gave special passes for this, but never to more than one person in a family. Then if the soldiers patrolling the camp saw that someone hadn’t come back in the evening, all the neighboring villagers were beaten. No more then 2 adults were ever allowed to be seen together in the camp. If the soldiers saw 3 or more adults together they were all arrested and taken to jail.
While we were in the camp, the KNPP came to fight the SLORC in Deemawso. But the SLORC soldiers in the 102 Regiment camp fired their 60 mm mortar deliberately at our camp instead of at the KNPP soldiers, who were in a different direction. They fired 2 shells at us that exploded just outside the camp fence, but luckily no villagers were hurt. Then their third shell blew up inside the mortar, and we heard that 5 soldiers were killed. The soldiers hated us so much that they really just wanted to kill us all.
They also took my husband to work on the railway.
Hte Bu: I had to work on the railway for 4 days. They assigned each of us a stretch of ground one-eighth of a mile long by 26 feet wide, and ordered us to build a railway embankment. It went right across people’s ricefields. We had to dig and pack the dirt all with our bare hands. There were no tools at all. Then after working all day we just had to sleep in the dirt where we worked. They gave us no food; we could only eat whatever we’d brought along. I managed to finish my stretch in 4 long days and then they let me go back. But many others took longer to finish.
Many people were getting sick and starving in Deemawso camp. Our 6 year old daughter got dysentery and there was no medicine, but somehow she recovered.
On June 1 we took the children at midnight and escaped along with 30 others. We ran away all the way back to the Ku Bra area and hid in the forest. Then we went south and arrived in the KNPLF area on June 23. On July 1, 76 of us left there to walk all the way here. But on July 2, we met a SLORC patrol. We were only refugees, but they opened fire on us and we ran for our lives. Two people were gunned down as we ran. So, only 74 of us made it here two weeks later.
Name: Koo Maw Lay Sex: M Age: 46 Karenni, Roman Catholic
Address: Huan Village.
Family: Married, 6 children ages 6 to 12
I was the headman of our village. The SLORC always took porters from our village, and they used to order me to provide them. Often they asked for 20 porters at once, even though there are only 160 people in the village and we knew anyone they took would be gone for 2 months or so. There was often just no way we could provide so many people for them. Two of the times when we couldn’t obey, they arrested me and the village secretary, took us and made us sit with our legs locked in wooden stocks. These stocks were made to hold three people. While the two of us sat helpless side by side, they beat both of us with their fists and 2-inch thick wooden bats until we both fell unconscious. Then later they let us go.
The SLORC soldiers also came to the village often to steal our chickens, kill our pigs, and they destroyed our rice supplies. This year, they took more porters than ever before. In February, they rounded up the whole village except young children and old people, and made us go and build an army camp for them. It took us two days, and they gave us nothing. We even had to bring our own food.
Huan was not one of the villages ordered to leave this year, but we had to leave anyway because the troops were coming so often and destroying all our food, beating people and taking so many porters. There was no way we could survive there any more.
In May I left the village with my family. The other villagers didn’t go with us, but they also had plans to leave before long. With my wife and children, I walked down into the area that the KNPLF controls, and they issued rice and other things to help us survive. Then eventually we came all the way down here.