Further Statements Regarding SLORC Murder, Extortion, Slavery, and Forced Relocation in Karenni (Kayah) State.
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
Manerplaw, November 15, 1992
This report is supplementary to the report "Karenni State: Forced Relocation, Concentration Camps and Slavery" issued at Manerplaw on August 10, 1992. The following accounts were given in interviews with more of the refugees who have fled to the Karen Revolutionary Area to escape SLORC persecution, internment in Deemawso concentration camp and forced labour as porters on the Loikaw-Aung Ban railway line.
These statements are corroborated by evidence from SLORC sources. Firstly, there is documentary evidence, in the form of signed and sealed SLORC orders, that the SLORC has been extorting property and slave labour from villagers in this area for years, and that SLORC troops had written orders to shoot to kill any man, woman, or child found in 76 villages of Deemawso, Pruso, and Loikaw townships after March 25 (see previous reports). Secondly, the SLORC has refused Australian diplomats permission to observe the railway site, while on October 13, Lt. Col. Than Han of the SLORC’s Border Areas Development Committee admitted that the mass relocations to Pruso and Deemawso camps occurred, and that camp internees and others are being forced to do slave Labour on the railway. "We are doing it for them. But for the present people must suffer by putting in labour", he said. "Every day people are dying. It’s a normal thing." [See Reuters report in The Nation, Bangkok, Oct. 14 1992]. The testimony of the villagers in this report proves that his other statements, claiming that women and children are not being used on the railway and that food and medical care are provided in Deemawso camp, are absolute lies. Furthermore, the accounts of the villagers themselves should be used to judge Than Han’s statement, "We are doing it for them".
The names of those interviewed have been changed. All other names, including those of soldiers and victims of SLORC brutality are real. Some details of addresses and other details are omitted where necessary to safeguard against SLORC reprisals. Please feel free to use this information in any way which can help these people.
Name: Naw Hai May Sex: F Age: 33
Address: Ku Pra Village, Deemawso Township
Natonality/Religion: Kayah, Christian Baptist
Family: Widow of Saw Samuel [his real name], age 36
Five children aged 3, 8, 10, and 12.
We had to leave our village in March. The SLORC sent a letter to the headman, which said "You have 3 days to move to Deemawso. If you don’t obey this order you are rebel supporters. If you don’t leave we will kill you." My husband didn’t want to go. He said our farm is here, and if we go to Deemawso we’ll have no food so we shouldn’t move. Many of the others in the village agreed with him but everyone was too afraid to disobey the SLORC.
The letter came to the headman on a Sunday. On Tuesday, many soldiers came to the village to check that everyone was leaving. Most of the villagers had already left because it takes 2 days to walk all the way to Deemawso carrying everything you can, even your children. But my husband still didn’t want to leave. The soldiers told him we had to go but he was brave and said he wanted to stay in his home village. So, they killed him.
I was outside our house with my children and when I heard a shot I was so scared I just grabbed them and ran to get out of the village. I looked back and saw my husband fall down, and the officer was standing there holding his pistol. Right then I knew my husband was dead, but we had to get away. We didn’t dare go back, we just kept going all the way to Deemawso. We met other villagers from Ku Pra on the way - nobody dared stay in the village after the soldiers murdered my husband. It took us 2 whole days to walk to Deemawso, and it was very hard for the children, especially the small ones. The older children and I had to carry them all the way. We had no rice or belongings with us. When we came to villages the villagers fed us and took care of us.
When we reached Deemawso camp 2 days later, the soldiers there said I could go back again to bury my husband. I went back without the children because it was too hard for them, but together with a group of soldiers. We buried my husband at the village, then returned to Deemawso. I saw his body – he had been shot in the left side of the head just below the ear, and there was a large exit wound in the same place on the right side of his head.
We were in Deemawso camp for two and a half months. There were a great many people in the camp. Ku Pra is a big village of 80 or 90 houses, and we were in a group of 10 villages. There were other such groups too, but I don’t know how many. My relatives gave us food to survive. The Army provided nothing at all. My children got sick with malaria, but there was no medicine and no hospital. I saw a lot of people die of malaria, and others of cholera and dysentery. People were all running out of food. They had to eat rice soup instead of rice, or less rice, and ration their supply. But the soldiers wouldn’t allow anyone to leave the camp.
Every 3 or 4 days I saw the soldiers beating villagers with their rifle butts. Usually it was people who had run out of food; they would ask permission to leave the camp to get some food, the soldiers always refused and then sometimes the villager would argue with them. Then the soldier always attacked the villager with his rifle butt. Sometimes they beat people until they were unconscious.
Nobody dared try to escape during that time. But after a month or two, the SLORC started letting some people go out for up to 3 days to go and find some food. I couldn’t go because all my children were sick, so my relatives kept taking care of us. Once the villagers were allowed out, they started escaping. Finally on June 25, I ran away with all my children. We fled back to Ku Pra but there was nobody there, so we went from village to village. After 4 days we saw some KNPLF [Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front] soldiers and went with them. They took care of us and eventually sent us here where it’s safer.
Now I think there must still be many people in the camp, including some of my relatives. I don’t know what their situation might be now. We just want to go back to our home village, because being a refugee here is very hard. It’s a strange place for us, and I don’t know how to get vegetables here or anything. We just want to go home.
[Note: The KNPLF says that according to their intelligence, it was Column #3 of SLORC Light Infantry Battalion #72 that entered Ku Pra Village, and it was the Column Commander who murdered Naw Hai May’s husband.]
Name: Saw Pah Wah Sex: M Age: 46
Address: Western Deemawso Township
Nationality/Religion: Padaung, Christian Baptist
Occupation: Village Baptist Pastor (unordained) and Farmer
Family: Married with 7 children aged 5 to 27
We were forced to move out of our village in March. Even the village pastors in all the villages were forced out as "rebel supporters". The SLORC sent a letter to the headman ordering us to move to Deemawso, and we had to go. In Deemawso concentration camp there is nothing - no food, no clothes, nothing. If we wanted to go back to get food or anything from our village we had to ask permission from the guards, but they wouldn’t allow us.
I was in the camp for about 4 months. The soldiers supplied nothing at the camp, so every one only had what they’d brought from the village, which they shared with their relatives who needed it. There was a small lake for water, but we had to use it for bathing, drinking, and everything. I saw many people get very sick and some died. In our group of 600 to 700 people, at least 40 or 50 died of starvation, and more than that from disease. I didn’t see the soldiers kill anyone but I saw them beating villagers sometimes. Some villagers would go outside the camp for emergency reasons, like looking for medicine for a serious illness, and came back after 6 p.m. without permission. For things like this they were beaten severely.
In May I was taken from the camp to work on the Loikaw – Aung Ban railway. All families in the camp were ordered to go, including women and children big enough to work, which usually meant age 12 and above. If a family couldn’t send anyone they were supposed to pay 2,500 Kyat. Otherwise, every family had to go. The soldiers said, "If you don’t work on the railway you can’t live in Burma". We were afraid of them, so we obeyed. The elderly and some mothers were allowed to stay behind to care for the smaller children.
We had to take our own food with us to the railway. They made us walk about 25 miles all the way to Pay Ko, where we had to work. Every day we had to work from 8 to 12 in the morning, then from 1 to 5 in the afternoon. I had to dig dirt and carry it from 50 yards away to make their railway embankment. I had a basket and hoe that I’d brought with me. The embankment had to be 26 plah [39 feet] across at the base, 8 plah [12 feet] high and 16 plah [24 feet] across at the top. It was very hard work.
There were always 30 to 60 soldiers guarding us. I saw them beat villagers fairly seriously with their fists and rifle butts for getting up late in the morning. You had to obey them, because they would beat you for any reason at all. Many people got sick, especially of malaria. The soldiers always accused us of pretending to be sick. If you say you’re sick, the soldier feels your pulse and your forehead. Then if he decides you’re really sick, there’s no medicine but at least you’re allowed to rest. But if he decides you’re pretending, he beats you with his fist, his boots, or his rifle butt, and then forces you to work. This happened very often.
Most people had brought plastic sheets with them and we used these to make shelters and slept underneath them on the ground. We also brought our own pots for cooking. The soldiers supplied nothing at all for us. People who ran out of rice had to borrow from other families or go all the way back and get more. When I ran out of rice I walked all the way back to Deemawso Town, where I have some relatives, and borrowed some from them. But the people in Deemawso Camp still weren’t allowed to leave to get more food.
Going to get rice didn’t save us any work, because each family had been given a work assignment that had to be finished before they could go home. I had to make a stretch of embankment about 13 plah [20 feet] long, together with my 13- and 15- year old sons. It took us about 1 month before we could go back, although some bigger families finished a bit faster than that.
Not long after we got back to Deemawso Camp, our village headman got another letter from the senior Operations Command officer, saying we were going to have to go back to the railway again. That was just too much for us, so on June 28 we ran away together with 4 or 5 other families, back into the hills. Eventually we found the KNPLF and went with them.
The SLORC soldiers told me they want to finish this railway in 4 years. All the way down to Maw Chi to carry the wolfram out from the Maw Chi mines. All the villagers in our area have already been forced to work on this railway for 2 years. I had to go 3 times already before we were forced to move to Deemawso. Every time it’s the same conditions. The whole village has to go as slaves, then after we all get back home, only a couple of months later we get another letter ordering us to go back and work again. It’s unbearable.
Name: Koo Hteh Moo Sex: M Age: 28
Address: Western Deemawso Township
Nationality/ Religion: Keyoh, Roman Catholic
Family: Married with I daughter now 9 months old
(only 1 month old at time of forced relocation)
The SLORC Army used to come to our village frequently, but we always heard they were coming, and we fled into the jungle so they couldn’t take us as porters. Only the old, the women and small children stayed in the village because it was too hard for them to run away. In March when the soldiers came and found the old people, the women and children, they ordered them to go to Pruso Town. The soldiers went there with them, and then took them by truck to Deemawso Camp.
My wife and 1 month old daughter had run into the forest with me that time, so we didn’t have to go to Deemawso. But my mother is very old and she was in the village. They took her with them.
We made a little shelter out in the jungle and lived on food we’d brought from the village. When we ran out of food we went back to the village to get more, but only if the enemy wasn’t around. Battalion 249 often came and stayed around the village, and then we couldn’t go. We didn’t know they had orders to kill any villager they saw but we were sure they would take us as porters or kill us or take us to Deemawso it they captured us.
Our shelter was about a one hour walk from the village, and there were others like us scattered in the same area, hiding from the SLORC. Before March our village had 17 families. I don’t know how many of us were hidden in the jungle, but everyone who could was hiding. We stayed like this until August, getting our food from the village and the forest. Then on August 31 the SLORC troops came and burned down the village because they knew there were still some villagers hiding in the area, and they had always accused us of "supporting the rebels".
Then when we ran out of rice we had to leave. We went from village to village getting help from the villagers we found. Some of the villagers still had people in them, but others were empty. Eventually we came all the way down to the Karen area, where we arrived on September 18 together with our 100 other villagers. I heard that my mother finally escaped from Deemawso Camp and went back to stay around our village, where maybe she can find a bit of food and try to plant some rice, but it’s very dangerous. I think staying here is better than back in the village because here we don’t have to fear the SLORC. The SLORC doesn’t do anything except come to villages to burn them down, beat, torture, and kill the people, all kinds of horrible things. We want to go back to our village, but there’s no way as long as the SLORC is around.
Name: Naw Eh Paw Sex: F Age: 39
Address: Outskirts of Loikaw Town ( Karenni State Capital)
Nationality/Religion: Kayah, Christian Baptist
Family: Married with 7 children aged 8 months to 14 years
In Loikaw now the Army comes to everyone’s house 2 or 3 time every week and demands "porter fees". Every family has to pay 50 Kyat every time, or sometimes 100 Kyat. Most of us are too poor to be able to pay every time, but the Army says if we can’t pay we have to go to jail for more than 3 years, or go as a porter. I don’t know anyone who’s gone to jail, but many had to go as porters. Most of the porters die at the front line. Most of those people never came back. The ones who did come back told us how the others all died. Some died of disease, some of starvation, and some got too weak so the soldiers tied their hands and beat them to death or beat them and left them behind in the jungle. My husband saw all of this - he survived being a porter 2 times. Once they let him come home after 1 month, and the other time only after 2 months. But even while he was gone as a porter, the soldiers still came around and made me pay Porter Fees! The porters never got anything from that money. It was always soldiers from 54 Battalion who collected it, and the Army took it all.
But even that isn’t enough for them. Every month they also come to collect "Railway Fees". The soldiers say now they’re using machines to build the railway to Aung Ban , and that we have to pay for the machines. Every month each family has to pay 40 to 50 Kyat. Like with the porter fees, anyone who can’t pay is tortured and persecuted, and they threaten us with jail or take us away as porters. If you can’t pay a fee, they still come back later and demand more, and then more, like charging interest, and then they take you away. Everyone in Loikaw has to pay all these fees.
That wasn’t all we had to do for the railway. For about a year now, the Army has also forced us to go and work on the railway for one or two weeks every month. Every house has to send one person. My husband went once, I went twice and our 14 year old son had to go 3 times. The other 6 times we just couldn’t stand to go, so we hired someone to go for us for 100 or 150 Kyat. Every house in the whole area has to do this.
When I went to the railway, I had to leave our older son and daughter to take care of the younger children. Each time we had to take all our own food and tools. At the railway I had to cook for all the other workers and carry water. There were many women there working, cooking or carrying rocks and dirt. The youngest villagers were about 12, and the oldest I saw were about 50 years old. We had to work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a one hour rest at noon. There were always armed soldiers around guarding us and giving us orders. We slept in little shelters with our plastic sheets laid on the dirt as floor.
There is no fighting around Loikaw, but we just couldn’t pay all the fees any more or survive all the slave labour. At the end of August, my 7 children and I fled our home in Loikaw to Ler Ba Ko Village in the forest. My husband stayed behind just to try to sell our house and belongings before following us. I walked all the way south through the mountains, through fighting areas and places where all the villagers were gone, together with my 7 children, even my 6-month old baby. It was very hard for the children but after 18 days of walking we finally reached the Karen area on September 18. My husband still hasn’t arrived, and I’m worried about him. The situation in Loikaw is really terrible for the people these days.
[Naw Lah Gay, a 28 year old mother of 3, adds the following about the railway:]
I was taken from Deemawso camp to work on the railway in April. Many women had to go. I was the only person from my family who went that time. I walked to Pay Ko as part of a group of 5 people. At the railway we had to work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. In the morning I had to cook, then all the rest of the day I had to carry rocks. The women had to carry rocks, while the men had to break them. We were there for more than a week before our group of 2 women and 3 men was allowed to go back. When the guards weren’t around we could bear it, but when the guard were around we were all very afraid. I saw one man beaten by a SLORC officer because he was sick. The officer didn’t even ask anything, just started kicking him with army boots. The villager was badly hurt, but he didn’t go unconscious.
Name: Koo Htee Rai Sex: M Age: 35
Address: Western Deemawso Township
Nationality/Religion: Kayah, Christian Baptist.
Family: Married with 6 children aged 2 days to 13 years.
We were forced to move to Deemawso camp in March. It was too hard to walk all the way with the children, so we walked about 2 hours to the car road and then paid 60 Kyat to go to Deemawso by passenger truck. While we were at Deemawso, we survived because I sneaked out every day to go and work for people in Deemawso Town. They paid me in money or rice. Only a couple of people could do this because it was completely against the rules. If the soldiers had found out I’m sure they would have arrested us and sent us to the jail they had at the camp. We had to make sure we were always back before evening, because every evening without fail the soldiers checked all the houses in the camp to make sure everyone was there. I don’t know what they would have done if they’d found anyone missing.
Two times I was there when they shot villagers dead just for being outside the camp. The men weren’t escaping, they were just trying to go outside the camp alone to go find some food. Their names were Daw Kyaw Kay and Koo Bu Su. Saw Kyaw Kay was 28 years old with a wife and 2 daughters, 1 and 3 years old. The SLORC shot him just outside the camp boundary at about 9 p.m. on April 20. I wrote it down at the time. Koo Bu Su was just 18 years old and single - the SLORC shot him in similar circumstances at 8 a.m. on May 27. Both men were shot by ordinary soldiers, who were ordered to fire by an officer who was there. The officer didn’t even call to the villagers first, he just ordered the soldier to shoot. I saw Saw Kyaw Kay’s body afterwards in what the SLORC called the camp "hospital"- although it had no doctors and no medicine. Kyaw Kay had been shot in the front 3 times, once in the right half of his chest, once in the lower belly and once in his upper left leg.
Altogether I saw about 20 soldiers at the camp, all from 102 Battalion. I often saw them beat villagers very severely for having gone outside the camp. When the villagers came back, the troops arrested them and beat them with rifle butts, fists, and sticks, sometimes until they went unconscious. Ko La Sein was one man I knew who they beat very badly.
In April I was forced to go work on the railway at Pay Ko. At least one person from each family had to go. I was the only one from our family who had to go, but other families had to send more people. If nobody from your family could go, you had to pay 600 Kyat, but hardly anyone could do that. Everyone had to take their own food and tools if they had any. At the railway they made me carry big rocks, about 2 feet in diameter, and break them into pieces with a big hammer the soldiers gave me. Whatever the soldiers ordered us to do, we had to do. If we didn’t, we were beaten. Even if the soldiers caught anyone resting during the daytime, they beat him because they wanted us all to work non-stop. I couldn’t survive doing this work all day long, so after 2 days I ran away to a village. I stayed with the villagers there for several days until eventually I saw some of the villagers from the railway going back to Deemawso Camp. Then I slipped in with them and went back.
After that, I stayed with my family in Deemawso Camp for another 2 months. Eventually, the soldiers started allowing people to make short trips back to our villages to look for food, so I went with my family and escaped. We found the KNPLF in the hills and went with them. They took care of us for a while, then sent us down here to the Karen area. I think there must still be a lot of people held in Deemawso Camp, and they probably have no food. If they have any thing left to eat at all by now it would only be watery rice soup, unless they have relatives outside the camp who can help them. There’s no way they can escape unless the soldiers allow them to leave the camp to get food.
The SLORC has always persecuted us, even though we’re just innocent villagers. Even before we were relocated. I had to go work on the railway one time in September 1991. They came and ordered 1 person form every house in the village to go or else pay 600 Kyat. If we couldn’t go or pay, they said they’d throw us in rail for 6 months. We had to walk all the way there and take our own food and tools. At the railway, we had to sleep on the ground on our plastic sheets with another plastic sheet for a roof. It was still raining sometimes because it was the end of rainy season. From 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, I had to load dirt into a basket, then two of us had to haul it and dump it on the railway embankment. I saw the soldiers beat people twice by slapping them in the face and kicking them hard with army boots for not working hard enough. After about a week we finished our assigned part of the embankment, and they sent us all home.
Then in the village in January 1992 the soldiers accused me of supporting the rebels, even though they had no reason and no evidence. They took me and beat me for hours. First they interrogated me, then beat me for 5 minutes, then took a short break, interrogated and beat me again, over and over again like that. There were 5 soldiers all beating me at once with sticks, and I kept falling unconscious and then waking up to be beaten again. They broke one of my teeth out with a stick, and they held my head and put a bayonet against my throat and threatened me but I didn’t even know anything. They held me like this for 3 days. The village headman tried to get them to free me, but the officer. Aung Kyaw Oo, wouldn’t let me go until after the headman had gone all the way to Deemawso and got a release order from the senior officer there and even then I was only set free when the headman gave Aung Kyaw Oo two good roosters.
I want to go back to my village, but not without a weapon. That is the only way we can fight the SLORC. If only all of us from my area could get weapons, we could defeat them. I’ve had enough of being persecuted and not being able to fight back.