PORTER TESTIMONIES: KAWMOORA REGION

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PORTER TESTIMONIES: KAWMOORA REGION

Published date:
Thursday, December 31, 1992

These four men escaped to Thailand in mid-December 1992, after being used as porters for 2 months in the SLORC’s ongoing offensive in the Kawmoora area, on the Thai border 150 km south of Manerplaw near the Thai town of Mae Sot. The SLORC offensive in this area has been going on continuously for years. These 4 men provide an idea of its effect on the Karen villagers behind SLORC lines. One of them is only 15 years old, and arrived in Thailand with a head wound after SLORC troops fired a grenade at him.

An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
December 31, 1992

These 4 men escaped to Thailand in mid-December 1992, after being used as porters for 2 months in the SLORC’s ongoing offensive in the Kawmoora area, on the Thai border 150 km south of Manerplaw near the Thai town of Mae Sot. The SLORC offensive in this area has been going on continuously for years. These 4 men provide an idea of its effect on the Karen villagers behind SLORC lines. One of them is only 15 years old, and arrived in Thailand with a head wound after SLORC troops fired a grenade at him.

These testimonies were obtained in interviews on December 22, 1992. The men’s names have been changed to protect them and their families, and the names of their villages have been deliberately omitted. Names of those who were killed are real. Please feel free to use this information in any way which can help put a stop to this horrendous abuse of human beings.

Notes: Viss - unit of weight measure. 1 viss = 1.6 kilograms
          Longyi - a Burmese sarong
          Byu Ha - Burmese name for "Advance Strategic Headquarters"

 

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Name: Saw Lway Ghay                       Age: 45         Karen
Address: Myawaddy Township             Occupation: Farmer
Family: Bachelor

Our village is under SLORC control, and they’re always attacking the Karen Army not far away. The SLORC often comes and takes us as porters - I’ve been several times already. Usually it’s for 10 days at most, but this time it was 2 months before I escaped. They came on October 16th and arrested me while I was harvesting groundnuts in the field together with Htoo Lay and Sah Le Key. The soldiers said they needed us to carry things for them. There were a lot of soldiers rounding people up. First they made us carry rice a short way to their camp and we slept there, then they made us carry rice to their Byu Ha [Advance Strategic Headquarters] at Tha Mya Taung. They gave me a load of 10 2 ½" shells that weighed about 30 viss. There were more than 100 porters in my group and many groups in front of us. We were with SLORC 66 Division, #75 Battalion or Burma Regiment. All of us had to carry rice and ammunition. There was one soldier for every 7 porters, and the porters had to carry all his food and ammunition for whatever weapon he used, big or small. We were carrying every day for 2 months. Most of the time we had to follow the soldiers all over the place, but the last 2 weeks we were always going back and forth from the Byu Ha to the frontline, carrying ammunition. They only fed us at noon each day, only 1 handful of rice and salt. Sometimes there wasn’t even time to get a leaf to put it on, and we had to eat it out of our longyis. We were only allowed a bath once in a little stream. We had to go up and down very high mountains with no water to drink, because the soldiers love to stay in the highest places.

At night 4 soldiers at a time guarded us. If we wanted to go to the toilet we had to ask permission. We only had our longyis to keep us warm, and they were all torn. So were all our other clothes, but the soldiers wouldn’t let us light a fire to keep warm. They said, "the Karen troops might see it".

A lot of us got sick, especially with malaria. Htoo Lay was crying because he was sick and couldn’t carry any more. But the SLORC wouldn’t give any medicine - they said "You’re not our relatives. If you die it’s no problem." Anyone who can’t go on is left behind. I saw with my own eyes 2 porters die. After so many days they just couldn’t carry anymore, and they just fell down and died. The soldiers just left them there dead. They were only about 14 years old. The youngest porter I saw was 12 years old, and the oldest already had no more teeth! He must have been at least 60, maybe even 70.

Whenever we couldn’t keep up with the soldier we carried for, he beat us with his army boots. I was beaten in the back with a big piece of bamboo for being too slow. I was very tired but not sick, and I managed to keep going only because I knew I just had to. Many were beaten unconscious – I myself saw 4 or 5 porters beaten unconscious, but it happened many more times than that. Sometimes after beating a porter unconscious, the soldiers would pull him along under his arm, then as soon as the porter came to, the soldier made him carry again. The soldiers only carried their gun, the ammunition on their belt and some personal equipment - only about 5 viss altogether.

Sometimes shells came into our camp and porters got wounded. Some porters had their legs blown off, and some others got fractures. I saw the SLORC soldiers bring back 3 wounded porters from the front and put them on the ground in a spot off to the side. They just left them there to die. Two other porters I saw had been wounded with broken arms, and the soldiers still forced them to carry as long as they could. I don’t know if any of the wounded porters lived – we just had to follow our soldier and weren’t allowed to go and look.

Once when we were going up a mountain we passed more than 15 women porters being driven in the other direction. They weren’t from our village and we didn’t have a chance to talk to them. Many women were there, but I don’t’ know where they were from. They have to carry a lot of arms and ammunition, and I’m sure that they’re all raped. The women I saw were all ages - 15, 20, 25, 35 and older.

After we’d already been porters for 2 months, the soldiers told us they would still use us for 3 more months. So one morning not long after that, three of us ran away when we were sent for leaves to fix the roof at the Byu Ha. The soldiers fired 2 or 3 shots at us but they couldn’t see us. We got to the river and swam across to Thailand.

Now, I don’t dare go home to my village, because I’m very afraid I’ll be captured again. This time I’d be killed for sure. The SLORC often sends a big Battalion to rush our village. So, many of them attack at once that we can’t resist, and then they take all our livestock, take whatever they want and take us away as porters. When I was caught this time many had already been taken in my village before they came out in the field and grabbed me. Life in my village is only getting worse and worse. It’s terrible now.

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Name: Kwa Mu Htoo                             Age: 15 years old        Karen
Address: Myawaddy Township              Occupation: Farmer
Family: Father dead, mother alive, 2 brothers and 1 sister

My father died 5 years ago. They took him as a porter for 1 month and he got malaria. When he came back, he died.

Two months ago in October, four of us were gathering groundnuts in the field. More than 20 soldiers came and took us with them. They didn’t say anything, just "You have to follow us." They took us to Byu Ha.

My three friends were 16, 20 and 26 years old. We had to follow those soldiers all the time for more than a month. They made me carry a big tin of rice, and it was very heavy. I could walk, but others couldn’t, and the soldiers kicked and beat them. Then they told them to carry their loads again, and if they couldn’t the soldiers tied them with rope and pulled them along together with their load.

After more than a month, four of us tried to run away at night when the soldiers weren’t looking. They didn’t see us, but in the dark we ran into another group of soldiers and porters. They fired a grenade at us. [Note: The weapon used appears to have been a launched grenade fired from the end of a modified rifle.] It hit us. I just saw my friend Pa Deh fall dead, and then I fell unconscious. I don’t know how long I was asleep. When I woke up it was still dark and Pa Deh’s body was there. He was 26 years old.

I never saw what happened to my other two friends. There was a lot of blood coming from my head but I didn’t feel any pain yet. I got up and ran away. I got back to my village, and they took care of me and brought me across to the Mae Sot hospital in Thailand.

[Note: No news has been heard of Kwa Mu Htoo’s 2 missing friends. They did not reach Thailand and are presumed dead. Kwa Mu Htoo himself was still suffering from a graze to his skull and concussion at the time of this interview. He was hard of hearing and at times slightly incoherent.]

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1)  Name: Saw Htoo Lay                                 Age: 17        Karen
     Address: Myawaddy Township                    Occupation: Farmer
     Family: Mother and father, 4 brothers and sisters.

2)  Name: Sah Le Key                                     Age: 27        Karen
     Address: Myawaddy Township            Occupation: Farmer
     Family: Married, 1 child 3 years old.

SAH LE KEY: We were arrested together with Lway Ghay on October 16 when we were gathering groundnuts. There were many soldiers - I don’t know how many. They took us to a bigger group of soldiers who made us carry rice to the Byu Ha. From there we had to carry ammunition – Htoo Lay and I had to carry 6 81mm mortar shells each. They were very heavy, and we had to carry them right to the 81mm gunners, right at the front. Sometimes we went back and forth and slept at Byu Ha, other times we stayed other places with the soldiers.

A lot of our group got sick and weak. The soldiers kicked them and beat them but still made them follow. Anyone who really couldn’t go on was kicked and left behind, and the rest of us had to divide up his load. I saw this happen 2 times my self.

SAW HTOO LAY: I saw it 4 times. The men got malaria and couldn’t carry, so the soldiers kicked them and let them sit down, then they beat them up and left them behind. I got malaria and asked for water when we were climbing mountains. They refused to give me water and I cried. I couldn’t help crying all the time. I wanted to unload my burden but they wouldn’t allow me. I needed water, but they wouldn’t let me have any.

SAH LE KEY: We saw 15 women carrying 81mm shells. We also saw wounded porters. The soldiers just carried them to one side and left them there. We saw them do this to 3 men, and they must have died for sure. When soldiers got wounded, 2 porters had to carry them back to the Byu Ha. I don’t know how many porters there were. We saw 300, 400 - a lot.

When they sent us into a valley to get leaves, we said to each other "Let’s run away" and ran. The soldiers shot at us but we ran for our lives and swam across the river to Thailand. We saw some Karen people at a farmhouse and they helped us.

We’re too afraid to go back yet, even though my wife must think I’m dead by now. I don’t know how she and the baby are surviving.