PORTER TESTIMONIES: THE SLORC’S SAW HTA OFFENSIVE

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PORTER TESTIMONIES: THE SLORC’S SAW HTA OFFENSIVE

Published date:
Sunday, January 10, 1993

On October 5, 1992, SLORC Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw told the United Nations General Assembly that the SLORC was no longer attacking the ethnic peoples of Burma. On October 6, 1992, the SLORC launched an unprovoked offensive on the northern Karen village and trading post of Saw Hta, on the Salween River near the southern border of Karenni (Kayah) State. As usual in their offensives, the SLORC press-ganged thousands of civilians to carry all their ammunition and supp1ies to the front lines. The following interviews arc with a few of the men who have successfully escaped to the Karen lines. Their names have been changed to protect them and their families, although the names of the dead which they give are real. Names of their home villages have been deliberately omitted, as well as other unnecessary details which could be used by the SLORC to trace them. Please feel free to use this information in any way which could help put a stop to this horrendous abuse of human beings.

On October 5, 1992, SLORC Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw told the United Nations General Assembly that the SLORC was no longer attacking the ethnic peoples of Burma. On October 6, 1992, the SLORC launched an unprovoked offensive on the northern Karen village and trading post of Saw Hta, on the Salween River near the southern border of Karenni (Kayah) State. As usual in their offensives, the SLORC press-ganged thousands of civilians to carry all their ammunition and supp1ies to the front lines.

Initially they brought hundreds of convicts from Mandalay and other prisons for this brutal and often fatal work. Then they began rounding up thousands of Shan villagers far to the north in central Shan State. These men were forced onto Army trucks and brought like caged animals several days and nights drive over rough roads, hundreds of kilometres southward to Pah Saung in southern Karenni (Kayah) State. There they were immediately saddled with loads of ammunition and supplies and force marched over the mountains into northern Karen State to the front line at Saw Hta. This tactic of hauling porters half way across the country is sometimes used by the SLORC to prevent the porters escaping. The SLORC believes that uneducated villagers will be too afraid to attempt escape so far from their home State, in areas where they do not speak the language or know the culture. The SLORC officers reinforce this by constantly telling the porters that the Karen Army will kill them if they catch them; and after a lifetime of exposure to propaganda, the villagers have no way of knowing this isn't true. Even so, the SLORC's brutality has driven hundreds to attempt escape, although thus far only about 80 have been successful. The vast majority of the porters are either still in the SLORC Army's hands, or lying dead on the paths from Pah Saung

The following interviews are with a few of the men who have successfully escaped to the Karen lines. Their names have been changed to protect them and their families, although the names of the dead which they give are real. Names of their home villages have been deliberately omitted, as well as other unnecessary details which could be used by the SLORC to trace them. Please feel free to use this information in any way which could help put a stop to this horrendous abuse of human beings.

Notes: Kyat - the official Burmese currency. At official rates, US$1 = 6 Kyat. At black market rates, US$1 = 120 Kyat (at the time of printing). To a subsistence farmer like the men in this report, 1,000 Kyat is quite a large sum.

Viss - unit of weight measurement. 1 viss = 1.6 kg / 3.5 lb.

Longyi - a Burmese sarong.

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The following 7 Shan men arrived at a Karen camp near Saw Hta on January 3, 1993. They are all, Shan Buddhist farmers from central Shan State.


 

Name

Age

Family

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.

Sai Wan Na
Sai Ohn Maung
Sai Naw Suk
Thaung Tin
Sai Khorn Mong
Sai Aik Pan
Sai Hla Aung

30
21
24
27
21
45
24

Married with one child
Married 5 months ago
Married with two children
Married with three children
Married 6 months ago
Married with six children
Single

SAI WAN NA & SAI NAW SUK: We were all captured by the SLORC in late November. The two of us were taken from the fields when we were working harvesting rice for another farmer. The soldiers came into the field, tied our hands with rope and put us on a truck.

SAI AIK PAN: I was also arrested when I was working on someone else's farm. Everyone got away except me.

SAI KHORN MONG, THAUNG TIN & SAI HLA AUNG: We were all taken from our homes. The soldiers came at night when we were asleep. They just woke us up and took us away.

SAI OHN MAUNG: I was taken when I was on my way home from the SLORC farm.

SAI NAW SUK: The SLORC’s farm is a big setup that’s been there for 2 years. Two years ago the SLORC confiscated a lot of people's farms and parts of farms all through our area. They forced all the farmers to move to another place and told them to make farms there instead. But the new place is no good, there’s not enough water and it’s hard to grow things. Meanwhile, all the farmers still have to go back and work on their old farms for 5 days at a time, except now all their work is only for the SLORC soldiers. The farmers aren't paid anything for this - they even have to bring their own rice with them. They also have to bring their pigs, chickens, and the other animals to feed the SLORC troops, and they were forced to provide bamboo, wood, leaf roofing and labour to build a new camp for the soldiers at the farm.

When we were taken as porters, they said they were taking us to workfor 5 days in the oilseed fields. Instead, they loaded us onto trucks and tied us to each other by the hands with rope. Then we were on those trucks for about 5 days and nights, and they never let us off. Different groups of trucks joined up together and they brought us all the way down to Pah Saung in southern Karenni State. Every truck had at least 30 porters on it guarded by 10 or 15 soldiers. The soldiers made us stay sitting down all the time for 5 days and nights. We were never allowed to stand. If we tried to stand up the soldiers hit us. Our hands were always kept tied up, and we just had to go to the toilet in our pants. The only food they gave us was about a half kilo of rice twice a day for 5 people. There was nothing to eat with it. Even when we ate they would only untie one of our hands, while the other hand was still tied to the next man.

We saw about 40 trucks altogether, and about 2,000 porters, all of them villagers like us. When we finally got off the trucks at Pah Saung, they gave us loads to carry to the frontline at Saw Hta. Most of us carried shells, but Sai Wan Na had to carry about 25 viss of rice and Sai Ohn Maung had to carry a load of special equipment for an officer. All along the way, they only gave us a tiny bit of rice to eat and they beat us. The soldiers kicked me in the ribs with their boots. It still hurts a lot even now.

SAI WAN NA & THAUNG TIN: The soldiers always kicked us from behind when we were tired.

SAI AIK PAN: I had to carry a sack of rice, and they kept kicking me whenever I couldn't walk

SAI HLA AUNG: I was punched and slapped in the face.

SAI KHORN MONG: Isaw the corpses of 2 porters who had tried to escape near Saw Hta. They'd been ,shot dead.

SAl NAW SUK: Isaw a friend I knew from home try to run away. A soldier saw him running and shot him in the back. The bullet came out through his chest and he was dead. He was a Burman from Main Pan named Soe Win, married with 4 children. He was only 23 years old. They killed him at a place they called Camp A, just south of Saw Hta. I also saw them shoot another man who was trying to escape. He was about 26 years old. They hit him in the arm, and he grabbed his arm and kept running. The soldier took 2 porters to look for him but they only found the blood.

We were with the SLORC for 1 month and 5 days from Pah Saung before we ran away. I ran away when the soldiers sent me to get bamboo, and the others escaped when they were sent to get firewood or when the soldiers were sleeping or not looking.

By that time, many other porters had run away or had been shot, or they died of dysentery. But most of them are still being held as porters by the SLORC.

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These two men escaped at Saw Hta in late November, after about one and a half months of being held by the SLORC Army.

 

1. Name:  San Kyaw        Age: 35        Description: Pa'oh Shan, Buddhist
    Address: Central Shan State                 Occupation: Farmer
    Family: Married with three children

2. Name: Brang Na              Age: 49      Description: Kachin, Christian
   Address: Northern Shan State               Occupation: Farmer
   Family: Married with seven children

SAN KYAW: We were taken prisoner in October. I was in town watching a video in the marketplace when the soldiers came and surrounded the place and closed the doors. There were many people inside. The soldiers let the women and children go but they grabbed 18 men. Our ages were about 17 up to 37. The soldiers said they were taking us to the forest to get bamboo so we could build a fence around their camp for them. They didn't tell our families anything. They took us to the police station, and then the next day to a big hall at the Army camp where they put about 400 of us.

BRANG NA: I was travelling in a car near Lashio when the Army stopped us on the road. They we're stopping all the cars. They left the women and children alone, but three of us in the car were men and they made us get out and go with them. They took us to the police station and kept us there for 8 days, but they never told us any reason. There were 290 of us being held there. We thought they would take us to dig for rubies at the Main Shyo mine, where we heard that China and SLORC are cooperating to get rubies. But they kept us at the police station for 8 days, then they sent us to Lay Cha on big Hino Army trucks.

There was nothing we could do, they arrest you and you just have to do what they say.

SAN KYAW: Not us. We argued with them. We are poor people, and they force us to do labour. Suppose somebody had money. He gets captured, but he can just give the soldiers money, they take it and he's let go. This happens, so we argue with them. We who have no money have to come through all this but those with money are freed.

They loaded us all onto Army trucks and brought us all the way to Pah Saung. They never let us off the trucks. We just had to sit on the trucks crosslegged and hunched up like this, and sit and sleep, and sit and sit. But we couldn't really, sleep. We couldn't even spread our elbows. If anyone stood up, they said "Sit down! Sit down!" There were 50 of us on the truck, plus 8 soldiers. They drove the whole day. At night, they stopped at whatever village we were at and they slept. But while they slept we were still on the trucks, with guards. We even had to urinate and defecate on the truck. This went on for 7 or 8 days. Even now we still stink because we have no other clothes. The whole truck stank.

They gave us each one small mess-tin cover full of rice and yellow beans, sometimes only once in 2 days. If the truck didn't stop, we didn't eat. Some people got sick, but the soldiers wouldn't give any medicine. If you had some money, you could try to buy some. The trucks were like cages, there was just no way to escape. We arrived in Pah Saung so worn out, some of us just dropped. There were about 40 trucks with us, including soldiers, equipment, and about 15 trucks of porters, all villagers like us.

As soon as we got off the trucks at Pah Saung, they gave us loads and made us go with 247 Battalion. Their badges said "247" above a sunflower design. We all had to carry ammunition or rice. I had to carry a l20 mm mortar shell, while some others had to carry two of them. Many had to carry 6 81 mm shells.

BRANG NA: Six of us had to carry a heavy weapon, about 6 feet long and so big you could put a pumpkin down the barrel.

SAN KYAW: We marched along with 1 soldier in front, then 5 porters, then another soldier behind. At night, we just camped anywhere in the forest. As soon as it got dark, they gathered all the porters on the ground in one spot. There were about 500 in our group and more than 200 soldiers camped all around us with their rifles. They tied up anyone they thought might try to escape. We had to sleep on the ground and the mosquitoes were terrible. We had no blankets so we just had to huddle up in our longyis. We didn't have anything - even these clothes were left behind by porters who ran away. We don't have anything that's our own anymore.

When we had to go to the toilet in the morning, we had to ask permission. Anyone who tried to go without asking was beaten. The soldiers would only let us go a few yards away and they followed us with their rifles. We were never allowed a bath the whole time, from when we were arrested until we escaped over a month later. They gave us one small milk-tin of rice each day for 3 of us, or sometimes for 4 or 5 of us. Only when they said "cook", then we could cook. If they say "don't cook", then you can't. We never got enough.

While carrying our loads, first we all suffered from thirst, people got weak and dropped by the path. Some got malaria or were too weak from starvation to go on, and they too were left behind on the path. We all had insects in our clothes and got skin diseases, and everyone smelled terrible. We suffered from dehydration, starvation, malaria and stomach diseases. But still they made us carry our loads. If we told them "I'm sick, I need medicine", they just said, "No, the medicine's not for you." If you are too sick or weak to go on, you're just left behind. I was kicked in the back once and beaten once because I couldn't walk, and after that I was always too afraid to be slow.

BRANG NA: I was alsokicked in the back. They yelled at me "Go faster!"

SAN KYAW: When they beat us they said "Go-go-go! None of you are our fathers, we have no relatives among you, just go-go-go." Because if we couldn't carry the loads, they'd have to carry it themselves.

Many porters had been trying to escape but couldn't. The SLORC kept capturing them and after they were caught, they were always kept tied up and beaten whenever they weren’t working. 13 of us finally escaped after we reached Saw Hta, when we were sent to cut down trees for the soldiers. A tree was falling and we just ran into the forest. We went to the river and saw some Karenni soldiers, but we were very afraid because the SLORC always makes propaganda that "If you go to the KNU or ABSDF, they'll kill you."

But the Karenni soldiers brought us here. We want to go home, but it won't be easy and we can't go alone. The Karen soldiers will have to help us. It's been a long time and we really don't know how our families are. Even at home, the SLORC always takes porters and people to work for them, digging earth, clearing space for army camps, gathering firewood. They take people every week, and if the men can't go, then they take the women and children.

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These three men escaped near Saw Hta in late November after a month and a half under SLORC control. They arrived bearing many untreated cuts and wounds.

 

1. Name: Sai Kham Pan                 Age: 27        Description: Shan Buddhist
    Address: Central Shan State                         Occupation: Farmer
    Family: Married with 3 children

2. Name: Sai Kan Leit                   Age: 35        Description: Shan Buddhist
    Address: Central Shan State                         Occupation: Farmer
    Family: Married with 2 children

3. Name: Sai Thein Win                Age: 23        Description: Shan Buddhist
    Address: Central Shan State                         Occupation: Farmer
    Family:  Married with 1 child

SAI KHAM PAN & SAI KAN LEIT: We were all arrested about one and a half months ago when we were coming home from our farms. They said, "We need you to get bamboo for us.", and took us to the police station. We weren't even allowed to go home to get anything. They kept us at the police station for 8 days before sending us to the Army Camp. Instead of giving us food, they went and ordered the local people to cook and bring the food to the station for us.

SAI THEIN WIN: The soldiers didn't tell me anything when they arrested me, just took me to the SLORC office and kept me there for three days with about 200 others in a big room. They ordered the villagers to send us rice to eat. Then we were all brought on trucks all the way to Pah Saung. I saw about 80 trucks, 50 for porters and the rest for soldiers. There were 60 people on each truck, 50 porters and soldiers as guards. Even on the trucks some were tied up because the soldiers thought they'd try to escape. We had to stay on the trucks all day and all night for 8 days. We didn't know where they were taking us. We just had to sit crosslegged and sleep like that, even when the truck was stopped. The soldiers gave us some boiled rice but not enough. It was very cold at night. I saw some men get malaria on the truck, but they didn't die.

SAI KHAM PAN: When we reached Pah Saung we got off. Some of us were so worn out we couldn’t even walk. We didn't get anything to eat. They made us walk. Some couldn't walk. They beat them.

SAI THEIN WIN: I had to carry .5 calibre machine gun bullets, Sai Kham Pan had to carry over 20 viss of rice and Sai Kan Leit had to carry a l20 mm mortar shell and rice. We got off the trucks at sunset, but they gave us loads right away and made us carry them all night. We only rested a few hours in the morning.

SAI KHAM PAN: Anyone who couldn't keep carrying was kicked or beaten with a rifle butt or a stick, and then they made them keep carrying. We just had to keep carrying. They made us climb. We asked for water but got none. We were hungry but they gave us no food. They just made us go. 8 days ago they beat me in the back of the leg with a stick really hard - I'm still limping now and you can see the scar. The soldier said "Walk faster, or I'll hit you again". Another time they pushed me in the back and I fell and cut my forehead open on a stone. Still they made me carry. I saw 2 or 3 people who died on the way because they were too weak. They were just thrown away. I saw them lying dead, flat on their backs. Others who couldn't go any further were just left by the path. They weren't given any food, nothing. They just left them. Some were beaten unconscious before they were left. I don't know if they ever revived.

I saw them leave behind 3 or 4 men who were too weak to go on, all about 50 years old or so. Another man about 20 years old got too weak and couldn't walk. I saw the soldier hit him with a rifle butt until he was unconscious, then they left him behind. It was in the jungle, with no village nearby, and it was night. We were always marching at night.

SAI KAN LEIT: Once going up a mountain I was very tired, so the SLORC soldier shot me in the back of my left hip with a stone from a slingshot. It bled a lot and later got infected, but they wouldn't give me a bandage.

SAI KHAM PAN: The sick were never given medicine, they were just left untreated. When we reached Saw Hta, some died. On the way to Saw Hta, the SLORC only let us rest 1 hour each night for 8 days. We got nothing to eat but just a bit of plain rice, and we never got to wash.

Finally we escaped, but now we're all very depressed and want to go home. We don't know how our families are doing. My children are all young, 4 years, 2 1/2, and the baby was only 15 or 16 days old, when I was arrested. My wife has to breastfeed. I think they must all be without food now, because there's no one to provide for them.

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This man arrived in a Karen camp in late November with the others. He was taken as a porter despite being 60 years old.

Name: Sai Win Nai                      Age: 60 years old
Address: Central Shan State Shan  Description: Buddhist, farmer
Family: Wife and 5 children, 2 grandchildren

Over a month ago, I was alone in my field harvesting rice. Two soldiers came into my field and grabbed me. They took me very brutally. They dragged me by my shirt collar, pointed a gun at me, and said "Go quickly". They said they would take me to their camp but never said why. I was just taken like a prisoner. Instead of their camp, they took me 3 hours’ walk all the way to the police station in town. They put me there with about 60 other men, and I was kept there for 3 days. During that time I saw about 10 men pay the soldiers 10,000 Kyat each and they were set free. The SLORC told the rest of us "Someone else is coming in his place, so we’re setting him free", but we all knew it was a lie. One man got angry about this and argued with them, so they beat him in the ribs with a rifle butt. Ten times I saw this happen to men who argued about going as porters.

After 3 days they put us on trucks and took us to Loikaw, then to Pah Saung. There were more than 40 of us on each truck, and about 60 other trucks with many porters who had been brought from other places too. We were on the trucks for several days along rough roads all the way, and they almost never stopped. Even when we did we weren't allowed to get off. You could give some money to the soldiers and if you were lucky they'd bring you some food. Some soldiers just took the money and didn't bring any food. I was lucky because my wife had brought me some money while I was in jail.

We had to sit together in the back of the truck, with a bamboo lattice 6 inches above our heads and the soldiers standing on top of it to guard us. They never let us out, even for the toilet. We had to urinate where we sat, and there were no cracks in the floor so it got wet and stank. To defecate, we had to take off our shirt and do it in that, then try to fling it out the side of the truck. One porter didn’t even have a shirt to use, and just had to shit on the floor. When one of the soldiers found out he got mad and hit the man in the face with the magazine of his rifle. The truck stank so badly that we didn't feel like eating anything even though we were starving.

When we finally got off the trucks, in Pah Saung, it was very difficult to walk. I saw one man who couldn’t walk. They kicked him and then left him behind on theground. Right away we had to start carrying ammunition. I had to carry 2 big metal boxes of machine gun bullets and some rice on a bamboo yoke over my shoulder. It was hard to lift on my shoulder, I could barely hold it up. It must have weighed about 35 viss. It cut my shoulder so I had to try to hold it up off my shoulder all the time. My shirt stuck ,to the wound and hurt a lot. I still have the scars. When I showed my sore shoulder to them, they hit me.

We only got to sleep a few hours every night. 70 of us had to sleep together in a pile on the ground. Other than that, we were always carrying. Even though we carried all the rice, it was the soldiers who rationed it out to us. They'd give us 1 tiny milk-tin full and say "This is your ration for the day". I had stomach pains because we only ever got to cook our rice for a few minutes, never properly.

When people couldn't carry anymore, the soldiers beat them to show the rest of us, "Here, you see what happens to those who can't go on?". Then they left them behind. I saw them beat 2 porters with rifle butts along the way just because they slipped and fell while we were climbing a mountain. After being beaten they were, still forced to go on. A week ago I slipped going up a mountain, and they kicked me in the ribs. I also got malaria, but they wouldn't give me any medicine, they only made me keep carrying my load. I saw them shoot one porter in the head and kill him as he was trying to run away, and they shot another man in the wrist. Another man was beaten with a rifle butt before being left behind. I think he must be dead.

After we were in Saw Hta, they made us cut down trees to make protecting walls around their mortars. After 3 days, suddenly a Karen shell landed in the camp and a bunch of us escaped in the confusion.

Now I really want to get home to my family. They all cried when I left, and now they probably think I'm already dead. Because people who've been taken away never return. Already more than 10 people from my village haven't come back. I've been taken as a porter every year, but this time is the longest. Other times they've taken me when they attack the Palaung or Shan armies.

The SLORC also forces us to sell 8 biscuit tins of unhulled rice per acre to them every year, and they only pay 160 Kyat, even though the market price would be 1,500 Kyat. This is a quarter of our whole crop. And they take all the villagers to build their army camps, dig their bunkers and do all their other work for them. I've had to go many times already.

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This man escaped from the SLORC in late November. On arrival, he was extremely thin and had bruises and scars all over his body.

Name: Aik Htun                 Age: 32                Description: Shan Buddhist
Address:
Central Shan State                           Occupation: Farmer

Family: Married with 5 children

Ten soldiers came to my farm when I was harvesting rice. They didn't say anything, they just took me away to the police station. There were more than 40 of us, being guarded by police. Some villagers brought some rice for us, but that was all we got to eat and there wasn't enough.

Then they took us by truck to Lay Cha Army Camp and put us in a big hall together with over 1,000 other villagers. After 1 night there, they took us on the trucks for about 5 days and nights all the way down to Pah Saung. I saw about 50 trucks, but not all full of porters.

There were about 50 of us on each truck but nobody was allowed to stand up or get off, and we could only get food if we had money to give to the soldiers. They were from 245 Battalion, all Burmans from Kyaikto, only about 18 to 24 years old.

We were all very weak when we arrived in Pah Saung. Some were too weak to walk, and the soldiers just left them there beside the road with nothing. The people living in the area probably didn't even know they were there. The soldiers just gave us all loads and made us go. They made me carry about 30 viss of machine gun bullets. It cut open my right shoulder and I couldn't carry it, so the officer in charge poked me in the back with a bayonet. All the soldiers hit me. A Captain with 3 bars on his shoulder poked me in the forehead with the barrel of his rifle, and another time they beat me with a rifle butt on my leg. We were always walking at night in the forest, and my feet were all cut up. I fell and cut my knee when they pushed me down, and one soldier even bit me on the wrist. He bit hard, shook his head and growled like a dog! You can still see the toothmarks.

When I couldn't climb the hills, they poked me in the back with a bayonet, and they also hit me under the arms with bayonets four or five times. They said "Giddap! Giddap! Go! Go!". We couldn't go any harder, but they made us. And they always slapped me in the face, again and again, and said "Why don't you just die?" and cursed me.

They were always beating all of us for not being able to carry. If we were weak and slow they pulled us along. I saw one porter get sick and ask for medicine, but they said "No medicine for you. You should die", and made him carry his load. I saw one Palaung man try to escape, but they caught him and tied him up. From then on they made him carry an even heavier load, like a punishment.

Finally when we were following the soldiers through a valley, we ran away and got to the army on this side, and they've treated us well. But now I don't know whether my family is starving or what. The harvest wasn't finished when we were taken away, so I don't know how they'll get by. I'm here on the frontline, and I don't know whether my children have anything to eat.

This SLORC Government only wants to kill civilians. They push the porters forward and they're behind. They beat and they don't give food. They're very cruel.