KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP COMMENTARY
On December 24, 1993, the officers of SLORC No. 301 Burma Regiment ordered the village headmen of Kyo Waing and No Kaneh villages, in Thaton District, to ensure that security is maintained in their respective village tract areas. They were forced to sign papers guaranteeing that if a single bomb explodes or a shot is fired in the entire village tract, they will pay compensation of 50,000 Kyat to SLORC, and if one truck is damaged by a land mine they will pay 100,000 Kyat. What wasn't written on the paper was that these headmen will also pay with their lives and those of several of their villagers. Already the SLORC has shelled defenceless villages with mortars without warning and massacred villagers this year in that area for much lesser "crimes", like "not guarding the road" and "failing to pay protection money when ordered".
All this at a time when SLORC delegates are travelling the world talking about the SLORC's "peace initiatives". But what means more - what the SLORC says at the UN, or what it does in Burma? Sadly, many foreign governments are now looking at their wallets and hedging on a decision. They should have a talk with the headmen of Kyo Waing and No Kaneh if they want to learn what "peace initiative" means to the SLORC - or better yet, they should go and try living in those villages for a year. While their governments consider resuming multi-million dollar "development aid" to the SLORC military, about 400 people in Thaton District have died since September from a dysentery epidemic because they had no medicine and no outside aid. The SLORC executes anyone in the area caught with medicine as a "rebel supplier". Aid could have reached them from the Thai border, if it had been sent.
It's now that time of year when the nights get cold, the air is crystal clear and the land is deep beautiful green from last season's rains, Burma's version of a European springtime. The dysentery epidemic continues and it's what the villagers call "road-building season" again - when the SLORC soldiers once again force them to work at gunpoint rebuilding the military supply roads, guarding them and sweeping them for mines. Once again, any who do not cooperate are being tortured and executed, the weak and sick are being beaten for not working hard enough, and the women are being raped with impunity, right now, today, this very moment. Once again, the villagers are being forced to do so much slave labour that they have no time left to work in their fields, and their children are malnourished and sick. Right now they are hiding caches of rice in the forest, because last week the SLORC came and looted or destroyed everything from the village down the path, and this week it will probably be their turn. And when the roads are rebuilt once again, the SLORC will just take them to do slave labour at the army camps instead. Many new troops are coming, and there are many camps to be built and improved.
In the towns and cities, the SLORC's "economic boom" is continuing, but at crossing points more economic refugees from the same towns and cities are now flooding across the Thai border than ever before. The Kyat is now worth less than the leaves used to roll Burmese cheroots. The score stands at Cheroots: 3 for one Thai baht; Kyat: 6 or 8 for one Thai baht, depending where you are.
What all this means, what is obvious to any villager in Burma, and what is reflected in most of the testimonies we have gathered in the last few months, is that nothing is improving, whether in northern Karen State (see SLORC Activities at Harvest Time, 16/11/93, Ongoing SLORC Looting in Karen Villages, 28/12/93, and Murder, Rape and Extortion in Kyauk Kyi, 8/12/93), Tenasserim Division in the far south (SLORC Murders in Mergui/Tavoy District, 17/12/93), or even in the depths of Insein Prison (Current Conditions in Insein Prison 5/12/93). The SLORC is not improving, because no one is forcing it to. It is only getting much better at playing the diplomacy game. While SLORC men publicize their "peace initiatives" worldwide, the SLORC is simultaneously adding more attack troops on all its fronts against Manerplaw. Three battalions under 443 Strategic Command (104 LIB [Light Infantry Battalion], 81 IB [Infantry Battalion], and 3 LIB), total attack strength 1,278, are now arriving at Meh Tha Wah on Manerplaw's southern front, more than doubling SLORC's existing strength of 1,071 there. Three more battalions under 331 Strategic Command (42 IB, 119 LIB, and 120 LIB), total attack strength 1,164, are now on their way to the northern front at Twee Pa Wih Kyo (Sleeping Dog Mountain), which will increase SLORC's force there (currently 6 Battalions, attack strength 1,822) by over 50%. Four more battalions are also now on their way to Papun, possibly for a new offensive on the upper Salween south of Saw Hta - 24 IB, 4 IB, 111 LIB, and 116 LIB, comprising 333 Strategic Command. This follows the recent failure of an attack at Ka Teh Hta aimed at pushing further down the Salween. This is a very big addition to Papun tactical command's existing attack strength of 562 troops. Note that attack strength only includes actual attack troops, not all the others who are there to support them as well. And note well that none of the existing units have been sent back either. The new troops are bringing with them large stockpiles of supplies and ammunition, and of course thousands of slave porters, at least one or two per soldier.
Are these the actions of a government gearing for peace? No, and neither was the SLORC's flat refusal to negotiate with the Democratic Alliance of Burma which came on December 15. When combined with their military manoeuvres and the absolute lack of improvement on the human rights front, the future for the villagers of Burma continues to look extremely black. As for the SLORC's supposed "peace initiatives", the best example of one of these was presented to villagers in Thay Nyaw Chee village of Tavoy District in September by Myint Swe, commander of SLORC's 404 Battalion: "If I ever have to come back here again [meaning if there's ever any fighting or reports of Karen troops anywhere in the area], I'll shoot and kill anybody I see in the village. Anybody - I don't care."