NEW REFUGEES FROM KAREN AREAS
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
February 17, 1994
The following testimonies were given on February 10, 1994 by refugees who arrived at the Thai border throughout January 1994. They show that for all its propaganda about "peace talks", the SLORC has not abated its systematic human rights atrocities against Karen civilians in any way. As some of the villagers note, if anything the atrocities are only getting even worse and more systematic. These villagers are all from Thaton, Pa'an and Papun districts. Since late 1992, the SLORC has been conducting a military offensive against civilians in their areas (see "The SLORC's 1993 Offensive Against Karen Civilians", Karen Human Rights Group, July 10, 1993 and other related reports). They somehow managed to survive the offensive in their villages until now, but found that they cannot survive it any more. Their names have been changed to protect them, but all the names and places listed in their stories are real. Please feel free to use this report in any way which may be able to help them or their villages.
NAME: Naw Mu Mu Paw
DETAILS: Karen Buddhist, Married with 1 small child (2 other children have died of illness)
ADDRESS: Naw Poh Hta Village, Thaton District
I arrived here about a month ago. All of our family came together, directly from our village. It took us 10 days on the way, because we had to be careful of the Burmese. There was no way we could stay around our village anymore, because when we were there we had to do so much slave labour. My husband was forced to go and work for the SLORC all the time, so often that he couldn't provide for our family anymore. It became almost impossible to provide food for ourselves, so we came here.
When we were there we had to do so many things for the Burmese: we had to guard the road, do labour and sentry duty at the military outpost, and other things too. Our village had to send people for camp labour 5 times a month, for 5 days each time. We had to rotate going, and every family had to take turns. To guard the road, we also had to send 15 people at a time, for 15 days and nights each time. We had to sleep there and eat there. We had to take our own food. For sleeping we built shelters, but most of the time we didn't get any chance to sleep. If we wanted to sleep, we had to take turns - some had to guard while the others slept. The soldiers told us "You must guard carefully and watch out all the time for any Karen soldiers, and if you see any come and report it to us at once, or else we'll shoot you dead". Sometimes we saw some Karen soldiers, and we reported them right away. Sometimes this happened once or twice a month, and sometimes it was very rare. It depended on the situation.
The road was just about 1 kilometre from our village, and so was the SLORC camp. While we were there guarding the road, sometimes they also forced us to carry rice for their camp, and we had to go do it day or night. If we tried to refuse they kicked us, beat us and yelled at us, so we had to go. They made us carry very heavy rice sacks [probably standard 100 kg. sacks], only 2 of us to each sack. Most often, they forced us to guide their soldiers to wherever they wanted to go, day or night. They gave us no chance to refuse. Even when they were just going back to their camp or our village, they forced us to go as guides [this is probably to prevent Karen soldiers from shooting at them]. The forced labour situation is gradually going from bad to worse now.
When the Burmese come to the village it is unspeakable. If they see any men, they take them all away as porters, so many of them. If someone runs from them they shoot that person. They try to steal whatever they want in the village. They take our livestock like it was their own, and no one dares to stop them. They arrest villagers for absolutely no reason. They come to capture you, and if you run then they shoot you dead. I've seen them do this many times, to at least 5 or 6 people. Just before we left, the SLORC kept coming to our village again and again, whenever they heard news that Karen soldiers were in the area. Whenever we heard the SLORC were coming we didn't dare stay in our village. Their camp was only 1 kilometre away. It's called Ku Lay Camp, and they are Infantry Battalion #24, but I don't know the officers' names. Now they're in the village almost every day of the month. They take porters all the time, including the village girls, and send them to their frontline operations here in the border area.
They summoned us to send porters for them so many times that the villagers were all too tired to go any more, so they came to the village themselves to get porters. One time a man was sent orders by an officer to go to their camp to be a porter but he didn't go, so they came and got him themselves. They blindfolded him, beat him and poured hot water in his mouth. The man's name is Pa Moh Roh. It took him a very long time to get better after that.
One time when we were forced to go as sentries, we were there with 12 soldiers spaced out on either side of us. At one sentry position there were 3 girls aged 16 or 17 and an old woman together. In the night a group of Burmese soldiers came to them wearing Karen soldiers' camouflage uniforms and carrying a big knife. They called, "Don't shout, we're Karen soldiers", but they were SLORC. There were 5 of them and only 3 girls, and they tried to rape the girls. The old woman tried to stop them, but there was nothing she could do and a soldier said, "Don't move or I'm going to kill you". One of the girls tried to stop them by yelling, "Go and rape my Grandmother!" [meaning the old woman; a sarcastic remark aimed at embarrassing the soldiers], so they strangled her and raped her - afterwards her neck hurt so much that she couldn't eat for 3 days. Another girl climbed a tree to escape, but the soldiers pulled her down out of the tree and then raped her. Later she ran back to the village and told the village head "We can't go back there - they raped us" and described what had happened. The next day the village head reported it to the SLORC officer, and he took action by beating those soldiers. The girls' names are Naw Mee Mee, Aye Mya Kyi, and Ma Kyi Ket.
NAME: Daw Mya Thein
DETAILS: Burman Buddhist, Married with 5 children
ADDRESS: Mi Kyaun Win Village, Papun District
My village is southwest of Papun. It is a Burmese village and there are about 50 houses. There are many Burmese villages in the area, and many Karen villages. Two of my sons are in the Burmese Army, but I don't know where they're posted. [Like the majority of people in the area, the boys are probably illiterate and cannot write letters].
We came 6 days' walk to the refugee camp about 15 days ago because at home it was very hard to survive anymore. The SLORC made us do slave labour and pay tax for "porter fees". For porter fees each family had to pay 320 Kyat every month [the SLORC claims that this money is to pay salaries to conscripted military porters, but porters are never paid]. We had to do so much slave labour that we had no time left to work. If my husband couldn't go I had to go in his place. Mostly we had to carry the soldiers' rice and supplies from the village to Nat Kyi military camp. As a woman, they made me carry 16 kg. at a time. We also had to go for a week or 15 days at a time to do labour at the military camp. We had to clean the military camp compound, clear all the scrub from both sides of the road, dig trenches and make fences for the soldiers, cut down trees and bamboo, and make leaf roofing shingles for them. If you don't go you have to pay money. Sometimes even while we were carrying for them they also forced us to give them chickens, goats and pigs in addition. Between each 15 day shift of labour we were only left 10 days to provide for our families. While we were working at the camp they only gave us some food. They beat people and sometimes even killed them. I saw them beat men from my village - their names were Nga Tin, Nga Soe, Aung Khin, Maung Aye, and Ta Yot Pyu. I don't know why the soldiers beat them - maybe they didn't like the way they were working. SLORC soldiers have also beaten my relatives and others in Bilin Town and Mi Kyaun Win, Shan Ywa, Tha Yet Pin Kyaun, and Meh Pu villages. They beat my relatives Maung Tin Than [male] and Ma Khin Nyunt [female], because they were too afraid and didn't answer properly when the soldiers asked them some questions.
The people they killed were mostly from Karen villages. They suspected them, accused them of being Kaw Thoo Lei [Karen resistance] and killed them, but these people were just civilians. I saw 5 of them. Three of their names were Aung Thin, Ngy Soe, and Aung Pu, but I don't know the names of the other two, and I don't know where they were killed. We just saw the SLORC soldiers beat them with a very big stick, drag them out of their houses and then out of the village. The soldiers killed them just for "suspicion".
The soldiers force all the men to guard the road, and sometimes the men have to go in front of the troops on operations just to clear the landmines. One man from every village or group of houses has to go, sometimes 200 or 300 men altogether because there are so many little groups of houses around. They have to walk in front along with one cart pulled by a cow, then the soldiers follow behind. No landmines exploded near my village, but it happens sometimes in other places. The villager steps on the landmine and the soldiers just ignore him and leave him there. They never help those men. In our area they don't force us to clear the road when a truck is coming, but when they come on foot they always drive people in front of them.
Last November the SLORC were on operation, and they came and raped Mi Cho, Aye Ma, and Mi Nwe. The soldiers just went into their houses and raped them. They didn't get pregnant, but they reported it to the SLORC officer. He punished the soldiers by making them run around the village with heavy packs on.
Sometimes the villagers are so afraid that they run away from the soldiers, and then the soldiers try to catch them and beat them. Whenever the SLORC goes on operations they come and take women porters from our village. When they can't catch the men they force the women to carry supplies to Nat Kyi camp for them. Two months ago they came and took 50 porters from our village, including pregnant women. They forced them to carry supplies to Noh Kaw Hta and Noh Kaw Kee. They don't care about age. If a girl is big enough to carry two big tins [one tin holds about15-18 litres] then the soldiers force her to carry for a one or two night trip, including old women and pregnant women.
They also force villages to move. They forced Tha Yet Pin and Shan Ywa villages to move to Mi Kyaun Win, and Tha Yet Pin Seit had to move to Kyaik Maw Win. At the new places the villagers had to clear the bush to build houses for themselves, and there were landmines close all around. They have to go very far just to get water, at least 500 metres down the hill. Now they just have to survive day by day, doing day labour for money cutting bamboo, cutting sugarcane or cutting wood. About 400 families from my area have already fled. Everyone from small villages has to flee to big villages, the forest, or the refugee camps. My village has 50 houses, but when I left there were already 200 houses there from all the smaller villages around. Over the last 3 months very many villagers have been sick. At least 5 or 6 adults have died of the sickness in my village, and at least 10 children.
Now around my village everyone is getting poorer and poorer, especially every time the SLORC starts an operation. There are so many ways they abuse us, and I feel great pain about them. If I were a man I would arm myself and fight to avenge all of their horrible treatment of villagers. But as for going back, absolutely not. I'll end my life here.
NAME: Saw Kyaw Hla
DETAILS: Karen Christian, Married with 3 children
ADDRESS: Htee La Nay Village, Hlaing Bwe Township, Pa'an District
I've been here just over a month. It took us 4 days to walk here. We came because we were forced to work for the SLORC all the time, and we didn't even have time to provide for our own family. They abused us in so many ways, and they had so many different kinds of slave labour and unpaid labour that we had to do. I can honestly say that we had to do some kind of work for them every single day. Mostly we had to carry things, dig, and make fences. We had to go to the forest, cut bamboo, and bring it back to the army camp to build their fences for them. It took such a long time just to finish even 1 fence, because we had to make them very strong and firm or else the soldiers forced us to dismantle them and start again to build it strong enough. They made us build 3 rows of fences, and between the rows we had to sharpen bamboo sticks and plant them in the ground with the points up, like a trap. Sometimes we also had to sliver bamboo to make ties [these are used to hold things together where nails are not available] for them. We also had to go and cut hardwood for them, which they used in several ways: some for building, and sometimes in their trenches. Everything was done with our manual labour. We had to carry very heavy and difficult loads for them, and it was very hard work. We had to dig trenches all around the camp and inside the camp, and sometimes it was very hard to dig them because the ground was very rocky. We had to build their roads, clean their compound, and carry their rice, sometimes from the village to their camp and sometimes from their camp to another army camp. If men couldn't go to do all this then the women had to go instead.
While we worked they yelled and cursed at us and ordered us to hurry. People who tried to take a rest and those who couldn't walk were beaten - not very hard, but the soldiers kicked them and ordered them to get moving. It was horrible.
We also had to guard the road. About 20 or 30 people had to go and guard it for one night. I've also been a porter, 3 times as an operations porter and many, many times as a regular porter. Operations porter means at least one month at a time, and regular porter means when they take you for one week, or sometimes just 2 or 3 days. They always made me carry ammunition or rice, about 32 kilograms altogether. Only 4 months ago was the last time I was taken, and that was for over one month. Sometimes they beat people while they were carrying, and the worst part is being underfed - they never even gave us enough water, just very little at a time, and they didn't let us bathe, not even once a day. I didn't get sick, but so many others did. They couldn't carry anymore. If they asked for medicine sometimes the soldiers gave them some, but sometimes they didn't. If they couldn't carry some soldiers kicked them, then if they looked seriously hurt and sick the soldiers just left them behind. But if their condition didn't look too serious the soldiers beat them and kicked them down the side of the mountain. Anyone who they caught trying to escape was killed, and they said to the rest of us, "If you try to escape you'll go the same way as him, so just go ahead and try it if you dare. It's no big deal to us. We mean what we say." I'm sure that the people they left behind must be dead, because they left them in such a terrible state.
Sometimes when they arrived at our village they already had 60 or 70 men and women porters from other villages, mostly from Tat Lu village. Usually those porters were being used for a one day trip. They were always every size - women from the age of children right up to old women 60 or 65 years old, and pregnant women too. They were forced to carry beans, rice, tinned milk and other supplies.
Whenever the soldiers come into the village they all have slingshots, and whenever they see chickens or ducks they shoot and take them. They catch as many as they can and take them, so all our livestock are slowly disappearing. They also demand things, like from some people they demand a pig and eat it, and they also order one villager to go collect money from everyone; they charge 1,000 Kyat every time they come. We had to pay at least 3 or 4 times every month. We also have to pay porter fees every month - every family has to pay 100 Kyat, sometimes 200 or 250, depending on the situation. They also stole our rice; every family has to give them 2 big tins of rice every month.
Before I came they beat a man from Htee La Nay village to death - his name was Maung Khin Tin. He was at his farm field. The Karen soldiers had shot at them somewhere, and after a half hour the SLORC troops went into the forest to try to follow them. On the way they saw Maung Khin Tin at his farm, so they accused him of being a Karen soldier and beat him to death. But I'm sure he was just an innocent civilian.
Once one of their army trucks was damaged by a landmine somewhere, so they came to the village head, interrogated him and beat him severely, and he was seriously wounded. His name is Ba Htay. Now they force women and children to go along among the soldiers to protect them from attack by Karen soldiers, because the Karen soldiers never attack them when they are mixed with civilians. The SLORC soldiers don't treat us like human beings, they just treat us like slaves. It was horrible, so for our security we came to stay here. All the villagers there are facing very serious problems now. Their lives have become empty.
NAME: Saw Thay Ler
AGE: over 50
DETAILS: Karen Buddhist, Married with 3 children
ADDRESS: Lay Po Hta Village, Ka Ma Maung Township, Pa'an District
I've been here about 15 days. I slept 2 nights on the way here. In the village we couldn't even rest because we always had to sweep the road and guard it for the soldiers. We had to pretend to sweep it for landmines, and we had to build shelters to stay and guard the road day and night for them. We all had to take turns going for 3 days at a time. They also came to the village and took as much of our livestock as they wanted, without permission, and they captured us to go as porters. I've had to go as a porter several times, at least once a year. The last time I went was when they attacked out here [the 1992 Manerplaw offensive]. They made me carry 32 kg. of ammunition or rice, day and night. Even though they fed us a bit twice a day it was never enough. They beat the porters countless times, and if they caught anyone escaping they shot him dead. They beat me in the head so many times, it was uncountable. Whether you can carry or not, you have to keep carrying - you have no choice. When you're a porter you can't count the days - you must either escape or you have no way home. I escaped.
Before I came here the SLORC didn't kill any of my relatives, but they killed some others in our village, like Saw Dah. They accused him of being Kaw Thoo Lei [Karen resistance] and killed him. But they were wrong, because we all knew him very well and he was a civilian. He was even older than me.
They also force us to go for 5 days at a time for slave labour at the army camp. They make us clean the compound, make fences and leaf roofing for them, and whatever else they ask us to do. If people from the village don't go to do the labour, then the soldiers come to the village themselves and take people to do it, even including small boys, girls, and women.
The soldiers don't come to our village very often, as long as we go for slave labour. But when they want even more slave labour they come. This happens once or twice a month, depending on the situation. Whenever they come we all have to run from them to escape, because if they get you then you have to be a porter and carry a heavy load. As for taking women, sure, they don't care. When they had their operation out here, they took everyone, even pregnant women. There were so many young girls taken we couldn't count them all, and they came from many different places. At least they don't beat the girls quite as much as the men - the men get worse beatings.
The SLORC soldiers always kept telling us that things would get better, but it's still terrible. We still have to run all the time when they come to catch us as porters.
NAME: Naw Say Wah
AGE: over 50
DETAILS: Karen Buddhist, Married with 1 child
ADDRESS: Tee Pa Doh Hta Village, Thaton District
Before I came - Oh! They were taking so many porters. Even me, I had to go as a porter. So many villagers were porters, men and women. I was taken several months ago, for 10 or 20 days. They didn't beat the women, but they beat the men, and they didn't give any of us enough to eat. They also arrested two villagers in Tee Pa Doh Hta and accused them of being Kaw Thoo Lei [Karen resistance]. Then they made them put on Karen uniforms and killed them. I don't know their names. They also beat a village man named Pa Kah, and he ran away and came here.
The soldiers also abuse people who have done anything at all against them - like if a porter runs then they shoot him or her dead. They beat anyone whom they suspect. If any villager fails to report for slave labour then the soldiers fine them, sometimes 8 kg. of pork, 8 kg. of beef, 5 chickens, or whatever they want. It's indescribable, the way they take our things as if it were their own. Sometimes if the Karen soldiers shoot at them anywhere then they come and shoot all our cattle and buffalos and eat them. They say, "Your Karen soldiers shot at us, so we have to eat your cattle for compensation", and we can do nothing. And if any porters escape from them, they come to the village head and demand chicken, pork or beef as compensation.
NAME: Htoo Htoo Mo
DETAILS: Karen Buddhist, Married with 4 children - 2 have been killed by SLORC
ADDRESS: Myint Kyo Village, Thaton District
I don't even want to talk about the SLORC. I hate talking about them, but I will tell you how they killed my 2 nephews from Htee See Baw village. They were studying in town, and they had just come home to visit their mother in May 1993. Their names were Kyaw Bwe and Kyaw Aye. One day the two boys were just outside the village near the forest. The Karen soldiers had attacked the Burmese and disappeared into the forest, so the Burmese soldiers came and fired their guns all around the village, and shot the two boys dead. Kyaw Bwe and Kyaw Aye didn't know anything, they didn't even know how to run away. But the SLORC couldn't catch any Karen soldiers, so instead they just shot dead 2 innocent boys.
After they killed the boys they came into the village, went directly to the village head and beat him brutally. They interrogated him, "Why didn't you come and tell us there were Kaw Thoo Lei [Karen resistance] in the village?" The village head said, "I didn't even know they were in the village. It's a big village, so how could I know everything?"
The SLORC also drove everyone out of Htee See Baw Kee village to the main Htee See Baw village. They didn't even give the villagers enough time to bring all their property, so the villagers left some of their food and other things hidden in the forest. They planned to come back once a week to get things, but they lost it all because the SLORC soldiers found everything, took what they wanted and destroyed the rest. Whether you keep your belongings in your house or not, if the SLORC finds them then they'll destroy them. Some villagers didn't even have time to catch all their livestock when they were driven out, so they just left it and hoped to come back later to get it, but it was all eaten by SLORC troops before they could come back.
Three of my other nephews from Htee See Baw Kee village were also killed brutally by the SLORC troops. They had run away into the forest when the soldiers had come to catch porters, and they were hiding in the forest for 2 weeks. They didn't even know the villagers had been driven out. When they returned to the village without knowing, the soldiers grabbed them right away, forced them to put on Karen army uniforms and shot them dead. They told everyone, "These 3 men were Karen soldiers". Even if they really suspected them, couldn't they just take them as porters and then release them later? But they killed them. We know for sure that they weren't Karen soldiers, just innocent civilians. They were my nephews, and their names were Pa Thu, Thaung Ngwe, and Htun Thaung. They thought it was safe to go back to their village, but they were killed. What kind of life is this for villagers, in the area where the Burmese control? If you don't escape when they come for porters, then you are taken as a porter. If you escape being taken as a porter and then they catch you, you are killed. No one can save you, and no excuses.
When the Htee See Baw Kee villagers went back to get their food and belongings, they saw that most of their things had been taken, and food and rice was just spread around on the ground. The SLORC took as much as they wanted and destroyed all the rest. Now all the villagers around there are malnourished. In Htee See Baw, the villagers from Htee See Baw Kee are in serious trouble just trying to survive, because the majority of the Htee See Baw villagers themselves are barely able to survive as it is. They can't take good care of all the new villagers, because they don't even have enough rice for themselves. The villagers from Htee See Baw Kee have absolutely nothing, they're just barely surviving from hand to mouth each day. They can't suffer it, and they're desperate to find security. Some of them want to commit suicide.
They take so many people as porters I can't count. I myself have been a porter twice, for about 1 month each time. The soldiers pay me a bit of respect because I'm over 50 years old, so most of the time I have to carry cooking equipment and my duty is to cook for them. I have to cook rice and yellow beans mixed together. I only get enough food because I'm the cook. They never feed the male porters enough, but it's a little better for the women porters. The soldiers yell and curse, they beat the porters who can't carry and they beat brutally those who try to escape and get caught.
The worst times are when the Karen soldiers shoot at the SLORC soldiers, and they can't get revenge against the Karen soldiers so they just oppress and abuse the civilians. They always come and fire their guns around all over the place. My son Maung Win Myint was at the farm tending our cattle and buffalos and they shot him dead. He was 17 years old. My daughter Ma Chit Htoo was killed by a gunshot when she was sleeping in her room. She didn't even have time to hide or take cover. The gunshot hit her in her chest and she couldn't talk to us - she just survived for a couple of minutes and then she passed away. She was 18 years old.
That happened 2 years ago. It was 99 Division [SLORC #99 Light Infantry Division]. I went to their officer and asked for compensation for the murder of my children, but I got nothing. I almost went mad. I was suffering indescribably, and I can never forget it. Then 2 months later, there were two girls who went out to go to the toilet at about 1 o'clock at night with a candle for light. The SLORC were patrolling, and when they saw the candlelight they fired their guns and shot both girls dead. Their names were Ma Thaung and Ma Peh. Their mother was so miserable and lonely that she didn't even want to live anymore. She had only 2 daughters and the SLORC killed them both. She was hysterical for several days. Innocent people like this kept being killed, so we decided we just couldn't stay anymore and we came here for our security.