SLORC ACTIVITIES IN NYAUNGLEBIN DISTRICT
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
February 22, 1994
The following information was provided by Karen and Burmese villagers from Nyaunglebin District, Pegu Division, and was gathered by the National League for Democracy - Liberated Area (NLD-LA), Information and Research Department. Rather than listing recent incidents of SLORC murders, rape, torture and extortion, this report focusses on some of the SLORC's political and economic activities in the area at the present time. However, this does not mean that the usual murders, rape, torture, looting, extortion and other SLORC human rights abuses are not happening in the area - for information on these, see the KNU reports Continuing SLORC Human Rights Abuses in Karen State (Feb. 8, 1994), 1993 SLORC Human Rights Abuses in Mone and Kyauk Kyi Townships (Feb. 10, 1994), and other related reports. In this report, some names of people and places have been blanked out to protect them from retaliation by SLORC. The testimony has been transcribed as it was related by an NLD representative who just visited the area.
Just before the last Buddhist Lightning Festival [which occurred on the full moon of Sunday November 28, 1993], Lt. H--- and his troops came on urgent orders to L--- village in Kyauk Kyi Township. They ordered all the villagers to come without fail for forced labour on Sunday. As Sunday would be Lightning Festival day, this meant that the villagers wouldn't be able to go to the monastery to celebrate or meditate for the festival. So the senior monk went to the military camp and asked "Why are you doing this? Are you angry at me, or the villagers?" Lt. H--- answered that "I am Buddhist as well, but this order has come from very high authorities, not from me. The order says that during this time of the National Convention, I must prevent any large gatherings of people by keeping them busy on festival days. They said the order is 'urgent', and that if we don't obey it they will remove us from our posts and put us in jail, so we have to do it." [the order seems to have specifically applied to the adjournment time between National Convention sessions].
Then the monk went back to the village, and told all the villagers and even the novice monks to go to the forced labour site at the appointed time. He said he would be there at 10 in the morning. All the villagers went, and they were forced to work on the road. But when the monk arrived at 10 a.m., all the villagers dropped their tools and gathered around him. One woman laid a towel on the ground and invited the monk to sit down on it. The monk sat on the towel and said to the villagers, "All of you gather close to me, and I will preach." Then all the villagers sat down on the ground in the sun and listened to the monk's sermon. He preached about the Buddha's 10 commandments for rulers, and about how the Lightning Festival originated. He preached that when the kings break the commandments, that is why the people have to suffer crises, changing weather, poverty, destitution, disease and other ills. Then Sergeant H--- who was there guarding the villagers appealed to the monk and said, "I myself am a Buddhist, and I will have to suffer too. I'll suffer for my life after I die, so please forgive me." Then all the villagers and the monk forgave him and sympathised with him. All of this took place near L--- village in Kyauk Kyi Township. It was told to us by 4 women from the village who have now fled the SLORC.
The soldiers in the area have been forcing people to join the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA) [this is a new SLORC-support organization aimed at giving the SLORC legitimacy. The SLORC plans to make it a mass organization like the old BSPP using threats and inducements all over the country]. Everyone who reaches age 18 is supposed to join, and at least 1 person from each family must join. Families who refuse are fined or family members are arrested. The villagers have been told that if they join, then the Association will regularly give them rice, but if they don't then they will not be allowed to farm their land. Many villages in Kyauk Kyi Township who farmed near Karen-controlled areas were forced to move in 1993 and forbidden from farming their old land. - some of these farmers have now been told that if they join USDA they will be allowed to farm their land again.
The SLORC planned a big USDA rally in Toungoo, and 2 months before the rally [which occurred on January 22, 1994] troops came to all the villages to tell the villagers they had to go. Every house had to pay 10 Kyat toward the rally. The soldiers said at least 1 person from each family must attend or else people would be arrested and forcibly made to go. So the villagers were afraid, and most of them didn't have enough money to hire someone else to go in their place so they had to leave their farms and go to the rally. Whether they wanted to go or not, they had to or else they had to waste money hiring someone to go for them. The soldiers made different kinds of threats for different kinds of people: farmers were told that if they didn't go, they would be accused of opposing SLORC and some of their land would be confiscated, workers were told they would lose their jobs if they didn't go, students that they would fail their exams, and drivers that they would lose their licence if they didn't drive people to the rally. The army sent big trucks with flags on them to pick up the people, take them to the rally at Toungoo, and then bring them back. At the rally, they put on a concert to make the students happy and for the workers they had special shops selling goods cheaply if you were a member of USDA. In the villages, they are using people who used to be village heads for the BSPP [Burma Socialist Programme Party] and rich people to form a committee which is organizing people to become USDA members. [Note: NLD sources speculate that one main purpose of the USDA may be to help SLORC evade a referendum after the National Convention rubber-stamps the SLORC's Constitution. After the rallies, SLORC announced in the media that the millions who attended them "unanimously supported" the 6 principles and 106 rules laid down by the National Convention].
In Pyu Township there is the Zayawaddy sugar factory, the largest sugar factory in Burma. There are 2 factory buildings - they've abandoned the old one, but they just built the new one 3 years ago. Even so, it hasn't produced any sugar for the past 2 years and last year they officially lost 2,000,000 Kyat because the officials are running things for their own profit. All the farmers in the area grow sugar cane and this year they were still forced to take their quota of sugar cane to the sugar factory. At the factory it is weighed and the farmers are paid government price, which is far below market price. But then instead of making sugar, the officials send the cane to private contractors all around the factory who make jaggery [a form of hard crystallized cane juice]. Most of these contractors are families and relatives of the military. They sell the jaggery back to the factory for a big profit, then the factory sends the jaggery on for a loss. Only the local officials and military make money. The farmers lose, and the factory workers have nothing to do because the factory isn't running. The full time workers have been forced to go work at Yedashi sugar factory in Toungoo District, and all the seasonal workers have lost their jobs. If the SLORC sees anyone running their own small sugar or jaggery factory in the area they arrest them and confiscate their farm. Everyone who used to depend on this factory for a living is facing serious problems. Now the SLORC is building many new factories, but most of them don't run properly and produce under-quality goods.
Rice farmers in the area also have problems. Every rice farmer has to sell 10 baskets of paddy per acre [average total yield is 40 baskets per acre] to the army at government price. Until this quota is delivered, the SLORC will not give a farmer a permit to husk his rice at the rice mill. Now Infantry Battalions 39, 48, 351, and 264 are camped close to villages, and they are trying to get a great deal of money from the villagers. They've opened gambling places, and they also collect tax. They collect "porter fees" and "road building tax", and they arrest families, accuse them of having connections with the Karen resistance and demand 1,000 or 2,000 Kyat to release them. It is easy to make money like this east of the Sittang River, so #351 Infantry is trying to move in on #60 Infantry Battalion's area around Ler Pat, Done Do, and Myint Yeh villages. A villager there told me that #351 Infantry had made a deal with the commander of #60 Infantry to pay him 50,000 Kyat for control, but then the commander of #60 Infantry said "I know you'll give me 50,000, but if I let you take control of that area then I'll have to pay off my Operation Commander too, so how much more will you give me?" In the area anyone is allowed to open a bar if he pays. The soldiers always go to the houses where any nice girls live - the officers want their soldiers to make love to the young girls so they always arrange ways to bring them close to each other. They even arrange sports matches between the soldiers and villagers for this, like the sports matches they arranged in December.
They are building roads along all their military operation routes, around Bo Teh, Kut Peh, Say Day, 4629 area, and Tee Mu Khee. On the roads they make many bullock carts and trucks loaded with wood for weight go before them [to clear mines], and the soldiers go after. They've also made an airport, which they're using to bring in more soldiers, medicine and supplies for their camps. They use their soldiers to guard everywhere, and try to cut the connections between the Karen resistance and the villagers, but it doesn't work because all their junior officers can be bribed. The junior officers always say, "I know everything that you're doing. Just don't try to attack us, and we won't attack you. But I have to report everything to my senior officer so I have to pay him off too, that's why I need money from you". They tell all the traders this when they ask for money. You can do anything just by bribing them.
On November 18, 1993 I met a civilian villager named K--- from W--- village in Kyauk Kyi Township. He said, "I left my house 3 days ago on the night of the 15th, because the SLORC accused me of being connected with the Karen resistance and tried to arrest me. I haven't eaten for 2 days and I only have the clothes on my back." I asked if he had fled alone, and he said, "A great many people have fled the SLORC. I don't even know where my wife and children are." Then his wife arrived there on the 20th of November but without her child. He asked her, "Where is our child?", and she said "They took our child, and then I came here. They're detaining our son in their #60 Infantry camp." They took the child because they thought his father would come to get him, and then they could catch the father. The boy is only about 6 or 7 years old and they didn't feed him, so he cried a lot. He cried out to go home. After a few days the village head heard how the child was suffering and went to the camp together with a monk. The village head vouched for the child and convinced the soldiers to release him to the care of the monk. When K--- heard that his child was back in the village, he went secretly and got him, and now they are living in the Karen-controlled area. Now they have some security, but they lost everything - their land, their cattle, and everything they owned. Even now the child still has problems, because whenever he sees anyone in military clothes he gets terrified, screams and runs away.
The people in the area are suffering a lot from high prices, no one can get work, and the people east of the Sittang River are always accused by SLORC of being Karen resistance members and have to pay ransom. If they stay there nothing will get better for them, so they leave their villages to look for a safer place to stay. At least one or two families per day are leaving every village now. We heard there are many displaced people at KNLA [Karen National Liberation Army] 8th Battalion headquarters. The people can't bring any rice with them. Some Karen organisations, villagers, and others who feel sorry for them give them rice and take care of them for now. They are cutting farms out of the forest to get rice for next year. All the people still in the SLORC area are facing serious problems just trying to survive. We could do nothing for them and they can do nothing for themselves. The way things are now, they have no future.