HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTHERN KARENNI (KAYAH) STATE

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Published date:
Sunday, April 10, 1994

The following account describing the situation in northern Karenni (Kayah) State and the southern tip of Shan State northwest of Loikaw was given by Khon Mar Ko Pan, who is Kayan and was elected as a Member of Parliament in the 1990 elections representing the DOKNU (Democratic Organisation for Kayan National Unity) Party. He was a delegate to SLORC's National Convention when it began in January 1993, but after one month he decided that the National Convention was just "a fraud which has been arranged by the SLORC only to perpetuate their inhuman, illegal and dictatorial rule in Burma", and left for the Revolutionary Areas. He has now just returned from 3 months in areas west of Loikaw (capital of Karenni State) in Karenni and Shan States, and describes some of the ongoing political problems and human rights abuses happening there.

An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
April 10, 1994

The following account describing the situation in northern Karenni (Kayah) State and the southern tip of Shan State northwest of Loikaw was given by Khon Mar Ko Pan, who is Kayan and was elected as a Member of Parliament in the 1990 elections representing the DOKNU (Democratic Organisation for Kayan National Unity) Party. He was a delegate to SLORC's National Convention when it began in January 1993, but after one month he decided that the National Convention was just "a fraud which has been arranged by the SLORC only to perpetuate their inhuman, illegal and dictatorial rule in Burma", and left for the Revolutionary Areas. He has now just returned from 3« months in areas west of Loikaw (capital of Karenni State) in Karenni and Shan States, and describes some of the ongoing political problems and human rights abuses happening there. Note that the SLORC "regional development projects" which involve slavery and land confiscation to generate income for the military are the kinds of projects which the UN Development Programme is currently funding as "income generation" projects under the SLORC's "Border Areas Development Programme". The foreign Non-Government Organizations now considering entering Burma are also looking at funding projects like these, which the SLORC can easily display to project monitors as "community income generation" while the SLORC takes all the profits and the enslaved villagers stand there too terrified to speak.

Note that there are 3 revolutionary groups fighting the SLORC in Karenni State: the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Kayan New Land Party (KNLP), and Karenni Nationalities People's Liberation Front (KNPLF). The SLORC has recently offered ceasefire talks to each separately, but the talks generally consist of SLORC officers demanding surrender and refusing to even discuss any political or human rights issues.


The SLORC recently made an offer to the Karenni to come to peace talks to make a ceasefire. The Karenni knew that these would not be real peace talks, but the KNPP went to talk anyway because the Karenni people want peace. The first talks were at Tee Paw Klo village, and the second time at Loikaw. Both times the talks were the same - no progress was made. At the talks, the main thing the Karenni representatives asked was for SLORC to withdraw its army from the Karenni area, but the SLORC refused and after that fighting broke out one or two times. As far as I know, that's why the Karenni aren't going to the peace talks again. The talks were suspended, and now they've been broken off. The KNPLF also went to talk to SLORC, and the SLORC's offer was "Just surrender your arms for now, and we'll give them back to you later. In the meantime we'll supply all your living needs." The KNPLF didn't believe that so they quit the negotiations. The KNPLF and the KNPP don't fight each other, but they're not friends either [the KNPP accuse the KNPLF of being Leftists]. Now all of the Karenni people are asking the KNPP and KNPLF to be friendly - they are asking the KNPLF to take off the red stars on their hats and be friends with the KNPP. Now both groups are negotiating with each other and trying to settle their differences peacefully. The KNPP, KNPLF and KNLP all have Kayan and Kayah people, all the same, brothers, so all these 3 groups should be united. The KNLP is ready to unite with them. The SLORC also offered talks to the KNLP, but they said they will wait and follow only after SLORC talks with the KNPP, KNU [Karen National Union], and NDF [National Democratic Front, the allied ethnic forces], because those are bigger organisations so the KNLP doesn't want to go before them.

There's no fighting for now - the SLORC appears to be preparing for a new offensive, but I'm not exactly sure. The SLORC also says they want to restart the peace talks, but the Karenni are just waiting to see if the SLORC is going to attack or not. After the talks broke down last time, there were 2 skirmishes and the SLORC burned down 2 villages. Both times the fighting occurred outside of a village, so afterwards the SLORC went and burned down the whole village. All the villagers came to the refugee camps in the border area. For now, most of the time the SLORC troops aren't going very far from their camps, but sometimes they still patrol around.

All the villagers are living in fear because the SLORC army constantly comes to get slave labour for their military outposts, slave labour for roads, slave labour for digging ponds or for guarding the railway line. They always make the villagers work for them. They always come and collect money from the villagers and say it's for porter fees [this is just an excuse for extortion - none of the money is spent on porters], they take porters, and they take fees people must pay to avoid going for slave labour. The people are never allowed to just stay peacefully in their villages, even in Loikaw Town itself and the villages around there.

Four or five miles west of Loikaw, near Kayeh Ni Village between Loikaw and Mo Byeh, the SLORC has a plan to dig fishponds covering 600 acres. All of this land belongs to the villagers around there, although some of it isn't suitable for crops because of annual flooding. The SLORC has taken all the land. They plan to make each pond about 200 feet long, covering about one acre. They plan to stock them with fish during the rainy season, and grow paddy during the other seasons. They just started this project about one month or more ago. They're digging the ponds now. There are so many villagers there, and even people from Loikaw Town are forced to do labour there. There are over 10,000 people altogether, being forced to work in turns. I was in the villages in the area and we heard that the soldiers had ordered that anyone who won't go to dig the ponds will be arrested, so I had to keep running from village to village. One person from each family has to go, and anyone who can't go has to pay 100 Kyat per day. This order comes directly from the State Level SLORC itself [the SLORC administration for Karenni (Kayah) State]. The people have to work all day long, they don't even get a chance to rest. I can't say how many days at a time they have to go. None of these orders come from the local military, they all come from the Kayah State SLORC, and this whole project is just for their own purposes and profit.

All the villagers are also being forced to guard the Loikaw-Aungban railway line [this 100-mile railway between Karenni and Shan States was built entirely by slave labour from 1991 to 1993. The SLORC says over 800,000 people "contributed labour"; many of these were Pa'O and Shan, and the project also involved driving 20,000 Karenni villagers out of their villages and into concentration camps and then using them on the railway, where hundreds, possibly thousands, died of starvation, disease and SLORC beatings, including women and children as young as 12. SLORC admitted that "people are dying every day". When the railway was finished it was merrily opened by foreign diplomats, including the German ambassador and British representatives. The UN Development Programme was involved in the project but denies it. See related KHRG reports from 1992.] The KNLP stays in the area around the railway. So the SLORC laid a mine around the railway, then they found it and told everyone "We found KNLP mines on the railway line", and so now with that excuse they force all the villagers to guard the railway line 24 hours a day. The KNLP denied laying any mines. It was the train driver who "found" the land mine. The SLORC says he saw it, stopped the train in time, got out and picked it up. This is impossible, so we're sure the SLORC mined the railway themselves. Now everyone has to take turns guarding the railway for 24 hours at a time. Anyone who can't go has to pay 100 Kyat per night. Most people have to go at most 2 times per month. It depends on the village - if the village is big, you don't have to take your turn so often, but if it is small then your turn comes quickly. [Other reliable sources add: "Watch huts" have been placed about every 400 yards along the railway line. Four villagers at a time must stay in these watch huts day and night. This makes a total of about 400 watch huts along the entire railway, and 1,600 villagers doing forced labour as "guards" every moment of every day].

There are so many human rights abuses that trying to list them would be endless. Every SLORC Battalion and Regiment in every area takes money and land for themselves, then forces the villagers to work the land for them. I will only tell you a few examples. I know 3 Battalions, Battalions #421 and #336 based around Pay Khon and #422 in Mo Byeh, which have each confiscated 1,000 acres of land from the local villagers, for a total of 3,000 acres. On this land the villagers are forced to do everything for them - plow the land, plant the seed rice, pull up and transplant the seedlings into the paddies, everything right up until reaping time, when the villagers have to harvest it for them. For all this work the villagers aren't even given 5 pyas [a worthless sum of money - 100 pyas = 1 Kyat], but they have to do everything for the soldiers on the land, cut wood, build fences, everything. As far as we know, the soldiers send the profits to their headquarters to invest it in a company. The SLORC sends orders to every Battalion and Division telling how much profit money they have to send in to buy shares in this Company - if you want to find out how much exactly, only the SLORC centre of operations can tell you that. SLORC has created this to be a very big company, and then they make sure that no other businesses or people get any bigger than them. [Another source indicates that this company is called "Myanmar Holding Company Ltd.", set up by SLORC as a front company to launder their profits from the seizure of land and other assets from civilians by the military.]

On these SLORC farms, whenever the soldiers see one cow or buffalo footprint, they go and fine the owner 500 Kyat, and if they catch a cow or buffalo on the land they charge the owner 3,000 Kyat to get it back. I know of at least 10 villagers who have had to pay just for their cow's footprint, and over 10 villagers who had to pay to get back their cattle. The soldiers also shot dead over 20 cattle, for no reason at all. Now whether they find the cattle on the SLORC farm or elsewhere, they take them and charge the owner 3,000 Kyat.

In Deemawso Township [south of Loikaw], #102 Battalion takes all the best land. In one area there is about 1,000 acres of very good land where the villagers grow corn, and #102 Battalion took about 300 acres for themselves right in the middle of it. Now they force the villagers to grow corn for them, so some of the villagers who lost their land joined revolutionary groups. Then when the SLORC soldiers were inspecting their corn one time, KNPP soldiers came and shot at them, and 3 SLORC soldiers died. So the SLORC called all the villagers, assembled over 1,000 of them, and forced them to cut down all of their own corn, everything except the SLORC corn. It was nearly ready to harvest, so some of the villagers asked to take some of their corn with them to feed their horses, cattle, and other animals, but the SLORC wouldn't allow them to take any for themselves or their animals. They just made them cut it all down and leave it laying there, like clearing an area of forest.

The SLORC treats the people very badly like this with all their slave labour, but even so sometimes the world community trusts them, so we have to say that the world community is very stupid and the SLORC is very smart.

The SLORC has just started a new road between Lu Pa Ko and Ko Pra, two villages on the way between Loikaw and Toungoo. The length of the road is about 7 miles, but there are only 3 small villages around there who are being forced to do all the labour. They're doing it right now - they're not even to the halfway point yet. They're also making a slave labour road from Mo Byeh to Pee Kim [in the far south of Shan State] which isn't finished yet, but they've stopped work on it for the moment. It's 20 miles long. The SLORC and Aung Kham Hti's group are working together in this area. [Aung Kham Hti took his faction of the Pa'O National Organisation and signed one of the first ceasefires with SLORC in early 1991. The SLORC has made a great deal of propaganda from this ceasefire since then]. Aung Kham Hti only has 50 or 60 people, and no one supports or likes him because he killed his 2nd Chairman Tun Gyi and also killed some other people - he has a big problem. His name is Aung Kham Hti but all the people there now call him "Aung Maung Htwee", which means "Burmese dog".

All the villages around Pay Khon township were ordered by SLORC to go to the USDA mass meeting in Loikaw. [USDA = Union Solidarity Development Association, the SLORC's attempt to gain legitimacy by resurrecting the mass organisation of Ne Win's Burmese Socialist Programme Party. It is characterised by forced-attendance rallies, inducements to civilians to join and threats against those who don't join. See related KHRG reports, February and March 1994.] There were very many people in all the villages around there who didn't want to go because they thought the rally would be meaningless, so they just ignored the order and planned to stay in their villages. L--- village [name omitted by request] is bigger than most other villages, so the SLORC Major himself came from #422 Battalion in Mo Byeh, while other groups of soldiers went to other villages. The Major threatened the village head that he'd be arrested, so then the village head had to arrange 2 tractors with trailers to take people to the meeting. The Major gathered all the villagers in a nearby field, scolded them and the village elders and threatened to arrest them and put them in jail if they didn't go. The owners of the tractors had to collect money from the villagers, just enough so that they could buy petrol for the journey, and then had to take everyone to Loikaw at their own expense. When everyone got to Loikaw, they had to find a place to stay themselves.

The SLORC army also called a meeting in one village and said to the villagers "You can say everything you want openly, and we won't act against you no matter what you say", so the villagers told them everything. They said, "You forced us all to go to the USDA rally against our will, and your soldiers always come and steal all our livestock. Most of your soldiers are very bad", and things like that. The SLORC didn't respond, but it was only a few days later that the SLORC planted a mine on the railway and forced everyone to start doing guard duty.

Everything the SLORC does, like these mass meetings and all their slave labour projects and other things, they pretend to do for the people, but the people will never follow them or trust them. As for whether a ceasefire would improve anything, the answer is no way. The only thing that might improve is that the SLORC might take a few less porters, but all the stealing will only get worse under a ceasefire, and the forced labour will continue bad to worse. All the SLORC is doing is just make-believe to fool the people, but the people will never believe them. The situation between the military and the people could explode at any time.