KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP COMMENTARY

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KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP COMMENTARY

Published date:
Saturday, April 16, 1994

On January 28, 1994 SLORC planes passed over the headquarters area of the New Mon State Party and sprayed a yellow powder which covered everything. The New Mon State Party says this has happened before, but the effects are not clear, no proper analysis has ever been done, and no one is quite sure what the SLORC is spraying. Now in the past 8 months in Karen areas hundreds of people have died of a disease like cholera or shigella, which has broken out in two different areas - only days after SLORC planes flew over the areas and dropped mysterious "radiosonde" electronic weather devices.

On January 28, 1994 SLORC planes passed over the headquarters area of the New Mon State Party and sprayed a yellow powder which covered everything. The New Mon State Party says this has happened before, but the effects are not clear, no proper analysis has ever been done, and no one is quite sure what the SLORC is spraying. Now in the past 8 months in Karen areas hundreds of people have died of a disease like cholera or shigella, which has broken out in two different areas - only days after SLORC planes flew over the areas and dropped mysterious "radiosonde" electronic weather devices. [For details, see "Is the SLORC Using Bacteriological Warfare?", KHRG 15/3/94]. Nothing is certain, but more evidence is forthcoming. What is the SLORC doing? At least one of the Karen disease areas, in Thaton District, is the same area where SLORC's notorious 99 Division has been unsuccessfully using terror for the past 2 years to drive the entire civilian population either into camps or out of the area. The disease is now helping that to happen. For the moment, the situation still presents more questions than answers, such as if there is no connection between the air drops and the disease, then why is the SLORC dropping strange devices in an area which they do not even control? If no one else can answer these questions, then the SLORC should - and it may be up to foreign governments to make them do so.

With respect to other things, the main word becoming more and more common in reports coming in from all areas is SLAVERY. This has rapidly become the main source of despair and destitution for Karen, Karenni, Mon, Tavoyan, Burman and others alike, as almost every one of them now shakes his or her head and asks us, "How can we survive any more in our village? We have to do so much work for them, we don't even have time to work to support our own families anymore." Some claim that there is a "tradition of community labour" in Burma. True, in many areas there is a tradition of villagers gathering together to do small projects for their village - but definitely not for any faraway King, and absolutely not for that King's army. This is a myth propagated by Ne Win, the old but still active dictator. The SLORC is becoming completely systematic in its slavery, at army camps, on roads, railways and other development projects, on "SLORC farms", and so on. As people from Karenni State are reporting, every SLORC Battalion and Regiment now confiscates all the best farmland in their base area, then forces the displaced farmers and others to do all the farmwork for them. All the profits go to the local military, with a cut going to the higher authorities, of course [see "Human Rights in Northern Karenni State", KHRG 10/4/94, and "SLORC Abuses in Hlaing Bwe Area", KHRG 16/3/94]. Best of all, SLORC can then present all these infrastructure and land confiscation projects to foreign diplomats as "community income generation" or "regional development projects"! The saddest point of all is that these lies are increasingly being believed by UN representatives and diplomats ensconced in their Rangoon villas, as well as by many of the governments which they represent and Non-Government Organisations contemplating entering Burma. Anyone who thinks the SLORC is suddenly going to allow any kind of "development" which benefits civilians or that SLORC ceasefires will improve things for the people in the long term should look again, and this time spend some time listening to the voices of the people who are Burma - the villagers. Not the SLORC or their flunkies, not the people who plan the projects but the people who are forced to work on them.

One of the SLORC's worst mass slavery "development" projects at the moment is the Ye-Tavoy railway, involving almost every family between Ye in Mon State and Tavoy in Tenasserim (Taninthari) Division, tens of thousands of people altogether [see "The Ye-Tavoy Railway", KHRG 13/4/94]. The Mon, Karen, Tavoyan and Burman villagers trying to flee the slavery, beatings, disease and death that this 110-mile railway holds for them are caught in a cruel vice: the SLORC on one side, and the Thais on the other. Many of the railway refugees were arriving at the Thai border in the area of Pa Yaw refugee camp - so the SLORC has sent in fresh troops to block off that route of escape. Now most of them are split into two streams. One is heading north, to cross into Thailand together with the thousands of urban economic refugees now crossing around Three Pagodas Pass, where money-hungry Thais await to cart them off to virtual slavery in Bangkok's sweatshops and brothels. These people, impossible to count, usually end up in Thailand's brutal Immigration Detention Centres, where they are stripped of all belongings, beaten and raped, and then piled onto open trucks and sent back into SLORC hands at the border. The other stream is heading south, coming to the border around Nat Ei Taung and Da Now See, where the Thai Army is already in the process of forcibly repatriating all the refugees in their territory. Camps have been burned down and refugees deliberately driven into brutally inhospitable, overcrowded and inaccessible sites just across the border from SLORC camps Now heavily armed Thai troops are storming camps by surprise, waving their weapons and shouting false threats that there will be no more rice supply, trying to intimidate the refugees back across the border. A senior Thai Intelligence officer told us in Da Now See, "My main job is to stop any more refugees trying to cross. We're expecting a lot of them, first from this railway and then from the gas pipeline." The gas pipeline, another one of SLORC's upcoming slavery projects, is financed by French oil giant Total, Unocal and Texaco of the USA, and Thailand's government oil company. Ten new SLORC Battalions, #401 thru 410, have been sent to the route of the proposed pipeline to "secure" the area.

The refugees say they cannot and will not go back to SLORC. The Thais say they must. Some of the refugees say they would die first, and if the SLORC and the Thais have their way, perhaps they will. So where is the famous United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNHCR, which is supposed to protect refugees? One Mon refugee representative says "They were here, they looked around and we explained the situation to them." That was 2 or 3 months ago - and now? "We haven't heard anything back from them", he says. Other Mon representatives were more outspoken, even to the point of writing an open letter urging the UNHCR to take action and risking arrest by publicly protesting the UNHCR's lack of action in front of UN offices in Bangkok. The UNHCR's response: absolute silence - not even an acknowledgement letter.

The UNHCR has always refused to acknowledge the existence of ethnic refugees from Burma in Thailand for its own political reasons. In the crisis the refugees are now facing, as one diplomat in Bangkok put it, "The UNHCR is going to need a lot of pushing to do anything. They've got a sweet deal with SLORC on the Bangladesh border, and they don't want to mess that up by doing anything for refugees on this side." Who is the UNHCR supposed to be working for, refugees or SLORC? Their absolute refusal to do anything at all to prevent a possible mass forced repatriation and the resulting human disaster is nothing short of criminal. If Commissioner Sadako Ogata, once a UN Special Rapporteur on Burma herself, doesn't care about the lives of 100,000 refugees from Burma in Thailand, then she should be sacked and replaced with someone who does. Unfortunately, she would have to be sacked by the UN Secretary-General, the very same Boutros Boutros-Ghali who was told to intervene in Burma by the General Assembly almost 5 months ago and hasn't even uttered a word about Burma since. If the UN High Commissioner for Refugees isn't answerable to refugees and the UN Secretary-General isn't answerable to the United Nations, then their job descriptions are sorely in need of an overhaul.