MORE SLORC ABUSES: THATON & PA'AN DISTRICTS
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
April 23, 1994
The following accounts were given in interviews in late March and early April 1994. As several of the interviews were conducted in villages well inside Burma, the names of those interviewed have been changed and the names of their villages omitted for their protection. All names in their stories are real, though some have been omitted. Despite all the SLORC's international propaganda, nothing has improved for these people. Furthermore, no SLORC "ceasefire" would improve things for these people, because history shows that every SLORC "ceasefire" to date has been used as cover to triple or quadruple the concentration of SLORC troops in the ceasefire area, and it is the SLORC troops, not military battles, which are causing the suffering of these villagers. In fact, by allowing SLORC to increase troop concentrations a "ceasefire" would only increase the suffering of the villagers, particularly in terms of slave labour, forced portering (soldiers who aren't fighting still need ammunition and supplies), extortion, looting, and theft of money, food, livestock, and land.
Please use this report in any way which may help end the suffering of these villagers; however, to prevent possible brutal retaliation in the areas affected please ensure that it does not fall into the hands of any SLORC representatives.
NAME: Naw Eh Wah
ADDRESS: Pa'an Township, Thaton District
FAMILY: Married with 2 children
DESCRIPTION: Karen farmer
At the beginning of March, my nephew was away from the village driving cattle. He was 13 years old, and that was his job. I waited for him to come home but he never came, so we knew the SLORC must have captured him on the way, tortured him and killed him. We went looking for his body but we didn't find it, so then we held a funeral ceremony for him. Then after 4 or 5 days some villagers went to cut firewood in the forest far from the village and they found his body. They couldn't bring it back because it was already decomposed, but they could see that the SLORC had badly burned the back of his neck and tortured him. Then the SLORC had sharpened a bamboo stick, shoved it through his anus and up through his body, like they would skewer a fish. He was only 13 years old.
At the beginning of April [other witnesses verify the date as April 1 or April 2, 1994], SLORC troops came to the village and ordered a few of us to follow them to their camp. When we got there we saw P-- all tied up, and the SLORC asked us, "Do you know this man? Is he a soldier or a villager?" We said, "He is a villager, not a soldier." They asked if we were sure, and we said yes. Then they said, "If he's a villager, we'll let him go now", and they untied him. Then the officer said, "I'll ask you a question. Tell me the truth, not a lie". When we promised to tell the truth, he said "A day or two ago some Karen soldiers passed through. Tell me who they were." We said we didn't know, and he asked, "Were they Chit Thu's troops?". We knew they were Chit Thu's troops, but we just kept saying we knew nothing, so he said, "I know very well that about 10 of his men have been around here and they have a walkie-talkie. I know everything, so don't lie to me. Go find out for yourselves, then come back and tell me." So we went away, then later we went back and said, "Yes, you were right, there were 10 of them." Then he said, "I've captured 4 men and I have them tied up. You must tell me if any of them are your villagers, and I'll let them go if they are." Then we followed him. We arrived at a stream in a ricefield. The commander called out, and on the other bank SLORC soldiers
came out with 2 men tied up. As soon as I saw them I said, "Oh! I know them very well." The first was Maw Na, and the second was Maw Toe Aung. We sat on a paddy dike and the soldiers let the two men sit not far from us. The Column Commander asked, "Mother, are these your villagers?" and I said "Yes, they're my villagers". He said, "You say they're villagers but they had guns with them". I said, "I know them very well, and they have no guns. Maybe other people just asked them to keep or carry the guns for them. If you don't believe me then come to our village and I'll show you their parents, wives and children."
Then they brought out another man, Maw Lay. They had him tied up and dragged him along. They didn't let him stay there long before they dragged him away again, and he just looked at me. I told him in Karen, "Don't tell them anything." Then we all stood up and started walking, and Maw Lay and the others were following behind me. Maw Na was right behind me, and he said, "Aunty, it looks like we will die now." I asked if they had said anything that would make the soldiers kill them and he said no. I said "If not, then they can't just kill you for doing nothing wrong, and I'll also do my best to stop them killing you." As we arrived at the camp, the Column Commander said "Look at these men - they're not villagers, they're spies." He showed me a backpack with bullets and shells in it. There were two kinds of shells: one was big with a tail on it, and the other was small. There were also many bullets and one hand grenade. He said all of it belonged to the 4 men. I told him, "That's not true - it's not theirs." Then he got angry and didn't say anything, he just went away and spoke to the Battalion commander while a soldier guarded us. Later on they let me and the other woman go back to the village. After we got back, they fired 6 shells after us at the village. Later they killed all of the 4 men in secret and never told us anything. They'd just captured them that morning, and that night they killed them all. I think they shot them, because afterwards some people went and found their bodies and said they'd been shot in the temple.
The following account was given in an interview with the wives of the 4 men who were arrested and killed by SLORC on April 1 or April 2, 1994. They are all from Pa'an Township, Thaton District, but the village name must be omitted for their protection. Their names have been changed, but their husbands' names are real as given.
NAME: Naw Paw Lwee
FAMILY: Wife of Maw Na, age 30. 2 children, one girl and one boy.
NAME: Naw Gay Htoo
FAMILY: Wife of Maw Toe Aung, age 40. 3 children, one girl and two boys.
NAME: Naw Tee Kuh
FAMILY: Wife of Pa Boe, age 43. 3 children, all girls.
NAME: Naw Lah
FAMILY: Wife of Maw Lay, age 34. 2 children, both boys.
DESCRIPTION: Karen farmer
It was 119 Battalion of #33 Division. They captured our husbands away from the village. Not all at the same time - 2 of them were going fishing when the SLORC captured them, and the other two were going to the forest to cut bamboo. They took a cow along with them to the forest to feed, and when the SLORC captured them the soldiers killed that cow and ate it. Our husbands had nothing, no guns or ammunition. They were just civilians. Not far from our village, Karen soldiers left some guns and ammunition that were no good anymore in jackary huts [huts used for boiling sugarcane juice into hard jackary] in a field. We didn't know about it at all until afterwards. The SLORC found these things, so then they captured our husbands and called them Ringworms [a derogatory SLORC name for Karen soldiers]. The men who were going fishing were on the other side of the hill from the jackary huts when they were captured, but the 2 who were going to cut bamboo were 3 mountains away. That's very far, not close at all. First the soldiers captured the fishermen and said, "These are your guns". Later they found the men cutting bamboo, and even though they were far away they accused the four of them of being part of the same group, and said the men had just split up.
The soldiers called the village head to go see them and talk to them, but then they just locked our husbands away and wouldn't let the village head talk to them. The SLORC said, "Old man, your villagers are good, but now look at them, they have guns. Can you still say they're good?" The old man said, "Yes, they're good men. They're not Karen soldiers." The officer said, "We can't believe you anymore, old man, because we've found out they're Ringworms." The headman said, "If you don't believe me then come to the village and I'll show you." Then we could do nothing. They just killed them all. We know because we heard the gunshots in the evening when it started getting dark.
The next morning we went halfway to where they'd been shot and asked a woman there what had happened. She told us, "The SLORC said they just let the men go so they could go home for the festival" [the Buddhist water festival, April 13-16], so we just went back home. But by the next morning we were sure they were dead, so we went to try to find where they were buried. We found the tracks of SLORC soldiers' boots going into the forest, so we knew this was the way and we followed the tracks. We found Maw Na's slippers so we kept following, and we could see signs in the dirt of how they'd dragged the bodies. We knew they must be buried around there, so we stepped on the earth until we found a soft place, and that's where we found the bodies. They'd buried two in one hole and two in the other. Their hands were still tied behind their backs. The only marks on them were bullet holes. Two of them were shot in the back of the neck, and the other two in the temple. Maw Na had a bullet hole in one temple and the bullet came out the other side. As for Maw Toe Aung, the bullet had blown out the top of his head. The SLORC did this secretly, and never told us they were dead.
NAME: Saw Win Gate
AGE: over 50
ADDRESS: Hlaing Bwe Township, Pa'an District
DESCRIPTION:Karen Buddhist, farmer
The SLORC commits so many abuses against Karen people. The SLORC comes and arrests people, beats them and says they're "Ringworm", even though some of them are sick and weak. This dry season they arrested one man, tied him up, hit and beat him and said "You're Ringworm". This man was from Ta Nay Bleh village. I don't know his name - he came to our village to cure his sickness and stayed with his nephew who lives in our village. The SLORC captured both him and his nephew, tied their hands behind their backs and tortured, beat and hit them, then they took them away to their camp and tortured them a lot. The village heads from our village and Ta Nay Bleh village went to the camp and swore that the men were just villagers, and then they were released. The soldiers say "If you are real villagers then just stay in your village. We won't hurt you unless you make trouble." So now all the villagers don't dare go anywhere, just stay in the village. If you're just walking outside the village and you see SLORC, if you try to run they call and say "Don't run, we're good men", but if you stop then they capture you and make trouble. The soldiers beat people in my village all the time. I myself was beaten once when the soldiers came and accused my friend Tha Dee of being a Karen soldier. I tried to plead for him, and then they slapped both of our faces very hard again and again. My friend Tha Dee is about 20 years old, and he is just a civilian. Three months ago, the SLORC captured a man in our village and said, "Is he a villager or a Ringworm?" He was just a villager. They tied him up with rope and tied the rope around his neck until he almost died, then they took him back to their camp. The villagers had to go plead for him to get them to free him. His name is Saw Eh Gay, age 20. Also, I knew a villager named Kya Nay Pawt, and they shot him. That was 2 or 3 years ago. He was from Da Greh village but he usually stayed in a hut at his farm. One evening his friends asked him to stay in the village but he said, "I left my animals loose to feed so I have to go back". He went back to sleep in his hut, then in the middle of the night the SLORC came into his hut and woke him up. Some villagers who they'd already captured were there and saw the whole thing. Kya Nay Pawt woke up and saw the SLORC, and they shot him in the leg. He tried to get up and run, but he couldn't and fell down, and then the soldier just walked up to him, pointed a gun at him and killed him. They shot him in the back of the head where he had fallen. We heard the gunshot from the village.
They order villagers to go work for them and to be porters, and if you don't go when they ask then they come arrest you and take you by force, both men and women, even children. You have to carry their shells, rice and rations. We have to go for one day, the whole day, and we only get back in the evening. Sometimes when there's fighting they come and capture all of us and we have to go carry their things. Some have to go for 10 days, or more than 2 weeks. Porters have to carry up through Maw Po Kay, and back through Kawkareik, in Pa'an District. There are 30 houses in my village, and about 10 of us have to go at a time. Most of the men don't dare go as porters because men porters are tortured very seriously. But women are not treated quite so badly, so it is mostly women who go as porters from our village.
They force us to do a lot of other things too. We have to send food to them and carry it in our carts. Usually the men are carrying food to them in carts, while the women have to carry things on their backs and climb all the hills along the way. This dry season I had to take food on my cart to Baw Ye Pu, and when I got there I saw many, many, 400 or 500 other carts together there. All of them had to carry rations and supplies to the soldiers. I had to send food to Baw Ye Pu and also to Ler Pu. I've had to do this 6 or 7 times, and it was trouble because they made us do it through the middle of the day when it's very hot. Our cow couldn't continue in the heat, but the soldiers forced us to keep going quickly - so then our cow just stopped, and they yelled and cursed at us. They order us to go dig trenches and things for them, and if you can't go then they force you to go. We have to cut bamboo, cut down trees, dig trenches, and build their houses. The worst thing is building fences for them - it took us over one month to make fences around their whole military camp. They forced us to make 3 fences all parallel to each other and plant sharpened bamboo sticks in the ground in between. We had to cut the bamboo ourselves and carry it to the camp to make their fences. We had to build them section by section, and there were people from many villages there working together. It was really hard work, and they were always yelling at us to hurry. We all had to take our own food and walk there every day. At the camp we have to do exactly what they say or they would beat us.
They also order everyone, especially the women and children as young as 10 years old, to guard the road. While they are there they are supposed to watch everyone who goes along the road and report it to SLORC. But we are all Karen so even while we're guarding we don't report on all the villagers going by, but when the SLORC finds that out then we have to pay them money. We have to go continually, in 3 day shifts. But that's finished for now, because they've finished sending their ammunition and supplies to the frontline for this season so they've closed the road. Quite a few SLORC trucks explode on the road, but not near our village. When they explode the SLORC demands 20,000 or 30,000 Kyat from the villagers. Sometimes there are 2 or 3 small villages near the explosion, so if SLORC demands 20,000 or 30,000 then those villages all have to collect the money and pay it. The Karen soldiers lay the mines. We know there are still some around because we saw them being planted, but we say nothing.
This dry season we had to build a bridge across the Da Greh River for SLORC. We had to cut down many, many trees and then they ordered us to carry them all to build the bridge. One time they ordered me to carry the logs and I almost died - they're so heavy, and even though they're much too heavy for you to carry you just have to keep carrying anyway, for as long as you can. They have 5 or 10 people working at this all the time. The soldiers force everyone they meet to come and do it. I'm not in very good health so it's very hard for me - I have a lung disease. But even if you have a disease or handicap they don't care, they just order you to do it so you have to. They build this bridge to send all their military supplies, because the river is deep and has a sandy bottom, so their trucks can't cross. Every rainy season the river floods and destroys the bridge, so once every year they make us rebuild it. It takes us 1« to 2 months every year. Around our village there used to be many trees, but because of this bridge there are now only a few left. The SLORC has also cut down every tree in our village, like our coconut trees. [The soldiers sometimes do this just to steal the fruit, and sometimes as a deliberate measure to increase the destitution of the villagers so they have nothing to give the Karen Army].
We have to send people to them every day. Every day! Each family spends about 10 days of every month working for them. The camp commanders are always changing, and every time a new commander comes he makes up new things for us to do. As soon as one job finishes, they call us for another job the next day. The headman can't plan it in advance, so we just have to gather round every day and decide who has to go. People like me who often work far from the village don't have to go as much, but for those who are always in the village, it's every day. The soldiers are from 28 Battalion, and from 44 Division. Last year we had 338 Battalion, but they were replaced by 28 Battalion. 338 Battalion was better - this 28 Battalion is very bad.
One serious thing they do is whenever our animals go near their camp and they find out, they kill the animals and eat them. Then they say it's not their fault, it's the owner's fault. They've already killed many of the cattle and buffalos in the village this way. When the soldiers shoot animals and eat them, they don't ask for money compensation as well because if they do then the villagers will know who shot their animals. But some of the animals go near the SLORC camp, step on their landmines and are killed. Then the soldiers eat the animal, and not only that but they order the animal's owner to come to their camp and demand money as compensation for the cost of the landmine! They demand 400 or 500 Kyat, sometimes over 1,000 Kyat. So now when this happens, we don't go to the camp - we just say we don't know who owned the animal. I haven't lost any cattle, because I keep them in another village. If I kept them at home they'd always go towards the camp because that's where the food is, and they'd be killed. The soldiers order us to send them our chickens and things and we send them, but even so they still come to the village and take whatever they want, and if you don't have what they ask for then you have to give them money instead. Some people talk back to them when they take things and say, "Don't take that!", but others don't dare. They order us to send 4 or 5 viss [6.4 to 8 kg.] of chicken at a time, and just before I left the village we were having a Buddhist festival [water festival, April 13 to 16, which is Buddhist New Year] and the SLORC ordered us to send 40 viss [64 kg.] of pork. We had to send it quickly, because if we hadn't they would have made trouble and we would have missed the whole ceremony.
We have to pay porter fees monthly, 100 Kyat per month per family. We also have to pay "courier fees" of more than 10 Kyat every month, and slave labour fees - these are 25 or 50 Kyat every day you can't go for slave labour. If they capture you to be an operations porter [long-term portering during fighting] and you refuse to go then you have to pay a lot. People are terrified to go as operations porters so we have to hire others to go in our place for 150 or 200 Kyat. I can't go as an operations porter because I can't carry the loads.
We grow crops but as soon as they're ready the SLORC just comes and takes it all away, so people don't want to plant anything anymore because they know they'll never get to eat it. We also have to sell them 4 tins of rice per acre. Last year I got 200 tins and I had to sell them 20, and if the rice is worth 100 Kyat then the SLORC only pays 50. But if you won't sell it to them they just come to your house and take all the rice you've got, so we have to sell it to them at their price. Sometimes they demand more rice than we have, and we have to go buy it at another village and give it to them. We just have to find food day by day wherever we can. Most people have stopped planting rice close to the village so SLORC can't take so much of it. We have our ricefields very far away, but even there sometimes we still have to run from SLORC. If they see you while you're working in the field, they just grab you and take you to work for them, so we can't get enough time to do all the work in our fields. Some people make a living taking cattle and other things to market for the owners, but then they lose everything to SLORC along the way. Then they don't dare come back because they can't repay the owner, and they have to go and find a living somewhere else.
SLORC hasn't ordered our village to move yet, but they don't let us go too far from the village. There are many people who've come from other areas to stay in our village [people displaced from areas where SLORC is even worse], but now SLORC has ordered them all to go back.
There is no fighting around our village right now, but we don't know what may happen tomorrow or the next day. Even without fighting, right now the situation is 3 times worse than ever before. We always have to do so much labour for them, every day. The big village of Da Greh used to have 400 or more houses, but now only about 200 are left. 30, 40, 50 or more families have run away from the villages around us. Most of them have gone to stay in the refugee camps. More are still planning to move out, but as for me, I'll have to stay there until I die whether I can bear it or not, because I'm too old and weak to walk much. I have to stay to take care of my old mother. Most of my brothers and sisters have already gone.
NAME: Naw Say
ADDRESS: Pa'an Township, Thaton District
FAMILY: Married with children
DESCRIPTION: Karen farmer
Hello nephew, we're glad to see you come and visit us from Manerplaw, we appreciate it and I'm glad to see you're in good health. We live here in our village and the situation is very hard for us here now. Do you know why? Because of the SLORC military, they come and oppress us and make life hard for us. The troops who stay at the camp order us to help them, so all the men and women and even any children who are big enough to work have to help them. If they demand bamboo, we have to give them bamboo. If they order leaves [for roofing], we must get them leaves. If they demand firewood or food, we have to give it to them - everything they ask for. By food I mean rice, vegetables, fruit, even chickens and meat. We have to give them everything, and they don't give us anything for it. They eat for free. If they have all the food they want, their faces look happy, but if not then their faces become angry and you can tell they're going to make trouble so you must hurry and give them even more.
If any porters escape, they demand payment and we have to pay. Not money, but pork - they demand 10 or 20 viss (16 to 32 kg.) of pork, which is worth about 3,000 Kyat. More than that, our village is very small, only 17 or 18 houses, and they demand 2 porters at all times. Some villagers can't go as porters so they have to pay money: 100 Kyat for one day, so if they're ordered to go for 5 days that's 500 Kyat. That's a lot, it's too much for us because we can't get money here. But if we want to be left in peace we just have to pay them the money. M--- village is nearby and has only 4 or 5 houses, but SLORC demands one porter from them. Think about that! Only 4 or 5 houses, and they have to give one porter for 5 days, then another for 5 days, and so on! The men don't have any time to stay home and work. They also order women to go to their camp one day out of every two, and if we don't show up even once the soldiers write us an order warning us to go. They're always sending us orders, so neither men nor women have any time to work to survive, and it's very hard for us to live. Our whole village is brokenhearted by this and we all want to run away to somewhere else but we can't, so we have to live in poverty here. We can't do anything about this.
The soldiers are very happy when we give them money because we're too sick to go as porters. But when porters escape they are very angry, and we have to give them chicken, pork, rice, and whatever we have. Even if we don't have these things we have to find them. Sometimes we have to buy them from other villages and give them to the soldiers. Then back in the village we have to total how much we all spent so we can divide it equally, and sometimes quarrels break out because of this. We also have to send women as couriers for them, one woman every day. If a woman doesn't go then SLORC gets very angry, but nobody wants to go because these are hard times and we have to support our families, so the women end up arguing among themselves: "This is your turn - you have to go", "But I don't want to go!", and so on. In the end we just have to go. These problems are not only in our village, but in every village. So in what way are you going to help us so we can live peacefully?
There's just too much to tell! We have to sweep the road [for mines] every day, all the women are blind from all the dust sweeping the road all the time. All the women and children big enough to work, starting at 7 or 8 years old, have to go do this every day, then every night all the men have to sleep along the road as "guards". The men have to sleep on the ground unless they build a special shelter. The women and children are very busy sweeping the road every day, and families in the village who only have one daughter have a hard time, because the mother and daughter have to go on alternate days or else there would be nobody left to work at home. Then if any mine explodes the soldiers accuse the women of laying the mine while they sweep! The soldiers pull their hair, slap their faces, then kick them. They don't care if they're old, young, or even children - they just do whatever they want. Just think about the women and children having to do this every day while the men have to go work to produce food, and you'll see why we can't get enough food anymore. The soldiers are always out looking and listening for people. If they hear the bamboo bell of a cow or buffalo they follow it because they know the owner will be following, and then they capture the owner. The owners of the animals don't know anything, they just walk along behind their animals singing a song and then suddenly they're captured by SLORC to be porters. Then no one tends the animals, so they wander into the ricefields and eat the rice and trample it and the farmer loses part of his crop too. It's wrong! The Burmese don't even try to fight their enemies, they just come to oppress the villagers. I'll tell you about it, nephew. We ask them, "Son, why don't you fight your enemies? You only fight us", and they answer "Because we don't find our enemies here, only you, so we fight you. If we ask you where our enemies are you never tell us, even though you know everything." That's wrong, but to them it's right.
The SLORC orders women to go as porters, and if they don't go then the soldiers come and arrest them, take them away to jail and bind their hands and feet. Women have to leave their children at home and go to the camp to carry things. The soldiers say it will just be for 1 day, but then keep them there for 2 or 3 days, and their children get hungry and start crying because they want to eat. Some of the women aren't allowed back until late at night, and then they have to start cooking because they haven't eaten all day. Sometimes we have to go as porters in rainy season, and along the way the rivers are flooded and we have to swim across with our loads. One woman from our village was carrying for them in rainy season, and while crossing a flooded river she slipped and fell over in the current. She couldn't swim and she had a load so she just sank, and her friend grabbed her by the hair and had to pull her out to save her. When they ask for porters and we don't send them, the first time we get a letter, then we get a second letter, then for the third warning they send a letter with charcoal, chillies, and a bullet inside. Most villages often receive the bullet, charcoal and chillies. We just received it once, and I went directly to the camp commander and said "Son, what does this mean?" He said, "Oh, it's very easy - the bullet means we'll kill all you villagers, the charcoal means we'll burn down the whole village and the chillie means we'll cook all your animals into curry." He told me, "If we set your village on fire then everyone in your village will have to flee, including you, Mother, and then everything you leave in the village becomes ours. The only thing I forgot was to put an onion in together with the chillie." They're mad, these Burmese! They're just wrong, they're wrong! But me, I'm getting old so I can't fight and shoot them. If I do anything against them it will have to be slowly, bit by bit.
Now SLORC 84 Battalion of 99 Division has a camp at the village. I know some of the officers' names [these have been omitted to protect the village]. In December  84 Battalion was making an operation to the south and they did many bad things and killed many villagers. They killed 2 people in Noh La Plaw village (Burmese name Ye Aye), one person in Pwo village (Burmese name Thaline Kayin), one person in Kru See (Burmese name Kyaun Sein), one person in Pwa Ghaw (Burmese name Pa Lan Daun) - I don't remember all the village names, but they killed people in almost every village. They killed 2 people in Baw Tha Pyu, a father and his son-in-law who just went to cart their rice from the fields. The SLORC saw them along the way so they killed both of them. They kill people senselessly. If you think carefully about that, nephew, there's no sense to it. If they found those 2 men with guns in the forest together with Karen soldiers, they could kill them. But now they just find people coming back from their farm on a bullock cart
and kill them. That hurts the people very much, so all the people are afraid. To get food we have to clear fields and plant rice, but now we dare not do this anymore. We can't work so we can't improve our lives, and it's very hard for us. 84 Battalion slept one night at Noh La Plaw, and the soldiers ordered one woman there to sell them a goat to eat but she said, "I only have a small kid and its mother, so if I sell the mother what will happen to the kid? How can I get any more goats?" The soldiers said, "Oh, don't say anything, we'll just eat both of them." She refused, so that night while she slept they killed both the mother and the kid and ate them. In the morning she saw that they were gone and asked the soldiers if they did it, and they said "No, maybe they're just lost somewhere". The SLORC soldiers don't come to search for their enemies, just to destroy things, make trouble and oppress the villagers. Last rainy season [mid-1993] 99 Division was fighting near Twee Pa Wih Kyo [Sleeping Dog Mountain], so they ordered village elders to come, one, two, or three elders from each village. They put them in a small house that fits 8 people and tied their hands and feet so they were all standing facing each other, 4 in each side of the hut. The elders asked them "Why are you doing this?", and the soldiers said "Don't you know? Because the Ringworm [a derogatory SLORC name for Karen soldiers] shell us here, but every time we ask you about them you say you don't know anything. That's why you're here." Some of the women elders who were tied up there needed to breastfeed their babies, and some had brought their children along. After feeding them they just had to put their babies down to sleep in the dirt. That's how 99 Division treats people. Now we have heard that these 99 Division troops will go home, but 33 Division will stay.
When their trucks explode the SLORC puts all the blame on villagers even though it has nothing to do with us. The SLORC's enemies do that, not us. SLORC comes here to find their enemies, so their enemies find them too and blow up their trucks, but then the SLORC orders the villagers to pay for the truck. We explain to them, "Son, we didn't plant the mine, your enemies did, but when your truck explodes you come to us. Why does this have anything to do with us?" They answer, "People of your own nationality did this because they don't love you, so you have to pay for it. They know that if they do this you'll have to pay, so why do they do it?" I told them, "Because you came out here to fight them, so of course they find a way to fight back, but then you oppress us by demanding compensation from us". He answered, "That's not oppression. We don't oppress you. We can't find them and make them pay for it, so we come to you instead, and then maybe they won't do it again."
There was a truck that exploded about the beginning of February at Tah Paw, not far from a SLORC camp. At the time I was on my way home from Thaton town. The mine destroyed the truck, so the SLORC ordered Tah Paw village to pay 60,000 Kyat. They didn't want to pay, because their village only has 50 houses and they can't afford it or get the money. So the villagers just kept quiet and hoped that the SLORC wouldn't bother to come get the money. But instead, the SLORC came into their village and shot their guns beside and above all the people to frighten them. Then they started shouting, "If you don't pay the money we'll kill all of you in this village." All the women, men, old people and children were afraid so they started collecting money among themselves. Some of them didn't have any money so they took the rice they had for the next one or two months, sold it for money and then gave it. After paying, people had no food to eat and had to find some way to get some food. At the same time other villages had to pay too: Noh Aw Hla had to pay 50,000, Noh La Plaw 50,000, Pwa Ghaw 50,000, Kru See 50,000, Pan Ta Ray 50,000 and Day Law Po 50,000. For just one truck they asked this much money - they are only coming here to do business. How can the people not get poor when they do this?
They also ordered money from our village and other villages around us [names must be omitted] even though we are not close to Tah Paw. When I got home people in our village were saying "They've ordered us to pay 50,000 Kyat - what can we do?" We decided that this isn't right, that we can't pay again and if we had to pay it would be better to run away to someplace far away and live there. So we decided to go to their camp and tell them bravely that we can't pay. When we told the camp commander he answered, "Mother, I don't know anything about this, my job is just to sit in my office and follow orders from above. I have to ask you for everything we need, like leaves for the roof, firewood, porters, couriers, labourers and bamboo, but the truck has to do with the military, not me." I said, "But son, you are the military. Think about it. The soldiers have asked us for so much money that we don't have it, and the truck exploded far from us so this has nothing to do with us. Even worse, they said if we don't pay they'll kill us all and burn down our village. Is this the right thing to do?" Just then an 84 Battalion officer named Capt. Nyo Soe Min came in holding 40,000 or 50,000 Kyat in his hand which other villages had paid him. He spoke suddenly, "Mother, what are you talking about? You don't need to talk, you just need to pay us 50,000 Kyat. I control the area here. Whatever I ask for, I have to get it." So I said, "Son, this time we don't have the money. To pay would destroy all of us, so we can't." He said, "You have to pay. If not, your whole village will burn." Then an officer from 302 Battalion in Ler Klaw came and said he'd already warned villagers in his area that they would have to pay if any trucks exploded. I told him, "You're always asking for money, so why don't you just kill everyone in every village while you're at it?" He said, "Okay, if you don't pay we will."
Then I went to their other camp [name must be omitted] and talked to the camp commander, and he said "Mother, I'll help you write a letter to the Battalion Commander - but don't give it to him in my handwriting, just copy it down and then give it to him." He said to write, "Battalion Commander, if a truck explodes in our area we'll pay but not if it explodes at Tah Paw." Two days later I went to the other camp and gave them the letter. Since then they've said nothing, but now another truck has exploded in our area so we have to pay anyway. This time they demanded 100,000 Kyat. We can't give them 100,000, so we said we'll pay 50,000. Now we and 5 other villages [the village names have been omitted for her protection] have to pay 50,000 Kyat each. Think about that! It's an awful lot for the villagers to pay. [In a village of 18 houses, this is almost 2,800 Kyat per family, over US $450 at official rate - a family would be very hard pressed to make this amount in an entire year.] It's very hard because some villagers have no money and have to try to borrow from others, and quarrels start because some can pay and some can't. We had to collect the money from house to house, and once we had enough we had to go give it to them. When we had 50,000 Kyat a group of us went to their camp. They didn't even give us a cup of tea when we got there, just plain water. They are very cruel. I didn't want to drink their water, but M---'s throat was very dry so she drank it. On the way home I said to her, "You must be desperate, because even though they only gave you a glass of water you drank it." I refused to drink it because these Burmese are very rude and cruel.
When we got home we said, "Now this problem has cooled down but what will we do if we have to do this again?" The only way is to run away. We'll have to run to the refugee camp and stay there. I said to the others "You only have some pots and plates so you can say that easily, but I have cattle and buffalos so how can I move? We could sell them all, but then if Burma gets peace later what can we do when we come back? How could we buy our land and animals back again?" There's nothing we can do, we just have to stay here and live like this. Some people say "Oh, I just want to die. Life like this is unbearable, it would be better to die."
There are also different SLORC troops from Strategic Command at Lay Kay. Their officer is Karen but he is very cruel, even worse than the Burmese - like a crocodile. I can't remember his name, but if I could I'd like very much to tell you. Lay Kay is a very big village, with big houses with gardens and fences. The night after New Year's Eve [Karen New Year, 12 January 1994] the SLORC said the Karen army came and shot at them, but it was a lie because we know it was just SLORC troops shooting at each other by mistake. But they blamed the villagers and the next morning they started treating them very badly. They started shelling the village from the camp, and the shells killed 2 pairs of cows that were attached to bullock carts. They also shelled Pya Way village, and when the shells landed the novice Buddhist monks didn't know where to run, so they jumped into a big water tank to hide. After that 2 or 3 of them caught cold and then got sicker, and it took several days for them to get better. All the houses in Lay Kay village had very good fences around them, and that cruel officer who is Karen made everyone pull down their fences. Later he found a few houses that still had fences because their owners were away at their farms, and he said, "Why do these houses still have fences? Every house must pull down its fence." Then he forced the other villagers to pull down those people's fences and their houses as well. It's very hard for them to rebuild their houses all over again. This SLORC Battalion is from #33 Division. Their commander is Major Soe Win.
If villagers from Lay Kay travel outside the village and SLORC sees them, they shoot them. The people get wounded and it takes a long time and a lot of money to cure them. After shooting them the SLORC doesn't help them or look after them. Nearly a month ago, there were 2 soldiers and one of them shot a young boy in the stomach and wounded him badly. The other soldier asked him, "Why don't you shoot him again and kill him?", and he answered "Because now his sister is in the way, and I just wanted to shoot him, not her." It was only a young boy, and he's still not better.
One month ago the soldiers in Lay Kay heard that there were Karen soldiers in Khaw Po Pleh village, just 3 miles away, so they shelled the village from their Lay Kay camp. Why didn't they go look and find out if Karen soldiers were there? But they didn't, they just shelled the village. How can they know where the shells will hit? They didn't hit any Karen soldiers because there weren't any there. They just wounded the villagers. There was a man from G--- village who had come to Khaw Po Pleh to buy pigs for a memorial service for his dead mother. A shell hit the branch of a tree and exploded, and a shell splinter came and hit him in the jaw. He was seriously wounded and there is no clinic or medic in Khaw Po Pleh so they couldn't cure him. They wanted to take him to the Burmese town, but at first they didn't dare go because they were afraid the SLORC would stop them and say he was a Karen soldier. It was very serious, and he lost so much blood I think he could only have had a third of the blood left in his body. There was almost no hope and we were sure he'd die on the way to hospital. But he didn't die; now he's still in Pa'an Hospital but he can't speak any more.
Last December  the SLORC commander gave orders that many villages would have to move - 4 or 5 villages would all have to move into one place. Our village and four others [names must be omitted] were all ordered to move to W--- and become one large village. W--- is just a small, narrow place. How can so many villages move together with their animals and everything and live in such a small area? The soldiers from 15 Battalion (they've gone away now) said, "Mother, we order you to move but that's not our idea, we were ordered to do this by our leaders. They told us the villages must be moved by the end of December, and if they are still there when a military column comes to check after that, the soldiers must burn down the whole village. But before they burn it they'll do whatever they want, steal all your things and treat you very badly, so we're warning you Mother, you'd better move by the end of December." After that many villages moved to where they'd been ordered: people in Ta Thu Kee moved to Pwa Ghaw, Noh Aw Law village had to move, and so did Kru See. Before they moved they kept going to talk to the SLORC leaders to prevent it, but it didn't work. Before the end of December #84 Battalion came to our village and said, "You'd better move now or when a military column comes you'll face big trouble. Do as we say or when the next soldiers come they won't warn you like this, they'll just take everything they want, destroy things and burn down your village." Then we started moving to W---. We thought we'd just have to stay there a short time so we just built small huts, but 4 or 5 families built big houses out of wood. Then the soldiers suddenly ordered us to pull all our huts and houses down, which would be terrible for the people who'd built big houses because it would be very hard for them to rebuild anything. So we went to SLORC's Strategic Headquarters and met with the officer there. He showed us the list of villages which had to move, and our village was on it. He said all the small villages have to move to big places [this is a SLORC tactic to exert closer control over villagers and cut off support for the Karen army]. I told him "It's very hard for us to go and live in other peoples' villages and find work to survive - it's not our place and it's very hard for us. Then we moved as you ordered and built houses, and now you order us to tear them all down. Don't you know it's hard for us to rebuild? Please don't do this, just let us go back home to our own place." Then he agreed to let us move back until he found out if his superiors would allow it. So we all packed our things and moved back, and so far they haven't ordered us to move again.
Whenever the soldiers find a man they capture him and take him away, blindfold him, hit and beat him, then make him carry their things. They have to suffer torture, and some of them die. The village head has to try to follow them and get them freed. They capture women, and the women say, "Oh son, I left my children at home and now they need to be breastfed", but SLORC doesn't let them go, they keep them for one or two days as porters. They are very cruel. What would happen if we treated their families the same way they treat us? All the women want to go down to the town to burn down all the SLORC houses and their whole city, because that's what they do to us. Why doesn't the Karen army go to their town and burn down and destroy their things like the SLORC does to us? Instead, the Karen soldiers tell us, "If you capture any SLORC soldiers don't kill them, just let them go and even give them money if you can". They don't know what it's like for us to have to deal with them all the time. I want to go and tell the Karen leaders about this.
The soldiers can never run out of money because they have their salaries and they also get so much money from us every time they come, they steal food and everything and never pay for it, and they get so much money when their trucks blow up. But even so they act like they're very poor, because when they come to the village they take everything, even our pots, plates, spoons, knives and cutting boards, etc. They take all our knives, hoes, and axes and sell them to other villages or trade them for alcohol. They sell 1 knife for 30 or 50 Kyat, or whatever price they want. They even take our clothing, even women's sarongs. Karen men wouldn't even touch a woman's sarong [it is Karen custom that men never touch women's clothing items], but the Burmese don't care, anything that looks nice they just take and put in their backpacks. Maybe some of them take all these things back home to give to their wives, but some of them probably just sell them so they can buy alcohol to drink. They must make enough money doing this to feed their wife and their whole family, and they also have their salary. All the SLORC troops do this -they're all the same. When the Karen soldiers come to the village it is sad - they have so little, sometimes they just have to eat their rice with salt. We want to give them good food and curry but when they come the SLORC soldiers have already been there so we have nothing left. If the SLORC comes to a house which only has 1 hen with chicks they kill the mother and leave the chicks to go crying - how can they survive? The SLORC is very hard and cruel, and our animals are getting fewer and fewer. When the SLORC comes into the village, all the people have to run away and hide, but even the chickens and ducks run from them too. I have one chicken that disappeared every time they came into the village, and every time I thought they'd killed it, but then as soon as they left my chicken appeared again - this chicken has done this 2 or 3 times now. The dogs too, when they see SLORC coming they bark and then run away, and the SLORC shoots at them. They even shoot at the dogs that don't bark. There are many dogs in the village, and they all know about SLORC. Even the animals can't live happily around them, so how can the people?
83 Battalion came to our village in November and killed and cooked every animal they found. Another group stayed at Shwe Oe village for 7 days and ate everything, even the baby chicks and ducklings. There's a woman there [name must be omitted] whose husband was a Karen soldier. He bought 15 baskets of rice and food for her when he left for the frontline, and then he was killed. She was only left with that rice and food, and then when 83 Battalion came they took all of it and left her with nothing. There were only enough loose grains of rice left for one meal, so she cooked it for her children and they ate it, then they had nothing. Now she and her children have no food - she asked her neighbours but they all face the same problem, so now she and her children have to survive day to day, scrounging whatever money they can get to buy food from elsewhere.
Sometimes the soldiers order every village to give them 200 bundles of jackary [a solid dark-brown sugar boiled from sugar cane juice]. They say they'll pay and you have to carry it to their camp. Then they pay with old torn money, not good money. We say, "Son, how can I buy anything with this money? Please change it for a usable note", but they say "You can buy anything anywhere with this money". But the women know it is unusable, so some of them just throw it away. Also, villagers here have to buy things like fishpaste, chillies and salt from the Mon traders who come up to sell things. So the SLORC give the Mon the jackary and tell them to sell it for them in Be Nwe Kla village. Once the Mon sold 200 packets for them and brought back 2,600 Kyat. They had to give all that money to SLORC and the SLORC didn't give them anything, even though they had a big profit and it had cost the Mon to go by boat to sell the jackary. Because of this the Mon don't come anymore when SLORC is around, because they have nothing left after SLORC does this to them. I know one man who went to sell his jackary at Be Nwe Kla, but the SLORC stopped him at their checkpoint and forced him to pay one or two packets. They have many checkpoints, so before he even arrived at Be Nwe Kla all his jackary was gone, and he just sat down and cried. You could never finish describing all the SLORC does to us - it's never-ending.
In February they called a meeting at their Strategic Headquarters at Lay Kay, and at least 10 villages around there all had to go. During the meeting the Strategic Headquarters commander told everyone, "Next time you see the Ringworm come around, tell them you want them to give us peace. Tell them they must come to peace talks. If they give us peace then all of you can live in peace. If not, then you won't be left in peace. Next time they come tell them this." [Note: this is basically a threat of continued SLORC abuse of villagers if the Karen do not agree to the SLORC's "peace" terms]. The villagers answered, "How can we tell them that? They'll just say it's you who won't give them peace." Then the commander said, "Oh, we'll give it to them, we will." But there's another side to this too. As for me, I don't understand anything about politics, but I still understand what happens and what has happened. The old people have told me about it, right back to when Aung San made a speech and said that Burmese and Karen must make peace. But it has taken a long time and a lot of fighting. Since then we've followed the saying, "Give Burmese one Kyat and Karen one Kyat". As for me, I've heard about Grandfather Bo Mya but I've never seen him. I've just heard from others that he said "If the Burmese give Burmese one Kyat and Karen one Kyat, then we will have peace." Then the commander said, "Not only 1 Kyat, we'll give 2 Kyat! Because in the beginning it was only Karen and Burmese who ruled in Burma." [Notes: Aung San was leader of the movement that secured Burmese independence from Britain. He is a hero of the Burmans, but his Burma Independence Army (an ally of Japan) was guilty of widespread atrocities and massacres against Karens and others during and after World War Two. Aung San was assassinated by Burmans in 1947 after promoting ethnic harmony and federalism. "Give Burmese one Kyat and Karen one Kyat" is a slogan from the first Karen peaceful demonstrations for equal rights in 1947, still promoted by the Karen National Union. General Bo Mya is President of the Karen National Union and Chairman of the Democratic Alliance of Burma.]
So I said, "Oh, I know nothing about politics, but I only know 'Give Karen one Kyat and Burmese one Kyat'. So as for me, if you say you'll give it, then I'll put my hand on the table, and then Karen and Burmese can rule equally in Burma, half the country each. But I think maybe not, because we can't be sure you mean what you say." He said, "Oh, don't worry about that! Just tell the Ringworms to tell Bo Mya that if they give us something then we'll give them something. By the way, did you know Bo Mya doesn't live in Kaw Thoo Lei anymore, he only lives in other countries? [Kaw Thoo Lei is the Karen homeland, and this is a lie.] So it's easy for us to fight them now, and we'll make their area smaller and smaller until we capture all of it!" I answered, "Oh, I don't know where Grandfather Bo Mya lives. I only know that we live here, whether you call it a Karen country or a Burmese country." After that he said, "Also tell the Ringworms that now we will allow some private trucks on the road, so if they like they can go to town and we promise not to hide our guns on the trucks and capture them, and they can set up checkpoints and force all the drivers to pay money like we do, and we won't bother them. The only thing you must make sure of is that no more of our trucks explode, so every village must watch carefully to prevent this. Tell everything I've said to the Ringworms and we'll wait 3 days then come and tell us if they accept or not." [Note: the promise to allow Karen soldiers on the road is ludicrous, and is most likely just intended as a crude trap which no one would ever fall for.]
Later all the villagers gathered to discuss this, and even without talking to the Karen soldiers the villagers agreed that we would not accept the SLORC's proposal. So 3 days later we went back and told the officer just below the Commander, "We told them and they didn't agree. They said they will keep laying mines and shooting at your trucks." Then he said, "Oh. If it's like that, then you villagers will have to pay for it. There's no other way." We said, "How can we pay? The Karen soldiers do it, not us. How can we find the money?" He answered, "Don't talk to me about it. Just pay, that's all we want. We control every village around here, so you'll just have to do what we say." The closer we look at SLORC, the more wrong are the things that they do, and they're getting worse and worse. They have their own rules and policies, but everything they do is against even the rules and policies they make themselves.