KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP COMMENTARY

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KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP COMMENTARY

Published date:
Monday, June 6, 1994

Just when we think the SLORC already has enough in its inventory of brutality, it amazes us by coming up with even more dirty tricks. Now the regional SLORC commanders have called most of the village heads in Thaton District to a meeting, and informed them that "In the future, for every one of our soldiers who dies we will execute 5 of your villagers." This order appears to have come from Rangoon, and it is a frightening omen of the way SLORC is going. The SLORC's demands for "compensation" from villagers are ever-increasing.

Just when we think the SLORC already has enough in its inventory of brutality, it amazes us by coming up with even more dirty tricks. Now the regional SLORC commanders have called most of the village heads in Thaton District to a meeting, and informed them that "In the future, for every one of our soldiers who dies we will execute 5 of your villagers." This order appears to have come from Rangoon, and it is a frightening omen of the way SLORC is going. The SLORC's demands for "compensation" from villagers are ever-increasing. Every time they lose a truck to a Karen landmine, they now systematically demand 50,000 Kyat from each of up to 10 or 12 surrounding villages, and 100,000 from the nearest village. One written order from 42 Infantry Battalion states that the next time a truck explodes, they will demand 1 million Kyat, which must be paid within 7 days or all surrounding villages will be burned down - and from then on, villagers will be forced to ride along on all SLORC trucks. Along with the existing heavy burdens of "porter fees" and food looting, villagers are now forced to pay "taxes" on every farm field and on many of their tools such as woodcutting saws. In many villages, every time they boil their sugarcane into jaggery, the SLORC then either comes and confiscates it or "buys" it from them, then forces them to "buy" it back at a much higher price. Soldiers no longer eat their own rations - they force the villagers to buy them at inflated prices, then loot food back from the villagers.

Southwestern command has issued orders to all villages that villagers are no longer allowed to cut, carry, saw, buy, sell or own wood or timber. Later the same month, the same office then sent orders to the same villages demanding 75 tons of hardwood logs from each village, to be cut and transported to a specified site on the riverbank by the villagers, who say that the SLORC then floats them down the river and sells them. SLORC camps are now also demanding 5 tons of cut and bundled firewood at a time from each village, which they then transport to city markets and sell for profit. Any village which fails to deliver on such orders may well receive the dreaded bullet, charcoal, and chillies in an envelope from the SLORC camp. One SLORC officer recently explained this cryptic message to a confused villager as follows: "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. If we set your village on fire then everyone in your village will have to flee, and everything you leave in the village becomes ours. The only thing I forgot was to put an onion in together with the chillie." [For more detail on all of these, see the enclosed reports.]

This is development, SLORC style. As one villager recently shook her head and told us, "They don't come here to fight their enemies - they only come here to oppress us and do business". If you read the villagers' stories, one thing you'll notice is that they almost never talk about fighting. This is because right now there is little actual fighting going on - yet the villagers talk about things being "worse than ever before" as the SLORC increases all its human rights abuses. If anything, the decrease in fighting actually seems to be giving the SLORC the chance to conduct ever more serious repression against the villagers. There is a lesson in this for anyone who holds out hope that a "ceasefire" as proposed by SLORC will improve life for the villagers in any way. If this is not enough evidence, just remember that after the 1991 Pa'O ceasefire, the number of Pa'O displaced people and refugees tripled as the SLORC consolidated its control over Pa'O areas.

In fact, despite the typically exaggerated media reports, no ceasefire talks at all have yet occurred between the Karen National Union and SLORC. There have only been a few meetings of advance representatives, and these have only focussed on trying to agree to hold talks in the first place. So far they have failed and no talks have occurred, mainly because the SLORC refuses to negotiate in a neutral country with outside observers.

However, the Thai Government is already acting as though all is well in Burma - while thousands continue to flee abuses like those mentioned above, the Thai Government has now blockaded the entire border against new refugees of any nationality. To repeat, no new refugees are being allowed to come across the border anywhere, for any reason. In the north, where Shan villagers are fleeing across the border to avoid being taken as slave porters for SLORC troops fighting Khun Sa, Thai troops are driving them back across the border into the hands of SLORC at gunpoint. At all Karen refugee camps, Thai authorities have threatened camp leaders not to accept any new arrivals or face serious consequences, and the Thai military has been ordered to force back anyone caught coming across the border. A new "displaced persons" camp has had to be formed on the Burma side of the border at Klay Muh Hta, 100 km. north of Mae Sot. Already close to 4,000 people fleeing slave labour, killings, torture and extortion in the Hlaing Bwe area have arrived there within the past two months and more are arriving daily, blocked from crossing the border into the safety of Thailand. More such camps will almost certainly have to be set up along the border soon, and their situation is extremely precarious - not only do they face the possibility of punitive offensives from SLORC troops, but they have trouble getting aid of any kind. While Klay Muh Hta has secured limited foreign aid so far, this will soon be outstripped by the need. Many NGOs (Non-Government Organisations) and most foreign governments who give aid in the refugee camps in Thailand refuse to help displaced people on the Burma side of the border. The Australian Government, for example, has flatly refused to give aid through anyone inside Burma except SLORC, a policy which plays directly into the hands of the Thais when they tell the Karen National Union that all Karen refugees will starve unless the KNU surrenders to SLORC.

But the Thais have gone even further. Thai Defence Minister Vijit Sookmark has already begun negotiating with SLORC the forcible repatriation of all Karen refugees in Thailand [see Bangkok Post, 27/4/94]. SLORC reportedly agreed to take them back "if they were proven to be Burmese nationals." There are now at least 70,000 such refugees in the camps, most of whom have fled not battles, but SLORC's systematic terrorism of civilians. The SLORC announced in 1992 that "There are no refugees in the border areas, only insurgents in the disguise of refugees." SLORC considers all refugees as "traitors" and the "families of insurgents". Now it has agreed to open a special border checkpoint to take them all. If this happens, the Karen refugees would be herded to the border by armed Thai troops, then handed to SLORC troops who wood herd them off to SLORC's labour camps, prisons, and to the frontline as military porters and human minesweepers. Any suspected of any past opposition activity would be executed, and most attractive young girls would be quickly sold back across the border to Thai brothel owners. In other words, what the Thai government is now negotiating is the mass murder and enslavement of refugees.

Vijit said this would "ease the burden of Thailand's having to take care of them". One thing must be made very clear: Thailand has never "cared for" these refugees. The Thai government gives them nothing, and even blocks foreign aid offered for education and other services. All food and other aid is provided by overseas NGOs, who must buy their supplies from Thai businesses at market price, and many of the refugee camps even have to pay rent for the land they're on. Thailand's "burden" only consists of making mountains of money selling relief supplies to NGOs, exploiting the refugees as near-slave labour at one-quarter the price of Thai labour (and after the job even these wages are often refused them), and arresting and ransoming refugees whenever Thai police want some whisky money.

To date the reaction, or rather lack of any reaction, to this developing mass crime against humanity by foreign governments and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has been disgusting and criminal. They clearly plan to wait until it is all a fait accompli, then issue some feeble protest. This cannot be tolerated. Furthermore, it is urgent that all those working to free Burma now target all their diplomatic and political actions, boycotts, embargoes and condemnations directly against the Thai government as well as SLORC. They are fast becoming accomplices to all of SLORC's crimes.