REFUGEES AT KLAY MUH HTA
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
Since the beginning of 1994, it has been no secret that Thai authorities want to repatriate all Karen refugees as soon as possible as part of their "constructive engagement" deal with SLORC. From Shan State in the north to Ranong in the far south, the Thai government and army have been actively involved in handing refugees of several nationalities back to SLORC or intimidating them back across the border. A few months ago, Thai officials visited the leaders of all Karen refugee camps in Thailand and informed them that they are not allowed to accept any new arrivals. Technically, no new refugees are allowed to cross the border anywhere. However, thousands of new refugees continue to arrive at the Thai border, proving that the SLORC’s gross human rights abuses inside Karen areas of Burma have not abated in the slightest, and in many areas are only getting worse. When they find that they are no longer allowed across to the safety of Thailand, many sneak in illegally and join the flood of economic refugees from Burmese towns heading for Thai cities, where most end up as virtual slaves in sweatshops or brothels, underpaid labour on construction sites or prisoners in Thai immigration prisons.
To help alleviate this problem, a new refugee camp has been set up at Klay Muh Hta, in territory controlled by the Karen National Union on the Burma side of the border. The camp has existed less than 3 months and already over 5,000 people have flooded into it, most coming from the Hlaing Bwe area of Pa’an District. These are not economic refugees, but villagers fleeing the terror of SLORC oppression. More of them are now arriving every day at Klay Muh Hta, and more such camps will probably have to be set up in the near future. In Klay Muh Hta they are extremely vulnerable in two ways: many foreign aid donors refuse to send aid across to them without SLORC approval (which is impossible), and they are only a few hour’s walk from the nearest SLORC camp. The SLORC calls refugees "insurgents in disguise", and if the numbers in the camp continue to grow the SLORC many consider launching a military offensive to wipe it out as an example to all those who would dare escape them. As one man in this report says, "If there were Burmese soldiers around here, we wouldn’t have dared to come".
The following testimonies were given by some of the more than 5,000 people who have fled to Klay Muh Hta. Their names have been changed and some names in their stories omitted to protect their relatives and others still in their village. All names appearing in their stories are real.
Note that the roads which the villagers are being forced to build are all being built only to strengthen military supply lines to SLORC frontline positions and to geographically cut off the Karen National Union headquarters region around Manerplaw. The road to Meh Tha Wah will come quite close to Klay Muh Hta. The villagers also talk about several kinds of forced portering. The SLORC sends orders to villages for short-time porters (people ordered to come for a few days on an ad hoc basis) and permanent porters (people who must be replaced by the village every so many days ad infinitum). The villagers can often hire others to go in their place in these cases. The SLORC also takes "emergency porters"(when they grab people for ad hoc portering duty) and "operations porters" (when they capture people in villages and towns to go on offensive operations until the operation is over or until they die). In these cases there is no way out.
Rape (p.2.4), rape & forced marriage (4-5), killings (3,7,11,13) miscarriages caused by beating (5,6,10), porters from towns (7-9), road labour (2-3,6,13), forced logging (12), forced tree planting (3,6), land confiscation and slave farming (14), abuse of amputees (12-13), army camp labour, beatings & torture, extortion, porters, guarding & minesweeping labour, thousands fleeing their villages.
Name: Naw Paw Ther
Description: Karen Buddhist farmer.
Address: Hlaing Bwe Township, Pa’an District.
Family: Widow with 2 children aged 5 and 11
I arrived here two weeks ago. Last month when I had to go for slave labour, I was raped by a soldier. We went to work at their army camp for 5 days, and when we got there they refused to give us any food. Everyone had to work without food, so the next morning I had to go back to the village with my friends to get some food. After we brought it back to their camp, two men escaped from the slave labour at night, so the soldiers went to try to catch them and made things harder for the rest of us. That’s why they wouldn’t let us go back to the village after that. Altogether there were 19 of us, 11 men and 8 woman. That night a soldier came, grabbed my shoulders and pushed me down. Then he covered my month so I couldn’t yell. Then he kissed me and raped me. I felt so terrible. The soldier said "Don’t tell anyone about this", but I said, "I will tell because I feel so terrible about it". I went to his commander Myint Shwe Htoo to report it and told him how terrible I felt, and he told me I could go do whatever I liked, so I left. He made the soldier carry a log around the camp just once as punishment. I don’t know the soldier’s name. This happened a month ago at K--- camp of #28 Battalion. It is close to our village.
The labour we have to do at the army camp is cutting trees and bamboo. We haven’t been beaten at this army camp, but when we have to go work at other army camps I’ve seen the soldiers beat people on the head with a big stick. Then when they’ve beaten them enough, they start kicking them and then they make them keep working. The soldiers never give them medical treatment, just beat them and make them work. I’ve also had to go as a porter to carry bullets and rice - sometimes only 3 viss [5kg.] but sometimes 10 or 20 viss [16 to 32 kg.]. We had to go 2 day's walk in one direction, and sleep on the ground, in open places in the mountains. I saw them beat porters who got weak and couldn’t carry. They beat them with a bamboo rod on the back, the hips, the arms and legs, and yell, "Go! Go!" One time they didn’t give us any food, just let us starve for 2 or 3 days. My aunt K--- was crying because she was hungry. We cried and we asked permission to go home and get food but they refused. Even though we were crying they refused. My auntie K--- is 48 years old and has 4 children. People got stomachaches from starvation. All our food we’d brought from the village was finished because they told us we were going for just one day, and then they kept us for several days. The soldiers also make us give porter fees of 45 Kyat from each person every month, and when we can’t afford to pay them, they come to our village and arrest people [the soldiers claim that "porter fees" is money to pay munitions porters, but the money is never used for anything like this all porters are taken on a slave basis].
When I have to go as porter, my children have to stay with relatives. My husband died last year. He was taken as a porter, he was sick when he got home, and then he died. My father is also dead. Only my mother is still alive. We didn’t want to stay there anymore, so I came here with my children. I don’t want to go back.
Name: Pa Li Kloh
Description: Karen Buddhist farmer
Address: Hlaing Bwe Township, Pa’an District
Family: Married with 2 children aged 4 and ?
There used to be 150 families in my village, but so many have left that now there are only 20 families. Everyone left because we had to work for SLORC most of the time. They made us build a car road and then we had to go guard the road for at least 10 or 20 days at a time. If we didn’t go, they came to the village to beat us. All the families left separately - some went to Rangoon, some to other cities. I arrived here 2 days ago because I couldn’t suffer it any longer. I was beaten up by soldiers myself.
We had to work on the road they are making from Meh Tha Wah to Shwegun [Shwegun is on the Salween river between Pa’an and Ka Ma Maung. This road cuts to the northeast about 70 km, as the crow flies through steep mountains to Meh Tha Wah, a remote position on the Thai border which SLORC captured from the Karen in 1989. The only purposes of this road are as a military supply line and to cut off the Karen headquarters area to the north of the road.] We had to work on the road about 10 days at a time, sometimes 11 or 12 days, then after 1 or 2 days at home we had to go do more work for them. At least 20 people from our village had to go each time - one from each family. The soldiers sent a letter to the headmen and he had to obey. We had to carry rocks and load them on a truck [at the riverside], then they took them away to the place where we were building the road. There were about 200 or 300 of us from various villages working together in one group. At night we all had to sleep on the ground in the bushes. There were no good leaves around to make a shelter, so we had to sleep in the open. They let us rest on Saturday and Sunday, but the other days we had to work day and night. They never let us rest in the daytime. We had to work hard. We had to bring our own food. The soldiers gave us hoes, and we had to bring our other tools from home. The soldiers guarded us all the time, even at night. They are from 338 and 339 Infantry Battalions. Some soldiers would allow us to take short breaks, but others wouldn’t. If you kept working you weren’t beaten, but those who couldn’t work were beaten. One person was so seriously beaten up that we had to carry him to hospital. Some people have permanent scars from the beatings. I was beaten at the road once because some of us came with some things to sell, but they wouldn’t allow it. They caught us and beat us. They kicked me and hit my face and I fell down. They put bullets in their hands and hit us with them. After the beating I got a rest, then I had to go and work again. I also saw them beat Dee Si Po. They made him carry a heavy load, then they beat him with the top of an iron bar. They kicked him with big boots, and he fell down and died. There were also two men who got fever and couldn’t get up, so the soldiers kicked them and left them there. The other villagers picked them up and carried them home, and later those two men died. I don’t know their names because they were from other villages. Other people also got sick with diarrhoea, but the soldiers wouldn’t give any medicine. One time, some people died from the diarrhoea. We buried the dead bodies.
The soldiers also made us plant trees - we had to plant cashew trees, bay ta kah trees and also flowering trees along the roadsides to make it look nice. We had to plant in a strip about 150 feet wide alongside the road [the cashew trees are probably for military profit, and the villagers will be forced to harvest the cashews, while the other trees appear to be decorative. It seems that the SLORC is using the roadside land as a convenient place for money-making tree plantations]. We had to level the ground as much as we could by digging and filling up depressions. There were about 600 or 700 of us, and we had to plant for 10 days. Each village was given at least 2,000 or 3,000 trees to plant. If any of them got broken, they fined us 50 Kyat per tree. If any of the trees we planted died, we had to pay to replace them and plant them again. They beat people who weren’t working on the back and legs with a stick but not too hard. One time they beat a man with a big stick until he was bleeding and so sick that we had to carry him back to his village. It was far from our village, and we had to sleep where we worked.
People from big families could take turns going for all this labour, but people from small families have to go themselves all the time. They have no choice. We had to go as porters - I had to go twice to carry ammunition and supplies from Hlaing Bwe to Meh Taree [a frontline camp at the Thai border]. We don’t dare refuse to do the labour, so we have to drop everything and go work for them. Sometimes we have to borrow money and food from others, because we would get in deep trouble if we didn’t go for forced labour. We couldn’t even sleep at night, because they always forced us to go guard the road for them. The soldiers also demanded money and livestock, and sometimes they took our cattle. The road isn’t finished yet, and all of us who live near it have to work on it in rainy season as well as hot season. We couldn’t take it anymore. We came here to try to find a secure place to stay. It took us 3 nights along the way. Now we have no choice, we’ll just have to stay here. We won’t go back until things get better.
Name: Naw Ler Wah
Description: Karen Buddhist, farmer
Address: Hlaing Bwe Township, Pa’an District
Family: Parents both alive, brothers and sisters
I arrived here a few weeks ago. In my village, the SLORC troops always came and grabbed people to do forced labour. Because of that, we don’t have any time to do our own work. Even when we go to our fields the soldiers come and grab us. One day the soldiers suddenly arrived at my hut. My older brother and sister escaped, and I was left along with just my two younger sisters. They started crying loudly, and then two of the soldiers came up to me, pointed their guns at me and told me to follow them. They took me to their camp. When we got there I saw our village headman and asked him to vouch for me so I could escape. Some of my girl friends were also there.
The soldiers didn’t give us any food, and at night we were very hungry. I told my friends I didn’t want to sleep there, but it was raining heavily and my friends said, "Don’t try to escape. We will sleep close together tonight for safety". Later I found out that there was a soldier there who speaks Karen who already wanted me and had already told his officer that he wanted to sleep with me, but at the time I didn’t know, so I went to sleep close to my 2 girl friends. When I fell asleep, the soldiers came over and grabbed me. I told him "I don’t like you. You are not of my people", but he said "I’ll take you and you’ll have to be my wife". I kept refusing. The next day they let us go, but he followed me to my house. Along the way I tried to look very angry and didn’t smile, because I hated him and wanted him to know it. Then he stayed for 3 days at my house with my family [SLORC soldiers often intrude on families this way and there is nothing the family can do]. After 3 days he asked me to go back with him. My mother was very worried because she said he would just take me and keep me in the jungle, but I didn’t dare refuse so I had to go. He kept me at the camp for 3 days and raped me in the daytime. I told him "I don’t like you and I won’t marry you", but he kept saying "I will marry you and look after you". Then he took me back to my house and forced my parents to marry us. They had to because they couldn’t do anything else. Then he said he would take me home with him. He took my earrings and my cloths and sold them. Then he took me to Rangoon. He asked me to go watch videos with him, but when we arrived at the movie house he slapped me in the face so hard I got dizzy. He dragged me back to his house, started beating me up and told me he would sell me in Myawaddy [meaning across the border into a Thai brothel - Myawaddy is at the Thai border]. After that I escaped when he wasn’t there and went back to my village, but every time I did this he followed me, caught me and beat me again. He told me to give him all my belongings, and he kept beating me up all the time. One day when I was in my village he came back to my house very drunk. I told him to eat something, but he told me he didn’t want to eat and slapped me in the face. I got very angry and told myself "I hate this man. I didn’t want to marry him, and now I have to retaliate even though I am a women". So, I kicked him right out of my house. He fell under the house then tried to climb the ladder to get in again but every time I kicked him down again.
He got very angry and said "You don’t respect me - you’re trying to humiliate me. You’re a woman but you keep kicking me." Suddenly he managed to grab me and tried to strangle me. One of my cousins came to help me and I escaped and ran away. The soldiers went to my father and told him "Tonight I’ll kill her and burn your rice barn". He ordered my father and sister to look for me, and they found me in a small hut where I was hiding and took me home. I washed my feet and went in, and the soldier asked me stupid questions like "Do you have brothers and sisters? Are your parents still alive?" I said yes. He asked "Do you have your own family?" I said No. Then he told me "Make your bed. Tonight you will be killed, and I’ll drink your blood. I won’t leave this house until I’ve drunk your blood. Here is the knife. Wait and see. You are worthless. When I kill you, I’ll also kill your parents, brothers and sisters. But the most important thing is that I must drink your blood before I leave. Then I’ll burn your body until only ashes remain, and I’ll put all the villagers on a skewer and burn them all. And I’ll kill all the monks!"
I got up and escaped. I went to another house, and the people told me "He’s taken his gun and he’s looking to kill you, and he’s going to burn the rice barn at your house". I didn’t dare stay in the village anymore, so I ran to L--- village and talked to the headman. He said "If you want to go, then go. He might try to follow you. Just go." So I came here together with my father and we built this house. We arrived a few weeks ago. I was married to the soldiers for about 3 months. His name is Soe Soe, and he is from 338 Battalion. If he ever finds me, he’ll kill me at once. The battalion commander is Major Aung Khine.
I got pregnant but when the soldier was beating me he always kicked me in the belly, and it hurt the baby inside. When I was 2 months pregnant I lost the baby because he beat me. Even now, I still don’t feel completely well. It hurt inside, and I can’t do heavy work or carry anything heavy any more. I feel dizzy all the time.
We are all suffering because of them, and we can’t suffer any longer. If people had enough food they could survive in my village, but they don’t. We had a religious ceremony in our village and many people came, so the SLORC came to get people for forced labour. We asked them to wait 2 or 3 days for the ceremony to finish, but they didn’t listen. They came in and tied up the headman they’d appointed for the village [in each village SLORC appoints a villager as headman and others as "committee", usually against their will. The villagers also have their own real headman]. They told him "You said your villagers are good, but when we need them they are lazy". Then they started beating him up, kicking him, and slapping him in the face, and then they took people away without even letting them get a change of clothes or their slippers [when entering a Buddhist temple compound people must leave footwear outside].
Once when my younger sister had to go to do labour and guard the road, the soldiers said to them "We asked for 20 people for labour and you only send 10. Why? Do you feel strong enough to do the work of 20 people?" Then they forced two women to carry one sack of rice [this is a job for 4 people], and they didn’t even give anyone any food. When they got home they were sick. I’ve been a porter many times, and they never gave us food. When we got weak and couldn’t carry anymore they yelled at us: "Go!". They beat up the men but not the women. Whenever they caught a man, they tied him up and beat him up right away. They come to the village to grab porters every month, in every season. We have to go for 2 or 3 days at a time. Then sometimes we have to go home to get some food and go straight back to work. As for my brother, he was arrested last year. They tied him up, beat him and tortured him. We asked the soldiers for permission to see him but they refused. Then this year, they beat him up again. They kicked him, hit him with a bamboo rod and slapped him.
It took us 2 days’ walk to come here. We don’t dare go back. We wanted to go across and stay on the Thai side [of the border] but we were told to stay here.
Name: Naw Thalay Paw
Description: Karen Christian, Farmer
Address: Hlaing Bwe Township, Pa’an District
Family: Married with 3 children aged 3 to 9
I arrived here over 10 days ago, on Thursday. In my village we had to build a road and plant trees for them. They also tax everything, and try to grab people to work for them so we don’t have any time to look after our family and our children. We always have to work for SLORC without any break. To build the road, we had to work in the jungle in the heat of the day clearing 25 feet along each side of the road. We had to dig out stumps and carry stones 1½ feet long. Each rock weighs 3 or 4 viss [5 to 7 kg.]. We had to go and get them at the riverside not too far away. We had to break these stones with an axe by ourselves and lay them down on the road, then we had to carry gravel and pour it on top, and later we had to plant trees along the roadsides. Then after planting trees we have to guard the road, because it Karen soldiers destroy any of it the SLORC will arrest us and put us in jail. This road is going from Lu Pleh to Pa’an. It is 2 hours’ walk from the village. We had to keep building it until it reached the main road. It is not finished yet.
There were many people there, one from each family, men and women including the widows. There are over 300 families in our village. Whenever the soldiers grab the men, they usually send them to the frontline as porters, so it is mostly women who are working on the road, young girls and women up to age 40 or 50. When I left we had been working on it for months, and it still wasn’t finished. We had 2 days rest each week because some of us are Baptist and some are Seventh-Day Adventist [Baptist Sabbath is Sunday, while SDA Sabbath is Saturday]. Every farmer has to leave his field to go and work for SLORC. No one has time to provide for their families. Every farmer also has to give SLORC part of his rice harvest, and everyone who owns a cattle cart has to take to the road to carry rocks.
We always had to take our own food. If you don’t go, they arrest you and put you in the cave at T---, and they make you give them chicken. If you give it to them they release you, but if not they keep you there, and they beat you up. If you’re late for planting trees, they take you and put in the cave and keep you there for 2 or 3 days with no food or water. Then they hit you 2 or 3 times, they say "You are very naughty" and they send you back to work. Even me, one time I couldn’t go for labour because my children were sick so they captured me, put me in the cave and beat me 3 times on my hips and legs with a very thick and wide stick. I was 8 months pregnant. It hurt terribly. I was dizzy, and I got so angry that I just grabbed the soldier by his penis and pulled. He fell down, and then he came and tried to kill me. But the village headman stopped him and said "Don’t kill her. She has many problems. Her children are ill." The soldiers asked "Are they going to die from the illness?" and I said "Maybe they will die". After that he let me go. I went back home, and when I got there I lost my baby. This happened 2 months ago, on March 22nd.
On the road, the men especially got beaten up whenever they got tired. Some men didn’t come to work because their children were sick and they were beaten badly. I saw some men who were beaten so badly they couldn’t work anymore, they had to stay in bed. Their friends took them home and then had to pay the soldiers 300 Kyat to replace them. The soldiers would never give any medicine, even if you were dying.
We also had to plant rubber trees at Lu Pleh. We don’t know why - they just ordered us to plant and we planted. We had to do that this month, on about 10 or 20 acres of land near the road. We had to do this for the soldiers, not for us. The soldiers ordered us. It’s near their army camp. One person from each family had to go and each person had to plant 30 trees. Villagers from M---, D---, K---, T--- and K--- villages also had to go. Some of us had to plant trees while others had to clear and dig out stumps. I worked there for 3 days then I left to come here. The soldiers said we would have to work there for 1 month [they are probably planning to expand the field - the SLORC usually confiscates hundreds of acres for such military money-spinning projects]. We weren’t paid, and we received no food. Not even water - we had to bring our own water from home. We went home each night.
Before we built the road, I had to go as a porter one time for 15 days. I had to carry rice and sugar. The men had to carry bullets, shells, salt, oil, and fishpaste. The soldiers beat people up, including one man who couldn’t urinate because of the beatings. They hit him right on the bladder with a rifle butt. After that he always laid down moaning. He is my uncle M---. He is 56 years old, and he also came here with us. Now, he still isn’t cured - he still urinates with blood.
The soldiers come to our village asking for livestock, and if we don’t give it to them they kill it themselves and take whatever they want. Whenever they find men around they grab them, beat them and torture them. If they see a farmer with his livestock, they shoot at the livestock. But we’re too afraid to do anything. We had to pay 200 or 300 Kyat each every month in porter fees, and taxes on every rice field according to its size. For a 1 acre field we have to give them 5 baskets of rice, and for a large field like 18 acres it’s over 30 baskets. They pay us 35 Kyat per basket [an absurd price- market price is 8 to 10 times this, and even SLORC price is 5 to 6 times more]. People who have a very small harvest and can’t afford to pay these taxes are arrested, beaten up and the soldiers take their personal belongings.
I came here because the situation is so bad. The village headman said it was all right for us to leave, because the headmen also suffer under the SLORC so they understand. I came with my family, and it was 3 days’ walk climbing up and down the mountains. Now I want to stay here. If we go back we’ll just have to be porters again.
Name: Maung Chit Swe
Description: Burman Buddhist, hawker
Address: Bilin Town, Thaton District
Family: Married with 1 daughter aged 11 months
In Bilin Town I’m a hawker and day labourer, but the SLORC ordered me to pay "porter fees" so often that I couldn’t pay all the time, so the leader of our section of the town put me on a list and the police arrested me to be a porter. At night on April 15 I was going out with my friends and the police stopped us, told us they had to discuss something with us and then took us straight to jail. They put us in the police lock-up and we didn’t know why at first, but if anyone asked why they were punched so we didn’t ask. Then when the army asked for porters for their operations the police transferred us to the army. We slept in the lock – up one night, then the army came on April 16 and got us with a truck, so we had no chance to escape . They take porters away like this every month.
They drove us to Pa’an picking up more porters along the way in Bilin and Myaingalay towns. Then in Pa’an they put us in the lock-up for 2 nights. The police there asked us for money but we didn’t have any, so they wouldn’t even give us water to drink. After 2 nights, the army took us away in another truck to Ka Mo Ka Chu village, and from there they made us carry ammunition to Ka La Ma mountain. I had to carry eight 81 mm. mortar shells, which weighed at least 25 viss [40kg.]. It was so heavy I could barely even carry it 50 yards, but whether we could or not we just had to keep going. I still have callouses on my shoulders. Some of the others had to carry other things, like alcohol, different kinds of bullets, rice, salt, chillies, beans, etc. We started climbing and didn’t stop until it was almost dark. Then the soldiers cooked for themselves and ate but they didn’t give us any food, and we kept going. We slept one night in the forest and they still didn’t give us any food, then we kept going the next morning. On the way the soldiers beat many porters badly because they couldn’t carry anymore, they were too tired from starvation. We reached Ka La Ma Mountain and kept going. This mountain is very high and steep so it is hard to climb with a heavy load. When porters couldn’t climb anymore the soldiers kicked, punched, and beat them up badly. They hit them with rifle butts and kicked them in the sides. I saw one porter killed because he couldn’t carry anymore and fell down, and the soldiers kept kicking him until he was dead. They killed another porter by kicking him down the mountainside. We never saw him again. His name was Aung Than Oo. Thet Lwin [not his real name- see next testimony] couldn’t go any more, so he put down his load and said "I can’t go anymore". They kicked him in the side in his ribs - it was very painful, and still is. Just yesterday he got fever and groaned because of the pain in his side [possibly a broken rib]. We slept one night at Tah Li, then we left early in the morning and reached their camp at Hill 850. We were carrying for 5 days, and the first 3 nights we got no food. They only cooked for themselves. Then after that, we got one meal a day, just rice and salt and never enough. If we even tried to smoke, they yelled at us and beat us. If we asked a friend for a light they accused us of trying to escape and beat us.
There were also about 20 women porters who had to carry the soldiers’ packs, but they let them go after we reached the top of Naw Ta Wah mountain. They didn’t beat the women because they wanted favours from them. At night while they were guarding us, they made the women sleep beside them.
Some people already got sick when we were still in the lock-up, and they were still forced to be porters. Then 10 more became sick on the way, so the soldiers did them a favour by making them carry less. If we had to carry 8 mortar shells then they only had to carry 6. They wouldn’t give medicine to anyone until we reached our destination, and even then it wasn’t real medicine and had no effect. If you wanted real medicine you had to buy it from them. The soldiers are from No. 2 Infantry Battalion from Thein Zayat [near Thaton]. They have many soldiers, some based at Ka La Ma mountain, some at Noh Da Ya, some at Tah Li and at Hill 850. Everywhere they are, they have porters. At Hill 850 there were 16 of us, until 4 of us escaped. One of their commanders’ names is Tin Hla, and I remember soldiers Kyaw Htay, Tin Way, Aye Myint, and Sergeant Kyaw Win Htay. After we got to Hill 850 we stayed there. When we were there they forced us to dig trenches, cut bamboo, find leaves for roofing, build huts and make fences. They only fed us a mess-tin lid full of rice and salt. Once I asked for chillies and they said "they’re not yours. If you want to eat, go back home and eat". They only gave us dirty water to drink. At night they guarded us. We built ourselves shelters, but they leaked when it rained. Then we had to wake up early in the morning and start working. We had to make fences, fences and more fences. We had to cut logs and carry dirt to raise the ground level. We had to carry water, and even then they followed us.
Many porters wanted to escape and some did along the way, but I don’t know what happened to them. The soldiers said "If you escape you will be shot". They never released any of us. They wanted us to be porters forever and stay with them as long as they’re at the camp, even if it’s a year or more. When we realized that we tried to escape. We’d already been with them nearly a month. Then on the evening of May 13 at about 5 p.m. we were carrying sacks of rice from Tah Li back to Hill 850 and we got ahead of the soldiers, so four of us just dropped our rice sacks and ran away. It was jungle and we didn’t know where to go, so we just went through the jungle and the mountains and slept in the jungle one night. Then we found a village and they sent us here on May 14.
Here nobody forces us to do anything and our lives are okay, but we’re worried about our families. My family is very poor, and they survive day by day. I’m sure that without me it’s very hard for them to provide for themselves. I want to go back as soon as possible because I have to make a new roof for our house. We all want to go home. When I escaped I didn’t know the way home, and I knew if we went back the same way we came the soldiers would catch us for sure because there are so many of them. I’m afraid of them, but I think once we arrive at our homes we’ll be okay because the soldiers in our town are a different battalion and they won’t know anything.
Name: Win Myint
Description: Burman Buddhist, day labourer.
Address: Myaingalay Town, Thaton District.
Family: Married with 2 children aged 3 and 10
I was arrested because the SLORC asked for porter fees so many times that I couldn’t pay anymore, so the SLORC head of our section of the town told the police. At night when I was asleep, the police came together with the section head and they put handcuffs on me. The police put me in the lock-up for 5 days and then handed me over to the army. In the lock-ups, the police made us pay 5 Kyat just to get one plastic bag of water. The army took me to Pa’an lock-up where I met Maung Chit Swe [not his real name - see above] and the others, then we left together the next day. The soldiers forced me to carry a heavy load. It was too heavy, and when we started climbing the mountains I was too tired, I got cramps in my legs and I couldn’t walk anymore, so I asked permission to rest. But they wouldn’t allow it, and instead they forced me to go faster. Then they kicked me 2 or 3 times and hit my head with a rifle butt. I didn’t bleed but at first I was winded and I couldn’t breathe, and then it was really painful when I breathed. It’s still painful here, in my side on the ribs. You can still see the mark here. Yesterday I had a fever and it was really painful. After they beat me, they lightened my load a little bit and then I had to keep carrying. Later when they gave us rice, I was so badly hurt I couldn’t even chew it, so I had to mix it with water to swallow it.
When we got their camp [at Hill 850] they forced us to do many kinds of work. We had to carry water up the hill twice every morning, and it was very steep and took a long time. We couldn’t sleep at night because all the insects were biting us. We could only sleep 2 or 3 hours at night and then we had to go to carry water at 4 or 5 a.m. every morning. Then we had to cut at least 15 big bamboos about 9 feet long each, and then they gave us some food. But as soon as we finished eating, we had to start work again. We started before sunrise and finished after the sun went down. Then we ate, massaged each other and tried to sleep. The soldiers made us massage them too, and only let us go to sleep when they’d had enough. At night they drank alcohol, smoked and had a good time, but as for us, it was just work all the time. Now I’m afraid we can never go home.
Name: Maung Thein Zaw
Description: Burman Buddhist, farmer
Address: Bilin Town, Thaton District.
Family: Married with 2 children aged 5 and 10
We had to pay porter fees of 50 Kyat 2 or 3 times every month. We couldn’t pay every time, so they put us on the list to be porters. The local SLORC head made a list of people to be arrested by the police. Then when I went to watch a video, the SLORC head said "I want to talk to you about something", and he took, me to the police and they locked me up. When the army wanted porters, they just came to the lock-up and got us. I was with Maung Chit Swe [not his real name- see above] and the others.
We face so many problems because we are poor and living on a day-to-day basis. People who have money can pay the porter fees, but the rest of us are just put on the list. The local SLORC head collects the fees for the military, but this money is just for their personal use. Then whenever they want porters they come and arrest people as they can from the list.
Name: Maung Tin Aung
Description:Burman Buddhist, hawker
Address: Thaton Town, Thaton District.
I was a hawker and I liked to sell things on the trains because we can make more money that way. But the police don’t allow us to sell on the trains, so in April many police came to Thaton Train Station to arrest all the hawkers and they fined us each 100 Kyat. Some could pay that much but I couldn’t because I only had very little money. So, they put me and the others in jail at Thaton Police Station for one night, then the next day the military came and we were given to them to be porters. The police gave at least 25 men to the army to be porters. The soldiers took us to Pa’an and locked us up for 2 nights. Then I had to go as a porter and carry six 81 mm. mortar shells. [Maung Tin Aung met the others (see above) in Pa’an lock up, was taken as a porter together with them and later escaped with them].
Name: Naw Eh Shee
Description: Karen Buddhist, farmer
Address: Hlaing Bwe Township, Pa’an District
Family: Married with 2 sons aged 4 and 2
I came here two weeks ago. In our village, we have no time to provide for our families because we are working for SLORC most of the time. Whenever they want people for slave labour they ask the village head. Sometimes we didn’t go, and then the soldiers came to the village and grabbed people. They forced us to provide road security for them. We had to sweep the road [for mines] all the time and then we had to guard the road at night. Sometimes when we were there to guard the road, they also forced us to carry loads for them in the daytime, and when we couldn’t carry anymore they beat us. Then at night we still had to guard the road. We couldn’t suffer this any longer. If we couldn’t go for labour, we had to hire someone else to go in our place and it cost 450 Kyat. This happened all the time, until we couldn’t pay anymore and we couldn’t work in our fields any more. They even forced us to work for them during harvest time. That’s why we came here.
Whether you had men or only women in your household, one person always had to go. We also had to go as porters to carry ammunition from Ler Cho to Noh Da Ya. We had to go as messengers, and many other kinds of work. At the army camp we women had to carry the bamboo that the men had cut down. We had to build the soldiers’ huts, dig their trenches and raise the ground level. Many women had to go, and many of them had serious troubles. They had to leave their babies behind at home. Sometimes they asked for permission to go home, but the soldiers would only let them if a man was sent to replace them. Nobody dared go home without asking the soldiers - unless they said we could go, we couldn’t go. I don’t know their officers’ names, because they kept changing them all the time.
There used to be 80 or 90 houses in my village, but so many people have already left. Many families have come here. My sister came first, and I followed her because we couldn’t suffer all their forced labour anymore and we couldn’t provide for our families. Each family also had to pay 400 Kyat porter fees twice every month. We had no choice but to come.
Name: Nan Thein Thein
Description: Pwo Karen Buddhist, farmer
Address: Hlaing Bwe Township, Pa’an District
Family: Married with 4 children aged 6 to 13
I arrived here yesterday. I came because we had no more money to pay porter fees, so I didn’t dare stay in the village any longer. Most of the men have already run away so the soldiers try to catch the women, and I was afraid to stay. My husband doesn’t know I came here because when I came he had already fled from them. I don’t know where he is. I hope to find him here. I just arrived so I don’t even have a house to stay in yet. If I find my husband he could build a house for us.
Two years ago the soldiers came one night and asked me to go with them. I didn’t dare go so they beat me with their guns. I was pregnant, and I fell down on my belly and it was hurt, and my baby was hurt inside. Two days later I had a miscarriage and lost my baby. I was so sick from it that I had to go to the hospital, and they had to make an operation to cut my womb. Now I can’t have children anymore.
Now, the soldiers come to the village and ask for money. Every month they demand 200 or 300 Kyat. Sometimes they also make us go for forced labour, and every month we have to pay 1,000 Kyat as labour fees [SLORC says this is to hire labourers, but they don’t] and to pay the SLORC militia. We don’t know how they really use the money. They say that if we can’t pay it, we won’t be allowed to stay in our village anymore. They come and steal everything, and they come to take porters to their camp. We are very afraid but we have to go. Sometimes we had to go for one month. I wanted to hire someone to go in my place but I had no money. If you borrow money from others, you have to pay interest. I faced that problem.
There used to be over 100 houses in my village, but many people have run away and now there are only 10 houses left. The soldiers often ask for 10 or 20 porters every month. One porter had to go from each house, sometimes including many women. The SLORC also grabbed people to be porters whenever they came to ask for money and we couldn’t pay. Sometimes I’ve been a porter for 1 or 2 days, sometimes for over a month. We had to carry rice, ammunition, salt, chillies and sugar, and we also have to carry the soldiers’ clothes. I was very afraid of them all the time. They scolded and cursed me. Sometimes the women had to carry two 81 mm. mortar shells each. We had to go to Lu Pleh and to other places. The soldiers are from Infantry Battalions 331 and 339, I know of Captain Than Shwe and Captain Than Win from 331 Battalion, and Captain Soe Teh from 339 Battalion. I’ve seen many men brought back from being porters with broken legs.
Name: Naw May Hla
Description: Karen Buddhist, farmer
Address: Pa’an Township, Thaton District
Family: Married with 3 children aged 2, 4, and 6
We came here in February. My husband came first, because while he was working in our field with his friends the soldiers came and killed his friends. So he didn’t dare stay there anymore and came here, and we followed later. They killed his friends last December just 2 hours' walk from our village. Their names were Pa Kay, age 24, Maung Par Baw, age 28, and Mya Zin, age 28. There was no reason to kill them at all, because they were just civilian farmers. They met the SLORC soldiers when they were riding on a cattle cart, and the soldiers grabbed them and took them away. Later the village head went to vouch for their freedom, but they had already been killed. They didn’t even shoot them dead - they blindfolded them and then cut their bellies open. There was absolutely no reason - they were just farmers carrying their rice.
Then the soldiers took the bodies to the forest and buried them, because they didn’t want people to know about it. Later they came to the village, killed a goat and ate it. I was told they did this to hide the fact that they had taken the three men’s hearts out and eaten them [this is not as absurd as it sounds - there are many reports of SLORC soldiers cutting out and eating the heart and/or liver of fallen Karen soldiers if they capture the body, believing that they get great strength by eating these organs of a fallen enemy. They also reportedly enjoy the taste.] I heard this because the men’s fathers all went to the army camp and found out. My cousin was with them. His name is Maung S---, and he is 25 years old. They released him, but first they tied him up very tightly and beat him brutally all over his body. They beat him with a gun butt and a big pole. He lost some of his teeth, some parts of his body were bleeding and other parts were badly bruised. Then the soldiers said to him "Don’t tell anybody anything or we will kill you." It was the same group of soldiers who killed the three men.
Whenever that battalion of soldiers sees people they torture them. The soldiers murder and torture so many villagers. There is also another battalion of soldiers, and they ask for porter fees and take porters. Sometimes they ask for 5 porters, sometimes 6 or 7 [they ask by written order sent to the village]. The village head has to decide who will go, and we have to take turns going. But if the soldiers need more porters, they just come and grab them. I’ve had to go two or three times myself. I had to carry I big tin of rice, and sometimes the soldiers’ packs. The youngest girl I saw was about 15 and the oldest man about 40 or 50, and sometimes they even call very old men for some reason. There were both men and women porters - they get the men porters by demanding them from the village head, but as for the women, they just come get us. Then the village head has to send replacements every 5 days.
Whenever the soldiers came to our village they made trouble for us. They always asked for money - each family had to pay them 40 or 50 Kyat every month. They also demanded wood, bamboo, and roofing leaves. Each family had to send them 4 or 5 logs, with circumference of at least 2 feet 3 inches and the length has to be 7½ feet. The officer sent a letter to the village head with a bullet inside as a threat to make sure we’d do it. We had to go far from the village to cut these logs, and then we had to carry them with our cattle carts to the place where the soldiers told us at the Salween River. There the soldiers put the logs on peoples’ boats, sent them to Pa’an and sold them. Every family in the village has to send these logs, and sometimes 3 bamboos per family as well. They also sent orders to the village head to send firewood, and the villagers have to do it or they’ll make trouble for the village head [meaning arrest and torture]. Each time they asked for at least 100 bundles of firewood, sometimes 200 bundles. We have to send it on 2 or 3 carts. They ask for the most when it gets close to rainy season and they do with all of it, but I think they use some and sell some. We have to do this and also go for slave labour and portering, so we have to work for them most of the time and we don’t have any time to provide for our own families. If we can’t go for labour we have to hire someone to go in our place.
So far only 3 or 4 families from our village have come to this place, but many more families want to come and are ready to leave. They are just waiting for the opportunity. If they all come now, when the soldiers find out they will make trouble for the village head. We came here on foot and slept 2 nights on the way. We had to take risks to come here, because we are very afraid of the soldiers. If we had met them on the way, we would have been in trouble because they don’t like us to come here. If they knew, they would stop us and kill us for sure.
Name: Naw Paw Paw Htoo
Description: Karen Buddhist, farmer
Address: Hlaing Bwe Township, Pa’an District.
Family: Married with 1 child aged 2, and she is pregnant now
I came here in March because we’ve suffered so much for so long that we just can’t suffer it anymore. The worst thing was all the slave labour. We had to work for SLORC all the time and we had no time to rest or provide for ourselves. It was too tiring, but if we don’t obey their orders they come to make trouble for us and take our things. They tied up my father one time.
Sometimes we had to send 4 or 5 porters at a time and sometimes 15 porters, depending on what the soldiers were doing. We tried to hire people to go in our places. For long-time porters it costs us 1,000 Kyat, for medium-time porters 500 Kyat, and for short-time porters 100 or 200 Kyat. The soldiers also collect "porter fees" as often as 4 or 5 times a month. I don’t know what they use that money for. Sometimes when they enter the village they also catch people and take them away, and we have to pay a ransom of 500 or 1,000 Kyat before they’ll release them. When they’re in our village, the soldiers also try to get our livestock all the time, if they see a goat, they eat it. If they see a chicken, they eat it.
The porters usually have to go for 10 or 20 days, occasionally for one or two months. When they go for months, some die. Sometimes they only have to carry things close to our village, but sometimes it’s very far. I was a long-time porter myself last rainy season. There were about 500 men porters and 500 women. We had to carry ammunition, rice, chillies, sugar and tinned milk for the soldiers. I had to carry about 16 kg. There was one soldier following each 3 porters. The men porters were beaten up a lot, but the women were treated better. There were also some porters among us who had one amputated leg. The soldiers didn’t make them carry anything but just forced them to climb the mountains together with us. The soldiers said to them "We won’t make you carry anything. We just want to kill you by making you climb mountains" [The soldiers may suspect that any man with one leg is a disabled former Karen soldier]. The soldiers collected 20 or 30 people from every village for their operation. The oldest was over 50 and the youngest was 15. On the way we had to sleep on the ground and it was terrible, because it was rainy season and there were leeches everywhere. Some people had brought a plastic sheet, a blanket and a change of clothes, but the porters who were captured along the way by the soldiers couldn’t bring anything at all with them. They only gave us a very small amount of rice and salt to eat, and sometimes we got yellow beans that were going rotten, only one spoonful per person. Rain or shine, we just had to keep going with very little food. We had no choice. We carried bamboo cups with us that we could fill whenever we crossed a stream to drink, but we were never allowed to bathe. We had to carry all the way to P--- [a distant SLORC operations camp]. We had to walk all day until sunset, and sometimes at night too. Sometimes they let us rest, but only standing up. If the women wanted to rest an extra minute or two they let us, but if the men wanted to rest the soldiers kicked them. When they wanted to beat up men porters they told the women to walk ahead, then they beat the men. They punched and kicked them and hurt them badly. They beat people up all the time.
When some people couldn’t carry anymore they made other porters carry them to a place where there’s a cave like a big hole with a stream flowing into it. I saw some rice packs left there, so I think they killed the porters and threw them in the hole. I think porters who couldn’t walk were killed, but we never saw their bodies. It was rainy season so many people got sick. I was sick all the time, so I went and asked for medicine. The soldiers gave me a cup of tea, then they gave me an injection and yelled at me, and I was sick for 2 days after that [the needle was almost certainly non-sterile]. The troops were from 33 Division and 44 Division. They wouldn’t let us go home when we got sick. 5 or 6 people tried to escape, and when they got caught the soldiers cut up their legs with knives.
Some times the soldiers patrol near our village, and come to steal our livestock, clothes, cooking pots and other things. Even if the owner knows he can’t dare stop them. Whenever they see a cow or buffalo, they catch it and kill it. The soldiers also make us cut bamboo and wood, and make shingles of roofing leaves for their houses. They make us clear the compound in their camp, and they make us clear all the scrub on both sides of the car road at least 4 or 5 times a month. The road is two hours’ walk from the village. We had to build and maintain the road for them, and provide road security too. Each family has to send 1 person, and if you can’t then you have to pay 1 viss [1.6 kg.] of chicken. They made us cut down big trees and build a bridge, then one or two days later Karen soldiers came and blew it up, so the SLORC made us pay compensation money for the wood and the logs that we’d cut to begin with. Now we’re in debt. That bridge is between Noh Kler and Ta Gho.
They make us go and work repairing the road constantly. We try to grow our rice but we have to leave it to go work for them. Whenever we want to go to our fields, we have to get a pass and pay 10 or 15 Kyat for it. If the soldiers catch us without a pass, they do whatever they want to us - sometimes they kill people. And some of the troops just ignore the pass. Our village had 100 houses, but now so many families have left the village to go to different places. Only my family came here. It was a hard walk, because my child kept asking to be carried all the time.
Name: Saw Hla Maung
Description: Pwo Karen Buddhist, farmer
Address: Hlaing Bwe Township, Pa’an District.
Family: Married with 7 children aged 1 to 20
In my village I fed my children by working my field, but now I have no farm to work. I had to pay porter fees so I had to sell my field. My father lived by working the fields, and my grandmother gave me that field, but I had to sell it to get the money. I have 3 brothers, and my grandmother gave us one field each. We all sold our fields at the same time, last year. We got 30,000 Kyat altogether. Since then I had to work the fields for others as a labourer, but only got 10 or 20 Kyat a day and all that went to porter fees. I couldn’t support my family that way so I came here. After I sold the field I had nothing anymore.
The soldiers asked different amounts each time for porter fees - some houses have to pay 300 Kyat and others have to pay 700 [depending on how much money they have], sometimes I had to pay 200 Kyat and sometimes 500. We have to send the money to Lu Pleh, but we don’t know how they use it. Sometimes we have to go with them as porters as well. When I could I gave money instead of going, but if I couldn’t pay I had to go myself. They made me carry rice and bullets from Pa Khay Kwee to Kaw Thu Kee for over 10 days each time. One time when we arrived at Pa Khay Kwee the soldiers went to the village, caught some chickens and told me to kill them. I refused because the hens had a lot of little chicks, so they beat me on the head with a bayonet handle. We couldn’t escape, because if we did the soldiers would torture the head of our village when they got back.
The soldiers also make us plant rice for them. The soldiers come to our village and collect seed grain. Then they make us come and get the seed grain from them, and we have to plant it for them. Then when the seedlings grow we have to go and transplant them into the paddies. The soldiers don’t have their own fields, so they make us go plant it in the fields of villagers. The soldiers say "After we get our harvest you can use your fields for your selves". But if we plant paddy then, we won’t get a harvest. [Rice must be planted in early rainy season and ripens after rainy season. Without sophisticated irrigation it is only possible to grow one crop a year.]
Even so we still have to give our rice to the soldiers. We have to give them 1 big sack [100 kg.] of rice for every acre of land, and those who have land have to give them money - 300 or 400 Kyat for every acre they used to have. The soldiers stay in their camp and order the villagers to bring food to them, and if the villagers don’t then the soldiers come and take chickens and other things. They send orders to the village head. Sometimes we have to send them chickens and things, sometimes we have to go work for them. If we don’t have the chickens they want, we have to give them money. We are near the army camp so they always force us to go and do everything for them. We have to give money, go as porters and to build roads, and we have to go and make fences for them, clear all the scrub around their camp replace their leaf roofing, dig their bunkers, etc. To build fences we have to make wooden posts, split bamboo, sharpen bamboo spikes and plant them between the posts. Sometimes they make us work from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., then if we don’t finish the work they make us come back again the next day. It’s 2 hours on foot to their camp. They built their camp around a pagoda. They order villagers to go there and work for them every day, and if we are too tired to go they come to point their guns at us and threaten us.
My wife and one child stayed behind for now, but the rest of our family came here. It took us 3 days to walk, because some of our children are very small so they kept getting tired and crying. We came quickly so we wouldn’t meet any soldiers on the way. We didn’t bring anything - one or two sarongs, but no plates or anything, and just I small pot. So many people from the village have come out here already, to Sho Kloh, Beh Klaw, etc. [refugee camps in Thailand]. The village used to have 50 houses, but now only 25 are left. We arrived here earlier this month. Others want to come now as well. The village head says "If you don’t have money to pay the soldiers, you’d better go". We don’t dare tell the Burmese soldiers we’re leaving. If they were around here we wouldn’t have dared to come. I want to go on to Thailand, but will they allow us?