TESTIMONY OF SLORC ARMY DEFECTORS

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TESTIMONY OF SLORC ARMY DEFECTORS

Published date:
Sunday, August 7, 1994

On June 6, 1994 a group of 11 Burmese Army privates stationed alone on Hill 1653 in the hills north of Papun shot their two Lance Corporals and a Warrant Officer and fled to Karen-controlled territory together with their weapons. Their stories, which follow in, their own words, explain why they did it and also paint a picture of life for the hundreds of thousands of rank-and-file soldiers in the Burma Army. Of course, every Battalion is slightly different, but their accounts of the treatment by their officers are quite consistent with the stories of other SLORC deserters throughout Karen areas. From their stones, it appears that soldiers in their Battalion have a slightly better relationship with the Karen villagers in the area than most other Battalions; this is consistent with the testimonies of villagers from various areas, who often point out that some Battalions are worse than others.

An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group

 

On June 6, 1994 a group of 11 Burmese Army privates stationed alone on Hill 1653 in the hills north of Papun shot their two Lance Corporals and a Warrant Officer and fled to Karen-controlled territory together with their weapons. Their stories, which follow in, their own words, explain why they did it and also paint a picture of life for the hundreds of thousands of rank-and-file soldiers in the Burma Army. Of course, every Battalion is slightly different, but their accounts of the treatment by their officers are quite consistent with the stories of other SLORC deserters throughout Karen areas. From their stones, it appears that soldiers in their Battalion have a slightly better relationship with the Karen villagers in the area than most other Battalions; this is consistent with the testimonies of villagers from various areas, who often point out that some Battalions are worse than others.

The men's names have been changed and some other details omitted to help prevent SLORC attributing specific statements to specific people - although these men can never go home, the SLORC is almost certain to take revenge against their families for their act. It has already been quick to punish innocent villagers in the area. After the deserters passed through the Karen village of Oo Ree Kee, 70-year-old village headman U Shwe Aye reported it to their 434 Battalion camp. Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Tin Maung Aye then summoned the head of every household in the village to come to their camp at Hway Hmone on June 10. Only U Shwe Aye and a 30-year-old villager named Maung Po Saw dared go. When they got there they were immediately interrogated by Tin Maung Aye, then he told them they could go. They were murdered by the security guards as soon as they left the camp. The villagers awaited their return for several days but they didn't come back, then they were told of the killings by porters who had been with the security troops. The troops warned everyone in their village to get out, and they fled into the jungle in fear a week later. On June 18 the same troops marched into Nya Sah Kee village saying they were looking for deserters, and executed Maung Toe Nyo, the 50 year old village headman. The SLORC takes similar action whenever its soldiers desert, hoping that villagers will be too terrified ever to harbour deserters again in the future. Now villagers in the area don't dare return to their villages. Many of them are hiding in tiny shelters of leaves in the forest, suffering severely because it is the middle of rainy season and they could bring nothing but a basket or two of rice with them. The Karen Office of Relief and Development (KORD) is now urgently trying to send relief supplies.

Notes on the soldiers' testimony: They say a Private’s monthly salary is 750 Kyat but they were only given about 300 after deductions. At market rates, 750 Kyat is worth about US$7 (at the time of printing), while 300 Kyat is less than US$3. The SLORC has repeatedly claimed to the UN and others that it trains its soldiers in human rights, how to treat civilians and prisoners of war. Shortly after SLORC signed the Geneva Conventions, its foreign minister Ohn Gyaw told the UN General Assembly on 5 October 1992, "The principles enshrined in the [Geneva] Convention are not new to us. They have been part of the educational and training process of the Myanmar Armed Forces and of the values cherished by our people." We asked every soldier if they received any such training, and every one answered in the negative. The SLORC did not even try to politically indoctrinate these men, as they were clearly only to be sent to the frontline as cannon fodder. Eight of their stories follow. Please feel free to use this information in any way which may help the people of Burma, but do not give it to any SLORC representatives.

 

TOPIC SUMYARY:

SLORC recruiting methods (p.2,5,7,8,10111), drafting old men and teenagers (p.2,6,7,8,10), abuse during military training (p.3,6,8), theft of food, medicines & salary by officers (p.3,6,9,11), censorship of letters (p.4,6-7,8), beating/torture of soldiers (p.3,6,8,9,10), officers ordering their own wounded shot (p.4,6,10), execution Karen POWs (p.4), execution, enslavement and abuse of villagers (p.4-5,7,9,10,11,), using porters in battle (p.4), situation inside Burma (p.5,7,9,10).

 

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NAME: Zaw Myint

SEX: M

AGE: 25

DESCRIPTION: Burman Buddhist

ADDRESS: Pegu Division

EDUCATION: 5th Standard (Grade 5)

FAMILY: Divorced, no children, mother dead, lives with his father

RANK: Private

SALARY: 750 Kyat per month

UNIT: 434 Infantry Battalion, Headquarters Company, since 1992

COMMANDING OFFICER: Capt. Aung Naing

 

I was staying in my parents house when I was forced to join the Army 2 years ago, in 1992. None of us who arrived here were volunteers - we were all forced. Inside Burma one person from each house has to join the Army. If they don’t, they're forced. So none of us who came here were volunteers. None of us.

In my home town, the local authorities divide the town into areas, and the head of each area has to provide recruits to them. They might demand 25 people from each area, or l person from each house. Each month our whole township had to send 300 recruits for the Army. The township is divided into about 150 wards and villages. We can’t refuse to send the recruits. If the township authorities can't get as many people as the SLORC demands then they have to go themselves or else be put in jail. So if they don’t have enough people one month they go and grab anyone just so they won't have to go to jail. All they want is just to get 300 people, no matter who. They'll take any man whose age is under 60. When we were in training, some of the conscripts there were 50 and older. One man's name was In Ga Kyo. He was 55 years old, and now he's still in the Army. They take these old men because they want their Battalion to have the right number. If they need 50 men, then they conscript 50 men, they don't care who. These men couldn't escape from the training camp because they're too old. But, they couldn't do the training, so they just cooked in the kitchen for the training time and then were sent to the frontline. 'Think of it, In Ga Kyo will be 60 in just 3 or 4 years. The very youngest conscripts at the training camp are 15 years old.

The ward authorities already have lists of which houses have boys and which don't. The houses which don't have boys are forced to send a woman to work for them for 5 or 6 months sifting beans, then they’re let go. The boy's who are, taken have to become SLORC soldiers for 5 years. Some have already served their 5 years, but then they're still not allowed to leave. Those who go and get killed at the frontline, their families don’t get any compensation. It's as though the SLORC is strangling the people to death. 55 or 60 boys have already had to go out of every 100 houses in my area. Some of the rich people refused to go. Personally, I saw about 20 of them arrested. Also, some people have only one child and he has to take care of his parents when they get old, so he doesn't want to go in the army. These people are sent to jail, not just for days or months but for 2 or 3 years. After that if they can pay the warden the they’re released, but if they can't they're not released, they're sent to work on the railroads the SLORC is building.

This was my second time in the Army. I first joined in 1986 [at age l7]. At the time I was a student, and when I saw soldiers I wanted to wear the uniform, so I joined. I was in 44 Division in Kyaikto for about 5 years, then I was moved to 59 Battalion. I was made a Lance Corporal. I was wounded in the leg at the frontline, I got severe malaria and then I heard that my mother was dying, so I asked permission to go home but they refused, so I ran away. At first I tried to hide but my wound was getting worse, the bone wasn’t mending well and then I got malaria again. My father and sisters said I should turn myself in, but I was afraid to go back to my old Battalion because they'd put me in prison, so I went home and let myself be drafted as a new recruit.

This time I was trained at Oke Twin town, near Toungoo. Training lasts 4½ months. There are 250 recruits in each group, but there isn't only one group - 6 groups are trained at the same time, every day. From the beginning we were taught how to salute, how to stand in front of officers, and so on. Then we learned how to set and defuse landmines, strip and repair weapons, 60 mm and 2-inch mortar training, how to shoot accurately 100 feet 200 feet, 300feet obstacle training, how to carry a gun and move at the frontline, etc. [Interviewer’s Question: Were you ever taught anything about how to treat civilians? Answer: No, never. The SLORC has repeatedly stated to the UN and others that all of its soldiers receive such training.]

The NCOs [Non-Commissioned Officers, such as Corporals and Sergeants] beat us a lot during training, and they also abused our food - they put sand in our rice and we had to eat it. In the afternoons after they'd had a bath they ordered us to go and massage them, and if they didn't like the massage they beat us. Saturdays and Sundays we had to work hard cutting firewood and, splitting bamboo, not for the recruits but for the NCOs' personal houses. Anytime we did anything not to their satisfaction they beat us. They have no patience, they just grab a piece of bamboo or whatever they see and beat the recruits with it. Some recruits had their hands or legs broken this way during training. If the NCOs are really angry, they put the recruits in the camp jail.

After the training I was sent to 434 Battalion at Papun, and we had to move around and stay in temporary camps. When I was a soldier before 1988 the living conditions were alright, but since then the food, clothing, medicine and everything else have gotten worse. The situation is getting so bad because the higher authorities steal all the supplies. For example, now if you get malaria instead of giving you a whole pill of chloroquine they only give you a small piece of one. If you have money you can buy medicine for yourself, but some sick soldiers who didn't have money shot themselves. Even some NCOs shot themselves. [Note: This is explained in part by the fact that extreme depression and occasional paranoia are common symptoms of malaria] In my battalion we didn't get enough pay to buy medicine and we weren't taken care of when we got malaria, so within a month 4 or 5 men shot themselves, and many others died of malaria. After they killed themselves the officers and NCOs reported that they died in battle. I think hundreds of soldiers kill themselves every year. Now you don't see many experienced soldiers in the battalion, just many new recruits always coming, and many are still coming.

Each soldier gets 3 milktins of rice per day [this is about the same as a normal villager eats each day] but it was all wormeaten so once we washed it we were only left with 2 or 2½ tins, so we didn't have enough rice to eat each day. We bought rice from the villagers, but we often didn't have money for this because we never got our full salary. Every time we were supposed to get paid the leaders took deductions and made excuses for it. We never got full salary, they always cut it for things like bridge and road construction, ‘social welfare’, cut for the officers, and so on. We only got 300 or 400 Kyat each month. The villagers often felt sorry for us and gave us some rice. The best food we got was beanpaste and fishpaste we bought from the villagers. Then if we were going to attack the Karen Army the officers ordered us to catch villagers to carry our supplies, but we didn't want to do it because the villagers helped us all the time and we felt pity for them. But if we didn't do it the officers said "You have contact with Ringworms [derogatory name for the Karen rebels]" arrested us and put us in the camp jail. They ask, "Why don't you catch the people? Are they your brothers-in-law?" Me, I was beaten on my back with an iron bar for this. Warrant Officer Han Tun hit me 20 or 30 times with the bar and my back was cut open and bleeding - I still have the scar. Then they kept me tied up in the hot sun all day without food or water, with my legs in stocks and nothing but short pants on. They kept other soldiers tied up in the hot sun like this too. Sometimes if the villagers see this, they come and pretend to work in the field and sneak a bottle of water to the soldier because they feel sorry for him. After that torture I was hurt for 20 days. All the NCOs and officers beat us often, including Capt. Hla Myint Soe, Capt. Aung Naing, and the Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Tin Maung Aye.

We weren't allowed to listen to radio or read any newspapers. We were allowed to write to our families but the officer reads the letter before sending it and if there is anything written against them the soldier is punished. For example, Private Thein Myint and Private Soe Win were beaten and put in the camp jail for 4 to 6 months, accused of rebelling against the State. Their letters home complained about the food, that there were no good cheroots to smoke, etc. Just for writing like that they were punished. The officers said "We don't starve you. Why do you write like this?" We didn't get leave, not even once a year. Sometimes soldiers' families came to visit them, so before the visit the officer gives the soldier a new uniform and good food for a few days, but after the visit they take the clothes back and the food is deducted from the soldier's salary at the end of the month.

Any of our own soldiers who were seriously wounded were killed. If it isn't serious, if they can walk or if it's easy to take them, then they’re taken back. If not, they're killed. The company commander orders this. When I saw things like that happen I felt very sad. It's a terrible fault. Our own soldiers, we must bring them back but we didn't. It's a crime. It's like frog eating frog, fish eating fish.

If we captured Karen soldiers we never kept them alive. We killed them. The NCOs didn't even interrogate them, they just said "Pray to your God" and killed them with a bayonet, then beheaded them. Then sometimes they fried their heart and liver and ate it. I saw Corporal Aung Myint do this. This was done often by the Sergeants, Warrant Officers and sometimes Company Commanders [Several of the other soldiers added that they saw Captain Hla Myint Soe do it as well. Soldiers and villagers from many areas have reported that this is a common practice in the Burmese Army, a throwback to days when eating the heart and liver of your fallen enemy was considered a source of great strength in several parts of Asia] The company commander gave the order to kill the prisoners, and got the officers or NCOs under him to do it. Once we found a wounded Karen soldier and they stepped on his throat to kill him. Other times they killed wounded Karen soldierswith a bayonet. I saw several Karen soldiers executed like this, and also villagers with connections to the KNLA [Karen National Liberation Army]. If they suspected any villagers of being in contact with the KNLA they summoned them, and they never used a gun - just a bayonet. Usually the Lance Corporals and Corporals did it, sometimes the Sergeants. They had no real evidence - if they didn't like the look of a civilian they’d just accuse him of being connected to the KNLA and kill him.

Every month the officers ordered us "You must go and collect this many porters". We took about 50 porters for each column of troops [150-200 soldiers - his estimate of the number of porters is probably low]. We didn’t take them for any specified time, just as long as we needed them, and when we're finished they can go back. If we called 3 truckloads of porters we usually only needed 1 truck to send back those who were left. They only get a mess-tin lid full of rice to eat, so they all die. They're neglected and ignored, so they die. Some were killed in battle, hit by bullets and killed. Some plucked leaves in the forest because they didn't get enough food, ate them and got cholera, diarrhoea or dysentery and died. They didn't even get enough water, so they had to drink from the streams and got dysentery. Some tried to run away but they couldn't go far because they were weak from lack of food, so the soldiers recaptured them and killed them. They shot them. Some porters were too weak or sick to climb the mountains, so the troops killed them. I saw this so many times.

Even for us soldiers there wasn't enough food; especially the rice, which was full of insects. But we had fried fishpaste we'd brought for ourselves, so I gave some secretly to the porters behind the backs of the officers. We had to do this secretly, because the officers said, "Porters are porters. They should only get porter rations." When we were going into battle, the officers made the porters go in front so that if the rebels fired at us the porters would be killed [giving the soldiers time to find cover]. Some of the officers wore the uniform of ordinary soldiers, and some dressed as porters. They usually don't wear their officers' markings. The Sergeants, Corporals and Lance Corporals usually make the porters wear their uniforms, but without the rank showing. The officers don't criticize them for doing this, it's okay with them. Sometimes they do it too. But we privates were always in uniform.

The villagers also had to give the Battalion 5 baskets of paddy per acre, and for 'porter fees' [money which SLORC officers collect to pay, porters but then keep themselves] the officers collected 1,000 or 2,000 Kyat at a time. Families have to pay 150 Kyat for one porter for one day. Some families have only one man and they can't spare him to go as a porter, so they have to pay this to the Battalion to hire someone to go in their place whether the Battalion says it will be for 1 month, 2 months, 6months or even a year. Then sometimes the officer tells the porters "You'll be paid when we get back to the camp", but then when they get back after a month or two he tells them "Here, take this 100 or 150 Kyat, I used the rest for my alcohol", and the porters can't do or say anything. [Actually porters are never or almost never paid anything by SLORC.] If there’s any work to be done at all they call the villagers. They don’t care if the villagers are free or not, they just have to come. If they want to make a road, build barracks or other buildings, clean the compound, make roofs and fences, cut firewood, make bricks for building or anything else, the villagers have to do it. In all the villages around, the villagers have no time to do their own work because they're always working at the camp.

Ever since I arrived at Papun I’ve wanted to come over to the KNLA or the Burmese students. Our officers told us "If you go to the KNLA they'll cut your throat", but I didn't believe it because they were always lying to us and we'd got to know and trust the Karen villagers. I always saw the army capturing old villagers, beating them and making them carry heavy loads; and it made me feel bad. When our unit went to Baw Kee we had very old men and women as porters and Warrant Officer Han Tun beat them. It made me angry. Then one day he stole some of our salary and said it was for his alcohol. He said "If you don't like it I challenge you to do something". Another day, some of the soldiers went to get some more salt for their rice, and just for that they were beaten and kicked. So that night I told the others "Get ready, tonight' we'll shoot them and go to the Karen, it has to be better there". Some were frightened because they thought the Karen would behead us, but we decided it wasn't true. So we killed Warrant Officer Han Tun, Lance Corporal Thein Win and Lance Corporal Than Tun. There were only 11 of us and 3 of them - we were camped about 1,000 yards away from the Battalion so they probably thought we were shooting at Karen soldiers. We ran on June 4th [information from local villagers indicates that it was more likely on June 6, an understandable error since the soldiers had little reason to keep track of dates] at about 11 p.m. We are the first from the battalions around Papun, but a lot more will come now that we've shown them the way. The soldiers are all weak and thin and their officers will never let them go home, so many will come here.

In my own town, when I was drafted the SLORC was demanding money from everyone as taxes for the soldiers and militia who guard the roads and railways, and they demand money from every family for every road they build. For the poor people, even though they don't have enough food the SLORC still demands 'porter fees' from each family of at least 200 Kyat every month. Some people can pay but others can't, and if you can't the SLORC village head calls you and says "If you can't pay by next week you'll go to jail". The SLORC squeezes the civilians and makes trouble for them, and soldiers in the Army are shooting themselves because of the living conditions and the treatment by their officers. I’ve been an eyewitness to all of this

 

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NAME: Maung Hla Tint

SEX: M

AGE: 18

DESCRIPTION: Burman Buddhist

ADDRESS: Pegu Division

EDUCATION: 5th Standard (Grade 5)

FAMILY: Single, lives with parents and 7 brothers and sisters

RANK: Private

SALARY: 750 Kyat per month

UNIT: 434 Infantry Battalion, Company #5, since 1992

COMPANY COMMANDER: Capt. Nay Teh Soe (now transferred), then Capt. Sein Myint

 

I was forced to join the Army two years ago, when I was sixteen years old. Each ward in the town had to send 5 recruits every month, and I was one of them. One of my brothers was also forced to join before the 1988 uprising. I was trained at #6 Divisional Training Centre at Oke Twin for 4 months. There were 25o of us in my group. The youngest was l5 and the oldest was over 50. We only learned small arms, mines, some parade drill, and especially how to shoot. [Interviewer’s Question: Did you learn how treat civilians or prisoners, the Geneva Conventions or human rights? Answer: No, nothing.] They treated us very harshly, and cruelly. If we made any mistake they beat us with a cane. At night when the trainers were drunk they called all the trainees to the parade ground and punished us by making us sit on the parade ground all night.

After training I was sent to 434 Battalion, and they sent me to Hill 1653. There were 11 privates and 3 NCOs there. The NCOs were Warrant Officer Han Tun and 2 Lance Corporals. Sometimes we patrolled and fought, sometimes we stayed on the hilltop. When we were on the hill, in the morning from 6 to 10:30 we had to cut bamboo for fences, split it and carry it. While, we were cutting bamboo all the villagers had to cut wood. Then in the afternoon we had to make fences. If we finished enough fences and had time before dinner we had to dig trenches. Then at night we had to stand sentry duty.

The food was very bad rice, fishpaste and beans with insects in them. We had to climb all the way down the mountain to get our water, and that's when we could take a bath. We only got rough uniforms - 3 pairs of trousers and one shirt. If they were destroyed we were supposed to be able to exchange them once every six months, but it only happened once a year. This wasn't enough, so we had to buy uniform clothes from our salary.

When we got sick, if we had money we could go to the battalion clinic and buy an injection. If we had no money we could only get tablets, and it was all past its expiry date. If they didn't even have that we couldn't get anything, so we had to buy medicine from outside. As for the wounded, if soldiers were badly wounded they just killed them. If he's only slightly wounded, then if he can follow us they let him come. But if he can't follow us then even if he's only slightly wounded they kill him. Sometimes the NCOs kill the men themselves, sometimes they just leave them there. All the soldiers who are seriously wounded, they kill. Sometimes they shoot them, sometimes they use a bayonet. I saw this myself one time. When we were coming up from Thaton we had a battle in Nat Kyi. One of our point men ran into an ambush and a landmine. He lost part of one leg and had bad wounds on his body, face and head. He was nearly killed, but after the battle he still wasn't dying so the officer said to shoot him. At first they just left him there because he couldn't walk and they didn't want to carry him. Then the officer went back to look at him again, and he was so serious that they thought he would die so they shot him. At the time we were with a column from 44 Division.

The officers and NCOs generally get along with each other, but they're very bad to the soldiers. When Corporal Than Tun got drunk at night he'd call the soldiers to come and massage him, and if the soldier didn't go or didn't do it well he'd beat him. They ordered us to serve them at breakfast and dinner time and do other things, and if they thought we were grumbling about it they beat us. If they thought a soldier was sleepy on sentry duty they beat him and then made him stand sentry duty the whole day in the hot sun. One night when Than Tun was drinking he called me to massage him but I was very sleepy so I couldn't massage him well, and he said "You don't massage me well so from 12 until 2 or 3 a.m. you must do sentry duty". While I was on sentry Than Tun called "Where is the sentry?", but I didn't hear his call so he said "You were sleeping on duty. Tomorrow morning you'll see what punishment you'll get". In the morning he called me, beat me and then put me out in the sunshine. He assigned me to stand sentry there all day and when I got very sleepy Than Tun saw it and said "Why are you sleeping on duty?" He beat me again, said "Take off your shirt and trousers", and made me lay down on the ground in the sun with only short pants on and no cover. Then he put his knife in the fire and tortured me by putting it on my back. I was also beaten many other times.

We weren't allowed to listen to the radio or read papers. I never received a letter from my family. Once I had a chance to write a letter to them so I wrote a very simple letter. It didn't say anything about my situation in the Army, but after I finished it the NCO found it, crumpled and tore up my letter. I wasn't happy. I was so far from home and I couldn't contact my family. We were forced to do heavy labour, there wasn't enough medicine and they punished us all the time. At most I only got 300 Kyat of my salary each month. I don't know why they cut the rest. They do this to every soldier.

When we had to go to collect rations we called all the village men to be porters, not only the young men but old men as well. When the old men couldn't walk anymore the NCOs and officers ordered us to threaten them with our guns but we wouldn't, so the NCOs asked us "Is this your father or your uncle? Why don't you threaten them?", and they beat us. On the way back the old men were carrying our rations in baskets on their backs and they couldn't walk anymore, so the NCOs kicked the old men and said to us "You must push and threaten these old men because this is enemy territory and we have to keep moving". But we pitied the old men. We knew they couldn't walk quickly so we didn't push or force them, and then the NCOs beat us. We were carrying loads too, but the NCOs don't have to carry anything.

The night we ran away the NCOs and battalion officers were playing cards. Every night they were playing cards and drinking. If one of them was losing he yelled at the soldiers, beat us and abused us. That night all the NCOs were drunk and they beat every soldier. Corporal Than Tun was losing at cards and beat every one of us. After that, we discussed escaping. Zaw Myint said "If you want to escape we must kill the NCOs first". That night at 11 or 12 o'clock Zaw Myint, Ye Kyaw and one of the medics shot them. I was on sentry duty at the time.

Now I want to find work as a day labourer. I don't want to be a soldier ever again. I don't know if the SLORC will do anything to my family because of what I’ve done. I think they might take my family as porters, but I don't know for sure. In my home area people are mostly farmers. if a SLORC officer thinks "This place would be a good fishpond" then he takes the farmer's land, digs the fishpond and then sells the fish for his own profit. They also collect money for road construction, but they hardly use any of it to construct roads, they just keep most of the money themselves. They take porter fees every month from every family - 150 or 200 Kyat from poor families, and 300 or 400 Kyat from rich families. If you can't pay you have to go as a porter - my brother had to go once because we couldn't pay.

 

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NAME: Thein Mya

SEX: M

AGE: 16

DESCRIPTION: Burman Buddhist

ADDRESS: Rangoon Division

EDUCATION: 7th Standard (Grade 7)

FAMILY: Single, lives with his parents, 8 brothers and sisters

RANK: Private

SALARY: 750 Kyat per month

UNIT: 434 Infantry Battalion, Headquarters Company, since 1993

COMMANDING OFFICER: Major Khin Maung Maung

 

I was in the Army just over 1 year. I joined in June 1993 and finished my training in August. I was l 4 years old when I joined, now I’m 16. I was in 7th Standard in D--- village high school in T--- township. One day when I was walking home from school, near the market a group of soldiers grabbed me. There was one section of them [6 or 7soldiers]. The soldiers said. "You must join the Army. Life in the Army is very good. If you join the Army you'll have good food and a good place to stay, it's no problem." I was too young and I didn't understand anything, so I agreed to join.

They took me with them to Rangoon. They took me to Than Lyin [Syriam] by car, then to Rangoon by boat. We started by car at 3 p.m. and arrived in Rangoon at 7 p.m. In Rangoon they kept me at the Ba Zun Daung police station, in the police barracks. The next day they sent me to 91 Battalion in Hmawbi. From there they sent me to the military recruiting centre in Mingaladon, where they did my medical checkup for 2 days. They asked my age and I lied. I said "18 years old". The others there advised me "You should say you're 18 years old". I knew myself the army wouldn't accept me if I was under 18 so I lied about my age [Thein Mya doesn't even look 18 now, so over a year ago it should have been obvious to the military doctors that he was lying]. After that I was sent to Thingan Gyun to the training centre there. I was trained there for 4½ months. My parents never knew I’d joined the Army. Only after my training I had a chance to go visit my home, so then they found out.

The leaders beat me and punished me because I couldn't keep up with the training. They also beat me when I got sick because I couldn't keep up with the others. They beat me especially during parade drill, because my health wasn't good. I had diarrhoea. After the training I was sent to 434 Battalion, to Hill 1653. At first it was okay, but then the NCOs started drinking all the time and they yelled at us and beat us, so I was unhappy and didn't want to stay there. Sometimes I was sick so I couldn't go down the hill to carry water. I had malaria. The NCOs said "You're just lazy. You're a liar." They beat me with a cane. I had fever and vomiting but they didn't care for me. Even if they had medicine, they wouldn't give me any because they said I was faking. The food was also very bad. The SLORC makes trouble for their own soldiers, beating them and treating them badly. I feel very bad about that.

When I remembered how I had agreed to join I felt very sad and sorrowful. I had no chance to write my family because I was very busy doing labour every day. Also, I thought even if I wrote a letter they would destroy it and not send it. On the way to the frontline when we were at Thaton camp I wrote a letter, but I never got a reply. After 3 months at the Hill I was very depressed and I didn't want to stay there anymore. Later, 3 of us discussed it and decided we had to run away. It was me, Ye Kyaw and one of the medics. Then Zaw Myint said "You are all very young, so I'll help you plan the escape and I’ll escape with you." After that we shot our NCOs and our officer, took our arms and escaped.

Now I just want to get work doing odd jobs. I can't do duty for the Revolution because I’m afraid to ever join any army again. I’d like to go back to school, but none of my friends are here so I’m lonely and I’m sad. I have no idea how my family is doing, but now I’ve escaped from SLORC with a gun so I’m worried about what they might do to my family because of this. Maybe they'll make trouble for my family. They might arrest my family as hostages and then call me to come back. [The SLORC often uses this tactic against KNLA and other opposition soldiers].

 

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NAME: Ye Kyaw

SEX: M

AGE: 17

DESCRIPTION: Burman Buddhist

ADDRESS: Pegu Division

EDUCATION: 4th Standard (Grade 4)

FAMILY: Single, father dead, lives with his mother, 6 brothers and sisters

RANK: Private

SALARY: 750 Kyat per month

UNIT: 434 Infantry Battalion, Company #5, since 1993

COMPANY COMMANDER: Capt. Nay Teh Soe (now transferred), then Capt. Sein Myint

 

I joined on February 27, 1993. I was forced. Five people had to go from each part of town every month. There are 2 boys and 4 girls in my family. My only brother already joined the army before the 1988 uprising because he had a fight with our mother. He's still in the army now. I was trained at #6 Divisional Training Centre at Oke Twin for 4 months. There were 250 recruits in our group. The oldest was over 50 and the youngest was 15 or 16. We were taught small arms, 2-inch mortars, mines and parade drill. [Interviewer's Question: Were you taught anything about how to treat civilians or POWs, the Geneva Conventions or human rights? Answer: Not at all.] During the training they were very strict. After the training I was sent to 434 Battalion, and to Hill 1653. I was very unhappy there because it was far away from my family. The officers ordered us to make bricks and said they'd give us the money they got for them, but afterwards they just sold the bricks, kept the money for themselves and didn't give us anything. When I or the others were sick and went to the clinic, if we were serious the officer demanded medicine for us from Headquarters. Then he got the medicine but we never got any of it. He sold it. Usually we were sick with malaria.

Officers' food and soldiers' food weren't the same. We only got fishpaste and beans which were very bad and crawling with insects, and roselle leaves. The officers got chicken and fish which was sent from headquarters for the frontline troops [based on reports from villagers, all this fresh meat was likely plundered from villages]. They also had tinned milk, coffee and other good things. These rations are supposed to be for all the soldiers, not just the officers, but the officers take all the good things for themselves and don't share anything with the soldiers. We were also beaten. When soldiers were sick with malaria the officers didn't care, they just ordered them to the frontline anyway. The soldiers were too sick to walk so the officers yelled at them and beat them. Some of these soldiers got so depressed that they committed suicide. My "older brother" [just a term of reference for a very close friend] was staying together with me in the clinic one time. He was almost always sick, so the officer came in and said to him "You must put on a woman's sarong and walk around the camp!", and then he beat him and punched him in the face. When I was doing refresher training at the frontline there were some things I couldn't do because I was sick with fever, so the officer kicked and beat me. They also beat me whenever I gave a wrong answer. They beat me in front of all the other soldiers. The officer ordered me "You must do this" and I answered "I’m very sick", so he got very angry and said "I’m an officer - you're a Private. Why do you answer me like that? You’re insubordinate", and he punched me on my jaw.

One or two months after I arrived at the Hill we went to carry rations. Cpl. Than Tan was with us. He has a girlfriend in that village, and he used to give his salary to her. When we went to get rations he had sex with her right in front of us, we saw him. [Note: without the soldiers’ knowledge this may well have been either violent rape or rape forced on her by threatening her or her family. There are even cases where a SLORC officer rapes a woman and then forces her to marry him.] Than Tun always kicked and beat the porters who couldn't walk quickly. When we went to carry rations some of the porters were very old men and they couldn't walk quickly or climb the mountains, so the NCOs yelled at them and beat them. Mostly they kicked them. They did this right in front of us, and it made me very sad. These Corporals were only about 28 years old, and these old men they were beating were the same age as their fathers.

I came here because the officers and NCOs were very cruel to these old village men and I felt very strongly about this. Also because they treated us soldiers very badly, and because even though our salary was 750 Kyat we only got 300 Kyat maximum at the end of each month. We all discussed running away. I shot Corporal Thein Win myself. After killing him I was very happy. [At this point Ye Kyaw's tone became very happy and excited] At night Warrant Officer Han Tun slept beside one of the medics, Cpl. Than Tun slept beside Zaw Myint and Cpl. Thein Win slept beside me. At 11 o'clock that night we went to our beds to sleep but we didn't sleep. We just sat down and shot them.

I think my family may be in trouble because of my escape. In my home area things are getting worse, people are getting poorer and life is getting more difficult. Before, they didn't force people to join the Army, but now they force every strong young man to join. These boys need to support their parents, but now every place has to send 5 new recruits every month. All the parents are losing all their strong sons, so families don't have enough labour to support themselves any more. Every family is getting poorer and poorer.

 

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NAME: Maung Shwe Hla

SEX: M

AGE: 17

DESCRIPTION: Burman Buddhist

ADDRESS: Rangoon Division

FAMILY: Single, father dead, lives with his mother, 5 brothers and sisters

RANK: Private

SALARY: 750 Kyat per month

UNIT: 434 Infantry Battalion, Company #2, since 1991

COMPANY COMMANDER: Maj. Sai Aung Kyaw (a Shan national)

 

I joined on June 18, 1991, when I was 14. My elder brother was drafted in the lottery, but he'd already passed 10th standard in school so I told him "You carry on with your school. I’ll go in the Army", and I pretended to be him. Now he’s in college.

My training was 4½ months. I never wanted to join the Army in the first place. Then in the Army I got no time to eat, no sleep, no good food and I was tortured by the NCOs, so I discussed it with my friends and we decided to escape. We decided to shoot the NCOs and the Warrant Officer before we ran. It's terrible the way the NCOs and officers torture the soldiers. They don't care at all about the soldiers, they only think of their own interests. I couldn't bear to stay with them because they're very bad men.

In Rangoon now, for the civil servants and the poor people it's getting worse and worse, but for the SLORC, their relatives and the rich people it's getting better and better. As for the poor people who are day labourers, only at the end of their day's work do they have enough money to buy their evening food. Some people are selling everything they have which they can sell, just to buy food.

 

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NAME: Maung Khin Soe

SEX: M

AGE: 20

DESCRIPTION: Burman Buddhist

ADDRESS: Pegu Division

EDUCATION: 8th Standard (Grade 8)

FAMILY: Single, lives with his parents, 7 brothers and sisters

RANK: Private

SALARY: 750 Kyat per month

UNIT: 434 Infantry Battalion, Company #2, since 1991

COMPANY COMMANDER: Maj. Sai Aung Kyaw (a Shan national)

 

I joined in June 1991. I was forced to join, because every ward of the town has to send 10 people every month as recruits. I was trained for 4½ months. I ran away from the Battalion because I couldn't tolerate the oppression of the NCOs anymore. Once when the NCO ordered me to massage him I couldn't do it very well so he beat my hands until I couldn't even hold my gun anymore.

Before I joined the Army I was a porter once. Along the way one of the soldiers from Battalion 60 was wounded. The lower part of his left leg was blown off during a battle, so the company commander of company #4, Maj. Kyaw Zayat, ordered the Sergeant to shoot him. The medic had already treated him and given him 2 bottles of blood and his situation wasn't so bad. The medic treated him the whole day, but after he had given him 2 bottles of blood the company commander gave the order "We must move from here". The medic said "We should send this wounded soldier back to headquarters", but Major Kyaw Zayat said "Don't send him. If we send him back he might get worse on the way", and then he gave the order to shoot him. This happened at night time. It's an injustice to shoot men like that. Three porters were also wounded so the officer ordered his soldiers to shoot them, and they were shot. I saw this with my own eyes.

 

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NAME: Maung Tin Shein

SEX: M

AGE: 17

DESCRIPTION: Burman Buddhist

ADDRESS: Irrawaddy Division

EDUCATION: 7th Standard (Grade 7)

FAMILY: Single, lives with his mother, 7 brothers and sisters

RANK: Private

SALARY: 750 Kyat per month

UNIT: 434 Infantry Battalion, Company #1, since 1993

COMPANY COMMANDER: Maj. Aye Win

 

I joined the army on March 29 1993. In my village they have a secret lottery and my name was picked, so I was forced to go. I have 2 brothers already in the army. Their home is with my father in Bassein, but I stay with my mother. My parents are divorced.

At Hill 1653 when I had sentry duty and I got sleepy they beat me. We also had to go do labour cutting bamboo every day, and the officers ordered us "Make bricks. You'll get money." But then they sold the bricks and never gave us any of the money. We never got any of the good rations like milk and sugar either. We had to work constantly for the officers, and they also took porters to work for them. We had to go provide security for supply convoys and the officers forced some very old men to carry ammunition, but they couldn't carry it so the officers kicked them. The porters never got enough food and they also had to provide security for the convoy along with us because the officers were afraid of landmines. When we went to carry rations, I was too slow climbing the mountains so the officers kicked me,. I was very unhappy, so I decided to run away from the camp.

 

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NAME: Maung Win Naing

SEX: M

AGE: 19

DESCRIPTION: Burman Buddhis

ADDRESS: Pegu Division

EDUCATION: 6th Standard (Grade 6)

FAMILY: Single, lives with his parents, 4 brothers and sisters

RANK: Private

SALARY: 750 Kyatper month

UNIT: 434 Infantry Battalion, Headquarters Company, since 1992

COMMANDING OFFICER: Maj. Khin Maung Maung

 

I had to join on 17 June 1992 because my name was picked in the lottery. The officers and NCOs oppressed us and made trouble for us, not only for the soldiers but also for the porters and civilians, and we never got our full salary because they cut it every time. We were all unhappy, so we decided to escape.