An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
In December 1993, SLORC launched its first-ever major offensive against the territory of the Mong Ta Army (MTA) led by Khun Sa, who is generally referred to internationally as a 'drug warlord'. The SLORC has put a lot of effort into publicizing this internationally as a military offensive to eradicate narcotics, and has even asked the U.S. for military assistance. However, most Burma watchers agree that this is not an anti-narcotics offensive, pointing to the fact that the SLORC never attacked Khun Sa until he started making very strong Shan Nationalist noises: demanding that all Burmese troops leave Shan State, proclaiming its independence and having himself declared President. Furthermore, satellite photos and other evidence show that most of the opium is not being produced in Khun Sa's territory at all, but in territory controlled by SLORC and its ceasefire partners like the Wa and Kokang. It seems more likely that the main purpose of this offensive is to strengthen SLORC’s control in Shan State, using ‘drug eradication' as an excuse for a brutal campaign. Regardless of Khun Sa’s real or perceived faults and the question of his sincerity, many people in Shan State are rallying to his Shan Nationalist line, encouraged by the fact that his is the only army in Shan State currently fighting the common enemy SLORC.
The purpose of this report is not to discuss the politics behind the SLORC 's offensive, but to try to start giving a voice to those who are being ignored in all of this - the civilians who live in southern Shan State. while the Karen Human Rights Group generally focuses on Karen areas; we are concerned for all the peoples of Burma, and we could not help but notice that the people of Shan State are being almost completely left out of all the discussion of Khun Sa, SLORC, drugs and Shan Nationalism. So we went to the Shan/Thai border to hear what some Shan civilians had to say, and the result is included in this report
Fighting between SLORC and the MTA has been intense with high casualty figures. There have been several fighting areas: a) just west of Tachilek near the Thai border, where the MTA has been trying to surround the border trading town of Tachilek while SLORC has been trying to capture strategic Loi Gong Mon hill; b) 60km. further west in the Mong Kyot area, where SLORC has been mounting a heavy attack to push west to the Salween and towards the MTA’s Ho Mong headquarters another 80-100 km. further west; c) areas as widespread as Kengtung, Mong Ker and even close to Lashio, where the MTA has been mounting guerrilla operations. In the process, SLORC troops have been intensively using all their usual counterinsurgency tactics, including mass enslavement of civilians as military porters, many of whom are killed, a scorched earth policy and massacres of civilians in fighting areas, rape, looting, extortion and other practices. The MTA also takes civilians as porters and takes food from villages, but not nearly on the same scale and without the same brutal treatment of porters. The SLORC has also been using its Swiss Pilatus turbopropeller bombers and attack jets, which have primarily inflicted damage on civilian villages. In some cases it appears their targets are civilian villages in order to drive civilians out and cut off any support for the MTA, while in other cases their targets are MTA positions but the pilots don’t want to go near the MTA (who are well-armed and have good Surface-to-Air Missiles) so they bomb nearby civilian villages instead and report that they're attacking the target. One typical example: On July 10, 1994 four Pilatus PC7's flew out of Kengtung and attacked a defenceless village of Akhu people 5 km. north of the Thai border west of Tachilek. This particular village is commonly known as Ban Akhu. The planes dropped eight 80-lb. bombs on the village, fired rockets and strafed the village with 30 mm. guns. When SLORC PC7’s are on attack, a squadron of 4 generally takes turns, 3 circling while the fourth dives on the target very fast and quite low, then as soon as it rises the next plane dives. Being under it is terrifying, and it can last 15 minutes or more. In Ban Akhu two boys were killed, aged 7 and 14, because they were playing outside. One had the back of his head blown off while the other was mortally wounded in the body. 5 others were wounded. People from the area claim the pilots could certainly see that they were firing on civilians from the way the people were fleeing. There were no MTA troops in the village - their position was on a hilltop. Over 50 km. to the west in the Mong Kyot fighting area, several other villages have also fled because of aerial bombing.
Thousands of Shan, Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Palaung and other refugees have flooded across the border, mainly in the Mong Kyot and Tachilek areas, usually to be met by armed Thai troops and police who drive them right back into the hands of SLORC, where they may be enslaved as porters or killed. For example, on May 22-23 hundreds of Shan and other civilians fled across the border because SLORC troops were rounding up hundreds of porters around Tachilek. They were held at Wat Wieng Hom (a Buddhist temple) then forcibly sent back across by Thai authorities on May 24. There are reports from Tachilek that the SLORC was waiting for them, loaded them on trucks and took them all to a porter holding centre at Loi Hsa Htoong army camp. Thus far, there has been little attention on such events from foreign governments or even human rights organizations, because the general attitude seems to be that this is just a dirty drug war. In fact, these civilians have nothing to do with the drug trade. Those farmers who do grow opium only do so because it is the only way for their family to survive the SLORC’s constant looting and extortion of money.
On July 18, the fighting mysteriously stopped although neither side had openly declared a halt. From information available, it appears that both sides were reeling from heavy casualties, especially the MTA. The SLORC may also have stopped because it is traditionally at a disadvantage in rainy season, when its soldiers and heavy equipment from the central plains are no match for guerrillas who grew up in the malaria-ridden hills and forests. However, it seems almost certain that fighting will resume as soon as rainy season ends in October. Even in the absence of fighting the SLORC has continued to abuse the civilians - they are still rounding up hundreds of porters and keeping them in guarded holding camps ready for the resumption of fighting. On August 1 SLORC troops reportedly burned down the Akha village of Wan Ya Aye (near Tachilek) and drove out the 50 to 60 families living there after accusing them of supporting the MTA. One or two hundred of them crossed into Thailand on August 2 but were immediately met by Thai army and police and forcibly handed back to SLORC authorities the next afternoon by order of the governor of Chiang Rai province, Kamluen Moonchut. While they were in Thailand no one was allowed to speak to them, not even Shan refugee officials. The Thais have now sealed the entire Shan border off in this fashion, particularly where they are forcibly repatriating Palaung, Lahu and Lisu refugees opposite the Mong Kyot area, where outsiders are no longer allowed anywhere near the border. At the same time, a Lahu villager from the Mong Kyot area reports that starting on August 1, SLORC began forcing villagers to guard the entire length of the road from Thailand (known as the Chieng Dao logging route to Chiang Mai) from the Thai border north to Mongtung and from there to Mong Hsat in the east and the Salween River in the west, a total road length of about 100 miles. Groups of 4 villagers have to rotate standing sentry 24 hours a day at posts spaced less than a mile apart. If they see anyone they must bang on a stick, then the next group has to pass the signal up the line all the way to the nearest Army post. The villagers say they have never been forced to do this before.
The following interviews were conducted in the Thai town of Mae Sai, just across the border from Tachilek, at the beginning of August 1994. Unfortunately, due to Thai security along the border it was impossible to interview first hand victims of some aspects of the fighting. However, the following testimonies should help to give a general idea of what is happening in southern Shan State and can hopefully serve as a foundation for more specific reports in the future. The names of those interviewed have been changed and some details omitted to protect them. This report may freely be used in any way which may help the people of Shan State.
Porters (p.3-4,5-6,10-11,13), killings & abuse in fighting areas (p.5,6,12), political imprisonment (p.9-10), MTA (p.12,13), Thai forced repatriation (p.3,4,6,13), SLORC arrest of Thais (p.4), forced labour (p.4,7,8,9,10), land confiscation (p.4,7,8,10,13,14), forest destruction (p.7-8), opium (p.5,6-7), SLORC & business (p.10-11,14), SLORC & religion (p.14), Mong Kwan (Nam Wok) hydro project (p.8,20).
NAME: Sai On
DESCRIPTION: Shan Buddhist, gem trader
ADDRESS: Tachilek area, southern Shan State
As a gem trader, Sai On constantly travels around southern Shan State and talks to the people of many areas.
The SLORC is commandeering porters every day. Lately they’ve been doing it even in Tachilek town, and in Mong Pyak 60 miles to the north, Mong Yawng 90 miles to the north, in San Sai, Hong Luk, Huay Kai, Mae Hoke, Mong Yang, and in the village tracts around them. Also, if you go about 60 miles east of Tachilek you'll find Mong Pone village tract, and Tah Ler village tract 30 miles to the north, they're taking porters there too. At night the troops surround the village and take everybody. None of the men are spared, they take them all. In Mong Pone the monk pitied the villagers so he pleaded with the SLORC authorities not to take them as porters. They told him he'd have to buy them 10 mules or else they'd take the people, so he bought them the mules and now they've promised not to take the people there. They use everything as porters, people, mules, even people's private cars. The people are so afraid that they'll have to go as porters that they're running away to Thailand, but the Thais won't accept them. The next day they drive them back into Shan State at Tachilek, and then they're all taken as porters by the Burmese. The Thais drove out more than 200 people one time, and the SLORC knew they'd be driven back so they were waiting on the other side of the border. The people didn't even reach their homes. They were arrested and taken to Loi Hsa Htoong. and the SLORC is keeping them there until they need them as porters. The Thais drove them back on June 6, and they're still there now.
Loi Hsa Htoong is a SLORC Army headquarters. They've put the people inside a barbed wire fence and they're not allowed to see any of their relatives. It’s impossible to say how many people they're keeping there, because every day people are taken out of there as porters, others come back from being porters and new people are brought in. I can't be sure, but I think there are about two to three hundred people being held there. People who have fled being taken have told me about this, and many people in Tachilek know about it.
On June 8 the MTA attacked SLORC at Loi Gong Mon, and the MTA occupied it. Now the SLORC is planning to retake it. For now, the attacks have lessened, but the MTA are still using guerrilla tactics against them by night. Now I’ve heard that the porters at Loi Hsa Htoong are being sent to Mong Ker in northern Shan State [near Hsipaw] because the SLORC is fighting big battles there against the MTA and they need porters. That's why the ruby miners at Mong Hsu can't do business now. Some of them came to sell rubies and told me about it. Fighting started at Mong Ker 10 days ago and it's still going on now, so the ruby business has stopped. The people being taken as porters around here and held at Loi Hsa Htoong are now being sent up there. They're taken by truck to Nam Sang and kept roped tightly together on the truck. The trip takes 2 nights and 3 days at this time of year. They let them get off the trucks to go to the toilet, but they're still tied together with rope and under guard. They can have no shame. Some have even been taken by airplane to Nam Sang [because it is now rainy season and the muddy roads are almost impassable]. From there they have to go on foot. It's 20 days walk. None of them have arrived up there yet, they're still on the way and more are being sent now. SLORC is also sending reinforcements to the area from Lashio now.
To take porters in Tachilek town, at first they captured people who were walking to their fields or to work and sent them to the frontline or to Loi Hsa Htoong. Then when people were afraid to go out anymore, they started surrounding houses in the evening, then at dawn they took whoever was in the house. For 20 days they even rounded people up in the market, so people from Thailand didn't dare go across to Tachilek because they were afraid they might be taken as porters [Tachilek is directly across the border from the Thai town of Mae Sai, and a lot of trade goes across. Thais are also racially related to the Shan, and could occasionally be mistaken for Shan by Burmese soldiers]. Some Thais from Chonburi came to Tachilek to buy rubies and 10 of them were taken as porters. Their friends from Thailand had to buy them back. Whoever is taken, he has to pay if he wants to go free no matter who he is. If the Thais hadn't paid, they would have had to go to the frontline as porters. First the SLORC demanded 100,000 Baht for each of them, but they gave them 2,000 or 3,000 each and the soldiers let them go back. When they got back to Thailand they went to the Thai provincial authorities and said Thailand should protest about it, but the Thai Government didn't dare say anything.
They take everyone they see, even in the marketplace and in teashops, even the women. The youngest are 12 or 13 and as for the oldest, even some people over 60 have to go as porters. Some have been porters for 2 months already and haven't been released yet. Some who are lucky return home in 10 days. Sometimes they get sardines with their rice, but usually they just get plain rice. It's very little, and often it's not enough. Many get exhausted and die along the way. As for me, I have to pay bribes. if I couldn't pay them I’d probably have to go. All the people just look on SLORC as a bunch of bandits, not a government. Their army too, people say they're not an army, they're just bandits.
Now they're not going around to take porters as much, because instead they give orders to the headmen in both the villages and the towns to each have 20 people ready each day to be porters. When the SLORC asks for them they have to be sent. They started this 3 months ago, and since then they've called for those people all the time, so many times you can't even count it. Every village and section of town has to keep money ready as well. The amount depends on the size of the village - every household has to pay 40 to 200 Kyat regularly. In very small villages with not enough people to send porters, they have to send cash instead. Whether there’s fighting or not the people have to do all of these things. Even before when there was no fighting in Shan State, they took people from here to go as porters in Karenni or Karen States. Shan and Palaung people are taken the most often, but people from every ethnic group have to go.
Every day the villagers also have to rotate going to fence the military camps, cooking for them, fetching water for them, and farming for them as unpaid labourers. The villagers aren't even fed. They even have to wash the soldiers clothes for them. The villagers farms have been confiscated, and then the owners are forced to go back and farm the land but all the profits go to the military. The farmers who have their land taken are in trouble because they have no way to earn their living, so they have to sell everything they own to survive, then when that's exhausted they have to do something like run away to Thailand. But the Thais never allow them to stay, and drive them back. Those who are lucky have some relatives on the Thai side of the border, so they can go one by one and stay very secretly. Now the SLORC is also bombing the villages. Maybe they want to bomb the soldiers, but they don't dare come down low enough so they usually bomb the civilian villages instead. The planes are from China.
In every 10 households there's now at least one informer for Military Intelligence. They're forced to do it, they have to report everything that happens in those 10 households every day, every hour. If anybody comes visiting, they have to report that such-and-such person came to such-and-such house, what time he came and what time he left. They have to report every day. if they don’t obey they'll be arrested, taken away and tortured.
The SLORC only wants the riches in Shan State and enough people to serve them as porters. The rest of the people they don't want, just the land. They want to occupy Shan State. if the United Nations comes and helps them it's a great mistake because their aid will only help the SLORC, and in the future there won't be any ethnic groups left except the Burmese. I think the United Nations doesn't know what's happening. If they want to help the people they should go to the people, not the SLORC. [Several UN Agencies, led by the UN Development Programme, are financing SLORC's "income generation" and other projects in Shan State.] Now the SLORC has brought in Chinese arms but they're mostly useless, so they're trying to convince the Americans to send them arms if they want the SLORC to eradicate opium. Eradicate it? The SLORC is even farming opium themselves! Now most of the poppy fields are owned by SLORC. If you don't believe me, I’ll take you and show you. Maybe the DEA [the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency] is sincerely trying to eradicate opium, but the SLORC only lets them stay in Taunggyi, they don’t let them see the countryside. If you want to know where some of SLORC's poppy farms are, any Shan farmer can take you and show you. But if you ask SLORC, they won't let you go into the countryside to see.
NAME: Sai Naw Suk
DESCRIPTION: Shan Buddhist, farmer
ADDRESS: Tachilek, previously from Mong Pyak, southern Shan State
Sai Naw Suk was taken as a porter for SLORC's offensive against the MTA.
I’m a farmer, but sometimes I go to Mong Hsu to buy rubies to trade. About 2 months ago I went to Mong Hsu and bought some rubies. I was coming back by public car, and when I arrived at Mong Pying [west of Kengtung] I was arrested. All the travellers were searched and all their valuables, like jewellery and money, were robbed from them. The soldiers said we could come back later and ask for it back. So I lost all my rubies. Then they commandeered another car and put us on it. I was sent to Mong Hsat [west of Tachilek], then to Mong Tung, then to Na Gong Mu, and on to Mong Kyot by car [Mong Kyot is near the Salween River - it was the area of the main fighting at the time]. They took 51 of us, and there were many other similar groups. About 200 of us altogether were attached to #244 Battalion. When we got to Mong Kyot there were no people there because they'd already run away. The SLORC soldiers shot the pigs, buffaloes, ducks, chickens, whatever they saw they shot and ate. Then we were taken into the hills as porters. There was fighting with the MTA, and I had to carry artillery shells. The soldiers said all the villages were the villages of rebels, so they arrested the men and went and slept with the women. They killed all the villagers' animals, and the people cried. The soldiers killed the people, even the children. They slept with the women, and some of their children escaped but others were killed. The men were taken as porters. I saw some orphans left alone because both of their parents had been killed.
We only got a handful of boiled rice to eat, only once a day. At first it was twice a day and not as bad, but as soon as we went to fight the MTA it was only once a day and it wasn't enough. I had to carry six 75 mm. shells at a time, 3 kilos per shell, so my load weighed about 18-20 kilos. I’ve still got these wounds on my shoulders - at the time there were even worms in them. We weren't given any medicine or treatment. People got sick, but when they asked for medicine they were hit with rifle butts. When soldiers got sick or wounded, we had to carry them to their camp. If people had money when we were arrested, the SLORC took it and kept it, then when we were porters they beat those people badly all the time because they wanted them to die or escape. I myself was beaten because of this. There were 2 porters who were a bit deaf, so they didn't hear the soldiers' orders and one time they just kept walking when they were ordered to stop. The soldiers thought they were trying to run away, so they shot at them and hit both of them in the leg above the ankle, breaking their legs. Then we had to carry them to the senior officer, the soldiers told him what happened and the 2 men were sent to the hospital for treatment. At the same time 2 other men who thought they'd be shot too ran away but fell into a ditch, and both of them broke their knees. Then they were beaten and didn't get any treatment because they'd tried to run away. They were beaten with rifle butts, then just left along the side of the path. I think they must have died.
One old man was very weak because he'd only been given so little rice each day. He got stomach trouble, so one night he unintentionally made some noise and the soldiers said "You must not make noise or the enemy might know where we are", but he was sick and he couldn't help it. He made some more noise, and I saw them stuff some blankets in his mouth and then kick him down the mountainside. He was killed. I also saw with my own eyes 4 old men beaten to death. They were from Mong Tun and Mong Hsat. They were too old and couldn’t carry heavy loads so they were given duties fetching water and cooking rice for the soldiers. Then after the rice was cooked all of us were ordered to carry the rice up the mountain to the soldiers on top, and they told us we had 1 hour to get there. The rest of us made it up in time, but the 4 old men took an hour and 15 minutes to get to the top so the soldiers went wild. They beat the old men on the head and all over their bodies, then left them laying there for a day. The next day they were all bruised and swollen and they couldn't walk, so the soldiers beat them again all over their bodies with rifle butts until they were dead. They beat those men to death. I was there and I saw it myself.
I also saw 3 porters wounded in battle, one in the forearm and two others in the shoulder. They were wounded very badly - the medics gave them saline intravenous transfusions and then sent one of them back to their Mong Pying camp. The other two had to stay with us. Another time I saw three soldiers firing a big mortar, and the porters had to carry all the shells to them so there were about 8 people there. At about 8 p.m. that night one of the shells exploded right there, right near me. All 3 soldiers and 5 porters were killed. The next day when the officers came to examine the splinters, they said it was their own shell [probably a misfire]. I also saw planes bombing 2 or 3 times, very high and going very fast.
The SLORC battalions in the fighting area are 329, 244, 333, and 65. I was with 244. I was a porter for 40 days. Then one night the SLORC made a night attack and I had to carry shells. I was too afraid of the fighting, so I just dropped my load on the path, rolled down the hillside and ran away. I didn't know where I was going, I just ran and whenever I saw some fruit in the jungle I just ate that. I was alone and I had no food for 7 days. Sometimes I could hardly do more than crawl. Then I came to a field hut in the night so I slept there, and in the morning I walked through the fields and I saw some Thai soldiers. They asked me where I came from and why so I told them I was a porter who ran from the Burmese troops. They sent me to Wat Wan Lan in Fang District [a Buddhist temple west of Mae Sai]. There were about 30 people there already, and food and supplies [from foreign donors]. After 3 days there they told us we had to go back. The Thai authorities wouldn’t listen to our pleas, they just told us we must go back, so we asked them if they would take us to the border near Tachilek. Four people came and took us to the border - one in uniform from the Immigration Department, one in uniform from the Army, and two in civilian clothes. There were 39 of us - and they took us in 2 trucks close to the border bridge to Tachilek and just told us to go across as we liked.
Now it’s been about 20 days since I escaped [meaning he escaped on July, 10 or 15]. Since I’ve been back, in Tachilek the SLORC haven't bothered me but one of my friends who was also there was arrested and questioned after getting back. They just questioned him about what he saw at the frontline, the number of casualties, etc. I don't see them rounding up any porters in Tachilek right now, but I see soldiers guarding the perimeter of the town and along the road up to Mong Pyak. They're guarding every bridge, and after 6 p.m. nobody can cross. In Tachilek, if Military Intelligence hears anyone talking about the situation or sees a group of more than 3 people sitting around, those people are arrested.
People are angry. I was taken from my family to be a porter. We thought that as porters they'd treat us fairly and carry according to our strength, but now I’ve seen boys as young as 11 or 12 and old men of 50 or 60 forced to carry the same loads as the rest, and if they can't carry it then they're beaten or killed. The Burmese don't treat us like humans so we want to free ourselves of them, but there's nothing we can do, just hope for help from other countries. The SLORC is stopping the Shan people from progressing either economically or politically. If they get involved with anything political the SLORC arrests them. On the other hand, in areas the SLORC controls you can grow opium, but you have to pay a tax and it's not cheap. In the fields which aren't very good or near the road, the SLORC cuts down the poppies to show that they’re eradicating poppy, but if the field is good they just keep collecting the tax.
All of us, you can ask anybody, we only want justice, to be treated as human beings and to live in peace. We'll accept anyone to govern us if they rule according to law and give us justice and peace. That’s all we want, because now our life is horrible. We want to get rid of this SLORC administration because there's no justice or rule of law. If you buy a house, the next day the government might come and confiscate it without any compensation and build a road. The farmland is confiscated from the farmers, and then they have to go and do forced labour in the fields. The women are abused and they take people to beat, to do labour and to go in the Army. Nobody gets any payment, we're just forced to serve them. They force everyone to give contributions but give nothing in return. Even if you go as a soldier in the Burmese Army you'll only get one tin of rice for one month. And everyone else in society gets nothing at all.
NAME: Sai Khorn Mong
DESCRIPTION:Shan Buddhist, farmer
ADDRESS: Kengtung, southeastern Shan State
FAMILY: Married with 2 daughters aged 6 and 8
Sai Khorn Mong lives in Kengtung and has often been called to do slave labour for SLORC.
I left Kengtung the day before yesterday, and arrived the same day in Tachilek. In Kengtung now, people are miserable because #244 Battalion takes people and forces them to cut down all the trees in the nearby forest. They also use porters from other places to cut down the trees. Everyone has to go, cut them down and take them to the Army base, and then they send them some other place. Not only the trees in the forest but also trees which were planted by the villagers for their own use - but when the villagers protest, the soldiers won't listen. So all the mountains are becoming barren. Now #244 Battalion has moved to another place and #245 has come to replace them, and they too are ordering all the forest cut down.
The work started 3 months ago. Everyone in the town and the area has to go in rotating shifts. Each village and section of town has had to send people on 60 of the last 90 days. Each day my section of town has to send 2 or 7 or 10 or 20 people, depending on how many the soldiers demand. There are 60 houses in my section. I’ve had to go twice to cut the trees, for one day each time. We had to take all our own tools, machetes and saws. They have a list of types of trees for firewood, and if we see any of these we have to cut them down and send them to the Army camp. They make us cut everything down, even the bamboo trees. Then we have to dig out the stumps too, and give them to the Army. It's all taken away by Army trucks. When the trucks are full, the people have to transport the remaining trees to the army camp at their own expense, on carts, pulled by buffaloes, or however, they can. The best wood is taken away somewhere else, and we have to split all the rest into firewood. They take away the myo sang, ha kong, gaw long, mak mong, lo haw, sak mong and other valuable trees. Some of them are very big, because the villagers have always preserved this forest for various uses. There are also shrines to the spirits that guard each village so the villagers preserved the trees around the shrines, and even those have been cut down. They'll never stop cutting down the trees. Now the land for 5 or 6 miles around Kengtung is all barren. It was jungle before. All the trees around the water ponds were cut down so the ponds have all dried up, and so have most of the streams and wells, so now there's a water shortage problem.. We can't understand why they’re doing it. There are no rebel soldiers there. [however, the MTA is not far away. SLORC often clears forest just to eliminate cover for rebels.] The soldiers told us the land will all be confiscated and they'll plant a butter bean plantation. The labour will have to be provided by the people, and all the produce will be owned by the Army. They haven't planted anything yet though - the land is just cleared and lying there barren. They've already cut down about 5 miles in every direction, and we don't know when they'll stop. For example, Nong Pan village still has forest around it, but they've got a plan to cut that down too. From Kengtung up to Mong La on the border of China [about 70 km. northeast of Kengtung] all the big trees have been cut down, and there's only a small bit of forest left.
The SLORC is also taking people's tea farms. They order people to go cut down all the tea trees and take the land to grow something else. As for the paddy fields and hill rice farms, they wait until after the villagers harvest the crop, then they come and take all the rice away. The farmers grow 2 rice crops a year. The first crop is confiscated, and then they have to sell half of their second crop to the Army. Market price is 450 Kyat for 4 baskets [of unmilled rice], but the Army only pays 60 Kyat for 4 baskets. Then the farmer has to survive on the rice that’s left. I live in a suburb of Kengtung. I have land, it takes me about 20 baskets of seed grain to plant it,and they confiscate my crops like that.
If I talk about SLORC, there are just too many things to tell. We have to provide porters, some of them die along the way and some are gone almost 2 months before they come home. We have to provide labour for their farms, we work our own farms only to have them take our crop, we have to provide labour to cut down all the trees, and we have no time to work for ourselves. When they take people as porters they won't let them go home unless the person pays them money. So they get the money, then as soon as the person gets home the troops come for more porters and take him again. This year I was drafted to go twice, but I gave somebody money to go in my place. I had to pay 15,000 Kyat each time.
I also had to do labour on the Mong Kwan electric power plant project [called ‘Nam Wok’ by the SLORC - see attacked copies of articles from the ‘New Light of Myanmar’]. It's about 10 miles south of Kengtung. It started 3 years ago. I had to go work on it 4 times a year, including this year. Each time I had to go for 15 days and take my own food. We weren't paid anything. There were about 80 to 100 people working there all the time, and there were two or three hundred prisoners working there too. They had to work in chains. It was all slave labour. If you refused, you'd have to run away. Some people ran away from the labour. The soldiers didn't beat us, but sometimes they made us work in the night as well as the day. The dam was very long, about 12 feet broad, and the height of 3 or 4 people. We had to level the ground, carry dirt for the dam, and build roads too. There were soldiers working too, about the same number as the civilians. The project was just finished on 24/7/94, and now it's sending electricity to the town. Not everybody in the town, though. They've asked for applications, and the people who apply have to pay in advance. It’s not for everybody. It's only for street lighting, all the army offices and selected people in the town. They promised everyone would get power, but we don't expect to. I know I won't, because I live in a suburb.
Now people in Kengtung are living in fear because the SLORC is arresting people at random and forcing some of the young people into the army. I saw 2 or 3 people arrested because SLORC suspected them of having contact with rebels. Now Burmese Intelligence are everywhere, so we all have to stay in fear. We can't even trust each other, because some of the Shan are working for the Burmese. They're forced to, they have no choice.
As long as SLORC is still there, it can't be good. if we could prosper under them, then we must be very prosperous right now because we've been under them for 30 years already. But we're still miserable and in trouble, so it would be better if SLORC just left the country. Now I’d like to leave the country if I could.
NAME: Sai Lone
DESCRIPTION:Shan Buddhist, day labourer
ADDRESS: Tachilek area, southern Shan State
FAMILY: Divorced, 1 daughter aged 3 who stays with her mother
Sai Lone fled to Thailand after spending a year in a SLORC prison.
I lived in M---, near Tachilek. In the winter of 1992/93, some of my friends said I should go with them to Ho Mong [headquarters of the MTA] and help them play music at the closing ceremonies of the military training there. So I went there as a drum leader with a team of girl dancers from my village, and they paid me money. When I was practicing with my team in Ho Mong, I got a message that the local SLORC authorities at home were calling me back. A Burmese man in my village had told them I’d gone to Ho Mong. The message said if I didn't return my parents would be arrested, so we had to go back. When I got home, they called me in every day for week to answer their questions. I knew they were going to arrest me, so I ran away to Chiang Mai [in Thailand] I worked there for a while and saved some money, so I went back to my village to give it to my parents and then the Burmese arrested me. One of the commanders of 359 Battalion came in a car with his men and arrested me on 15/4/93.
After I was arrested they accused me of being a member of the MTA, and of taking a band to Ho Mong to play. They put me in the main prison at Tachilek and interrogated me for 1 week. They kept me sitting in a chair with my hands tied to the chair, tied high up behind my head, and my legs tied to another chair in front. They slapped me in the face, and they hit me in the face with the butt of a revolver, hit, hit, hit, hit! I was going "Aw! Aw!", and I went dizzy. They hit me in the temple, and it was cut open and bleeding. They were Army men, 4 of them, one interpreter [Shan to Burmese], two officers and one NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer, such as corporal or sergeant]. They asked me if I was a member of Khun Sa's army and they said I must answer Yes, but when I didn't say Yes they beat me. They told me, "If you say Yes you'll get a lighter sentence, but if you say No you’ll be dead." They wanted me to answer "Yes", but I never answered "Yes".
After one month and 10 days in the prison I was called into the court by an NCO. There was nobody in the court except him and the judge. The judge was a civilian named U Tay Aung. Before that I had seen a lawyer, but he wanted too much money and I couldn’t afford to hire him. In court they let me talk, so I said I wasn’t MTA. But then they asked me if I thought the young girls who went with me should all be arrested and imprisoned like me, so I said No, I would take the responsibility for all of them. So I was sentenced to 1 year in prison.
After that I had to stay another 24 days in Tachilek Prison, then I was sent to Kengtung Prison. I had to stay over 5 months there. In Kengtung Prison I saw many kinds of people; bandits, addicts, Chinese, Shans, all sorts of people. Some people died in prison because there wasn't proper food and we were undernourished. We didn't even have salt, just plain cooked rice. People got sick. I saw many people die who were from near the Chinese border. They were in jail for being illegally in Burma. Most of them were from China, they went through Shan State to Thailand, then the Thai authorities arrested them and sent them back to Burma, so they were put in prison.
There were usually about 200 people in Kengtung Prison, but there's no limit. I was in a cell about 7 or 8 feet wide and about 100 feet long, with about 70 other people. Our only job was fetching water for the families of the prison authorities. We weren't given any blankets for sleeping. The floor was wooden planks and we just had to sleep on that. For a toilet there were a couple of oil drums sawed in half with 2 planks on top [so squat on] and we had to use these. Some prisoners were given the duty of cleaning out those drums once a day. We just had to go to the toilet right there, and eat in the same cell. At 5 a.m. they gave us a howl of rice and yellow-bean soup. In the evening we were given some rice and rotten vegetables, rotten papaya or something inedible like that, and some green leaves. Every day people got sick because of malnutrition. People died of malaria, diarrhoea and other diseases. There's a hospital in the compound but they don't look after the prisoners there, and there's no medicine there. People are only sent to the hospital when they're about to die. Every 2 or 3 days someone died.
After more than 5 months there I was sent to work on the hydroelectric project at Mong Kwan [‘Nam Wok' according to SLORC - see attached articles]. They took us on trucks, 50 of us at a time. It took us from 8a.m. to 1 p.m. to get there because it was still the end of rainy season, so the truck kept getting stuck in the mud and we had to push it. At Mong Kwan we were given a little bit more food than in the prison, but it still wasn't enough. We had to stay in thatch huts, but the roofs were very leaky and it was very draughty. We bad to work in chains. We had to carry rocks and whenever we weren't quick enough or if the rocks were too heavy for us to carry, we were hit with a bamboo stick. They beat me so hard with it sometimes that I just wanted to die. We also had to carry bags of cement, and when we couldn't carry them we were beaten. Some men were beaten until they were unconscious, then they were left laying there the whole day like that. In front of my own eyes I saw two old men beaten to death. One of them was 52 and the other was 57. I knew the 52-year old man because he was my friend in prison - his name was Loon Ye, he was Palaung. He had been sentenced as a drug smuggler. I don't know if he was guilty, because we didn't talk about it. All I know about the other man is that he had an 8-year sentence, but it had been reduced to 3 years.
I was working at Mong Kwan from 11 November 1993 until 26 February 1994, then I was sent back to Kengtung Prison, and on March 11 was released because I’d served my time. I was released a little bit early for good behaviour. Six of the Burmese prisoners were released with me. While I was in prison my parents had come across into Thailand, so I followed them, and I won't be going back. If the Thais try to send me back I'll run away somewhere. I feel bitter and I want revenge for what the SLORC did to me. I’ve thought of joining the MTA because of it, but I don't think I will.
NAME: Sai Shwe
AGE: over 60
DESCRIPTION:Shan Buddhist, trader
ADDRESS: Kengtung, southeastern Shan State
Sai Shwe is a businessman who constantly travels in southern Shan State.
The fighting is affecting trade indirectly, because whenever there's fighting all the civilians, even merchants and old people, have to flee being taken as porters by SLORC. So of course this affects trade. The Burmese want the Shan people to leave the land so that they can take it. Whenever new SLORC troops come to set up camp in the Kengtung-Tachilek area, they force the civilians to build a camp and buildings for about 2,000 soldiers, but then only 100 or so might come. They use the rest of the buildings for pigs and chickens. The people have to build it all with their own labour and at their own expense. Then if the soldiers have no pigs, the people have to buy them. Then if there’s no food for those pigs, the people have to provide that too, and if there is no one to feed the pigs then the people are forced to do that. Then after the pigs are sold, all the money is taken by the Army.
Wherever there are soldiers there has to be food, so if there's a SLORC army camp then the surrounding farms will be confiscated. Then the people are forced to provide all the seedlings and all the labour until the crop is harvested, and then the Army sells the produce for itself and the people have nothing. Whenever they need anything, they make the people provide it. Sometimes they confiscate farmland, divide it up into blocks and then sell it, just for profit People have to suffer being taken as porters, and they're not allowed to go home for a long time. They're tied up together and they have to carry heavy loads, then when they get to the firing line the soldiers make the porters wear their uniforms while they wear the porters' clothes, so the people die because they're mistaken for soldiers. When they're taken away nobody knows where they've gone, when they die nobody is told, and their families don't even get any compensation. But even if the soldiers don't need porters they take people along with them and keep them for 2 or 3 days, even if it's only 2 or 3 miles from the peoples' village. They tell them all that they have to pay 3,000 or 4,000 Kyat if they want to go home. They just want ransom money. if they’re paid then they release the villagers - but then after only 2 or 3 days back home the troops come and they're taken again. They take men, women, even pregnant women, and sometimes they go into labour and deliver their babies along the way. So people can't stay in their homes anymore, and they have to run away and go to Thailand.
As a businessman I have to pay money whenever they demand it - we have to bargain over it. If I can't pay them I can’t do business. If you run a shop you'll have to pay. Whatever you want to do you have to pay. Even if you want to cross border you have to pay. I can't say how much because it’s always up to them. If anyone wants to be a merchant trader or shop owner he has to have a permit, so depending on how much capital he’s going to invest he has to pay a certain percentage to them. There's a limit on investment, because when they made it a Socialist state if you invested more than 2,000 Kyat it was confiscated. Still now, if you invest too much it will be confiscated. It's still a Socialist state. It's all just talk and stories in the paper that they’re making it an open market for business. Now is just like the old days.
When soldiersbuy things, it depends on the individual soldier but usually they won't pay the cost. For example, some Thai people used to go to Tachilek to sell petrol or diesel fuel, but all the soldiers come and their cars or motorbikes. They don't pay, they just go away when their tank is full. So those Thais couldn’t make any money and they had to give up and go back to Thailand. Here in Mae Sai you can buy 100 Kyat for 20 Thai Baht [official SLORC exchange rate is 1 Kyat equals 4 Baht - at the time of printing]. If you go across the border bridge into Shan State, even the SLORC soldiers won't take Kyat. It's 5 Baht to cross the bridge and if you give them 5 Kyat they won't accept it. In Kengtung, merchants accept both - Baht or Kyat. They ask you whether you’ll pay in Baht or Kyat and the price differs. Thai Baht is used as far up as Xishuangbanna, which is inside China. In the hills the villagers trade with rupees [Indian silver rupee coins, left over from British colonial days]. The big businessmen also use Chinese money, but the local people can't afford to do that. Then if you’re dealing with somebody who’s a civil servant and you happen to ask for payment in anything but Kyat, you can be arrested. If they arrest you and you give them enough money to make them happy, then you’ll be released. If not, it’s up to them. They can do to you whatever they like. You can’t do business openly or legally unless your capital is very small. If you want to invest a significant amoung then you have to do business secretly.
I’ve heard about this Economic Quadrangle, about how they're building these roads [the Economic Quadrangle is a Thai/Chinese concept involving building roads and opening up borders to strengthen trade between Thailand, China, Burma and Laos]. First the Thais negotiated with the Burmese commander and they made agreements that a road would be built. from there to there and how wide it would he and so on, but when the time came to build it the Burmese had changed commanders and the new one said "Oh, no, not like this, you must do it like that." So the plans keep changing and being cancelled, and most of the Thai contractors have given up and gone home. For example, the previous military commander in Tachilek made building agreements with a Thai contractor named Kay Lian, so he sent some of his trucks and bulldozers across but the new commander said "No, you can't do that", and he had to bring all his equipment back. The new commander also cancelled all the plans for the new bridge across the border that had already been agreed. To make friends with the Burmese is very difficult.
They have a policy in Shan State: any Burmese soldier who marries a Shan lady gets a 500 Kyat reward. If he marries the daughter of a village tract headman or someone like that, he gets 1,000. If he can marry the daughter of a Pra [petty prince] he gets 2,000, and for the relative of a prince he gets 5,000 to 10,000. I don't know if the amounts are still the same, but that's what they used to be. Twenty years ago my own younger sister was forced to marry a Burmese soldier at the point of a gun because of this. He was just an NCO. His men surrounded the house and drove away any man who wasn't related to her. For about a year no man was allowed into the house and soldiers went with her if she went out. Then he married her. Even if she’s not happy in her marriage, she has to pretend to be happy. She has 3 children with this Sergeant, all girls. The government policy is that all their children must be considered Burmese. Now all her daughters are married to Burmese men. They still have this policy, so the Burmese soldiers are always trying to marry Shan women any way they can. I think the Burmese are trying to commit genocide against the Shans.
NAME: Sai San Loi
AGE: over 50
ADDRESS: Southern Shan State
Sai San Loi was elected as a Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) Member of Parliament in the 1990 general election. He is from southern Shan State near the SLORC/MTA fighting, but for his safety we must omit to say exactly where.
I’m still living in my home town. The soldiers are everywhere and the Shan people don't dare stay there anymore so many people have left. They're running away because they're afraid of the Burmese, because the Burmese have confiscated their land, they make them do labour without payment, take them as porters, loot and rape everywhere - so the people don't dare live there anymore. Many are running to Thailand but they have to get in secretly. If you get caught by the Thai border police or immigration, they’ll arrest and deport you.
In March this year, the local Burmese soldiers had a fight among themselves and one of them shot and killed another. Then he took 4 guns and left the military post, so the SLORC grabbed all the villagers around there and ordered them to tell where the man had gone. They were beaten, but they didn't know anything because the man had surrendered the 4 guns to the MTA and gone into hiding. The SLORC detained all the people in 4 or 5 villages, several hundred people altogether, and beat them at the army camp. The soldiers ordered them to buy 4 new guns to replace the 4 that were lost, and ordered them to go search for the man. They said if those people didn't get the man then they'd kill them all. When the MTA heard about this they went. and negotiated with the local SLORC and gave back the 4 guns. Only then the people were released.
All the villagers are used by SLORC as porters, hard labourers, to work in the fields and to work at the army camp washing clothes, fetching water and so on. The MTA too sometimes use the people as porters and demand food from villagers, but the SLORC is worse - they even force the women to go as porters. When there's fighting the villagers feel a little bit hopeful because if SLORC men die then there are fewer of them to make trouble for the villagers, and if MTA men die then there might be less trouble for them as well. The people have to do things for both sides, so they don't see much difference.
Because I’m an elected MP I can go about more freely than most people and they don't usually make trouble for me. But even I don't dare go back to my home town anymore - when I leave here, I’ll go somewhere else. If they're arresting porters, they might know I’m an MP but they wouldn't spare me because of that. They even take pregnant women, so they'll certainly take me.
Now the world doesn’t know that the Shans and other people in Burma are suffering so much, and the world doesn't understand that the people will continue to suffer like this until we can get rid of SLORC. Now the people have elected a government but SLORC won't give power to those who were elected - they're robbing the people. if the world thinks the SLORC is okay despite that, we can't help it. It's quite obvious that the SLORC has robbed power from the people, but still they say they are legal. So what can the people do? The people have suffered so much and sacrificed so much.
I haven't been invited to the SLORC's National Convention, and I haven't decided whether I would go if I were. I’m not satisfied with the SLORC. The country is not prosperous, but the people in power are prosperous, and getting richer every day. All the companies, even the companies going overseas like the shipping line, they're all owned by the military. The military buys everything the people have produced and pays almost nothing for it, so the people are only getting poorer. If every government in the world acted like SLORC, what would happen to the world? I’m worried. In Burma, even Aung San Suu Kyi has been imprisoned in her own home for going on 6 years. We don't know what to do with a government like this. So if the world still thinks the SLORC is legal and the people aren't good enough to form the government, then that's up to the world. But I want to ask the world to accept the people.
NAME: Sao Pala Dhamma
DESCRIPTION:Shan Buddhist monk
ADDRESS: from Mong Nawng, Southern Shan State, now living in Thailand
Sao Pala Dhamma has been living in Thailand for 28 years, but has just returned from a trip to his a native southern Shan State and central Burma:
I’ve been a monk since I was 12 years old, now I’m 53. That's 41 years. I’ve been in Thailand for 28 years. On June 15 I left here. At that time there was fighting at Tachilek. I went by plane from Bangkok to Rangoon. From there I went to Taunggyi for 4 days [capital of Shan State], then to Laikha [just over 100 km. northeast of Taunggyi], then back to Taunggyi and flew back to Rangoon. Then I led the pilgrims north to Prome, Pagan and Mandalay, then to Taunggyi again. Then we went back to Rangoon, and south to Kyaikto [in Mon State]. Then I flew back to Thailand from Rangoon. The first half of the trip I was on my own, and the rest was a pilgrimage.
I was very discouraged by what I saw in Shan State. I saw the people suffering too much. If anyone could help them to liberate Shan State within the next few years, then there is hope. If not, within 10 years there will be little left that is Shan. All the Shan will either have to leave or be slaves. I’ve seen and heard that the people there now have to serve the SLORC as porters and for all kinds of labour. As porters they are taken to the frontline, and when they get there they are forced to put on uniforms and sent in front of the troops to be killed. If there are l00 soldiers they'll take 200 porters, and put them around the soldiers so they’ll be killed. The Shans are being wiped out in ways like this. I didn't hear any news of the MTA doing anything like this, only the SLORC. At night they keep them tied up to a long bamboo, and if one person has to go to the toilet they all have to go along. They treat the people just like animals.
When the SLORC needs land they confiscate it from the people. On the whole trip I heard this news and saw it. They're doing it everywhere. They confiscate the people's land and then use part of it to set up a military camp. They don't build the camp themselves - they make the people bring all the bamboo and wood and build it. They make military farms to grow rations for the Army, and they make the people work on this land without payment. They tell the owner, "This land is owned by the SLORC", so if he wants to get it back he has to buy it from SLORC to stay there. You can go and see the people suffering like that in Tachilek too. In Tachilek the SLORC confiscates the paddy fields, divides them into blocks and then sells them back to the people or to their own officers. For a block as small as 40 by 60 feet they charge 200,000 or 300,000 or 400,000 Kyat, etc. The people can’t afford to buy their land back, so they have to move away somewhere and make or buy a new plot for themselves. I don't know where the people go or how they survive. They have to send their children to work in Thailand to survive [this is how many young girls and women from Shan State end up trapped as brothel slaves in Thailand].
I didn’t see any direct repression of religion, but they build pagodas in some places, and they force the people to contribute money to build them and all the materials they need. They look at how much money each family has and say "You, 3000", and so on. This is how they take part in religion. They are also trying to wipe out Shan language and culture - they don't let people learn it in the schools. They only let the students learn Burmese literature, Burmese history, etc. If there were no monasteries, then by now the Shan language and culture would have already been wiped out. The Burmese soldiers are also forcing Shan women to marry them. The people of the world should take pity on the Shan people and come to help us, or else all the Shan people will be wiped out. When there's fighting, the people feel a little bit encouraged because they think that maybe they will finally be freed from the Burmese. But now there's fighting and both sides are drafting people into their armies, so the people are in even more trouble.
In central Burma in some areas, the army is confiscating the farmland and forcing the people to grow corn or soybeans. Then the Army just sells it as they like, and the people get nothing for their own. Not only that, but if the crop in the field fails then the people have to bear the burden of that too - they have to pay the money for the crop to the Army. If they don't have it, they have to sell whatever they have to get the money. It is a must. That's why people have to run away to other places. In Shan State, there are places people can run to [the revolutionary areas or Thailand]. But in Burma, I don’t know where the people can go. The Army is just making its own business. They have plenty of soldiers who could do the work, if they didn’t want to trouble the people they could do it themselves. But they don’t. They won’t let the people do any business either. All the companies, shops and departments stores are owned by their people.
Now they’re building and repairing roads, and they force people to build walking platforms along the roadsides. If a platform goes in front of your house, you’re forced to pay the army for the segment. If you can’t, you’re driven out of your house. You have to pay taxes for electricity and water if you don’t have electricity or water. The state electric company says that even if you don’t have your own lights you see lights on the street or in other places so you have to pay for that. They also make money by running the power very low, then suddenly jacking it up so everyone’s fuses and things blow, and then they have to pay the state electric company to fix or replace them. The SLORC is also still stealing a lot of money from people’s bank accounts for their projects in faraway areas. They just take the money out and then you get a statement that the money was taken as your obligation toward such-and-such a project. That way they’re robbing both the people and the banks.
Most of the people have no faith in SLORC and want it to be replaced. But they wouldn't dare rise up again like in 1988, because now if there's even a slight suspicion the SLORC will shoot them. Now in the schools SLORC says the teachers must take responsibility for their students and the parents for their children, and if any students try to demonstrate then both their parents and teachers will be arrested. If you try to demonstrate they'll kill you on the spot. The people are desperate, and that's why they feel encouraged when they see the MTA fighting SLORC. If they all had arms and ammunition, even the Burmese would rise up and overthrow SLORC.
When the SLORC leaders are on television bowing and making offerings to monks, those are only token gestures. The reality is very different than what they show on TV. They look very humble on TV, but if any monk opposes them they’ll arrest him. A lot of monks have been arrested and are still in prison. Many monks have died after being arrested, but they just disappear and nobody knows what happened to them. On this trip, the monks at the monastery at Po Pa [in central Burma] told me about one of their monks who did. His name was U Parama Wonna Di Ki. He died not because they imprisoned him, but because they forced him to leave the monkhood. It was during Saw Maung’s regime [before mid-1992, Saw Maung was SLORC chairman]. He was forced to disrobe but he couldn’t bear to leave the monastery, so he stayed but he could only be like a holy layman. This mental torture killed him. He just died of unhappiness. He was bout 50 years old.
If there is no outside help for the people, the SLORC will remain as it is. The religion will continue, it won’t vanish. But as for the SLORC leaders, they should remember that in return for oppressing the people and treating the monks like that, Saw Maung went mad. They will all go that way. I think this is why Khin Nyunt [Secretary 1 of SLORC and chief of Military Intelligence] is now trying to be seen paying respect to the monks. On television we see them acting so humble and respectful to the religion, going to holy places and making donations, but actually they're still behaving the same as ever. You'll only see these things on television. They don't act like that except in front of the camera.