SLORC’S ATTACK ON HALOCKHANI REFUGEE CAMP

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SLORC’S ATTACK ON HALOCKHANI REFUGEE CAMP

Published date:
Tuesday, August 30, 1994

On July 21, 1994 SLORC troops from Infantry Battalion 62 shocked the world by attacking a Mon refugee camp at Halockhani. Worst of all for SLORC, it happened just as its representatives were going to attend the annual Foreign Ministers’ meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok for the first time. This report attempts to describe the attack through the eyes of some of its victims.

An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group

On July 21, 1994 SLORC troops from Infantry Battalion 62 shocked the world by attacking a Mon refugee camp at Halockhani. Worst of all for SLORC, it happened just as its representatives were going to attend the annual Foreign Ministers’ meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok for the first time. This report attempts to describe the attack through the eyes of some of its victims.

In 1989-90 Burmese troops attacked and overran Three Pagodas Pass, the main area held by the New Mon State Party along the Thai border. According to Mon National Relief Committee (MNRC) figures, over 12,000 civilians then fled to Thailand to escape the Burmese military. Several Mon refugee camps were set up in Thailand’s Sangkhlaburi District. Starting in 1992, as part of its ‘constructive engagement’ deal with SLORC, the Thai government began a program to intimidate the Mon refugees back into SLORC territory of Burma. They ordered all Mon refugees to move to one site at Loh Loe west of Sangkhlaburi. However, this camp was only allowed to exist for about another year. Then at the beginning of 1994 the Thai authorities ordered the refugees to move to a new site at Halockhani (sometimes also spelt Halauk Hani or Halockanee), just across on the Burma side of the border northwest of Sangkhlaburi. Although this site is within striking distance of SLORC troops in Three Pagodas Pass, the Thais forced the MNRC to agree to it and the refugees moved. Four to six thousand refugees established a camp with two parts: the main Halockhani camp, on the Burma side just 20 minutes’ walk from the last Thai Border Patrol Police checkpoint over a hill that forms the border, and another small section of 120 houses and 500 people called Plat Hon Pai (sometimes also written Blad Don Pai, Baleh Donephai, Palai Tum Pai, or called Kwan Saya), which is more spacious and is 45 minutes walk further into Burma.

On June 20 at about midnight, one or two armed SLORC soldiers reportedly approached a ricefield hut outside Plat Hon Pai. In fear, the farmer fired a hunting rifle at them, and the next day the body of one soldier was found in the uniform of SLORC Infantry Battalion 62 based at Three Pagodas Pass. Then a month later on the morning of July 21, an estimated 300 to 360 heavily armed troops from Battalion 62 arrived without warning in Plat Hon Pai, led by deputy battalion commander Lt. Col. Ohn Myint. They grabbed almost all the men in the camp and gathered them at the school. Several, including the section leader, were beaten and tortured while the soldiers demanded the gun of the soldier who was killed a month earlier. At the same time, a contingent of troops took about 50 refugees as a human shield and set off for the main part of Halockhani camp. When they were almost there, they were fired on by Mon soldiers who had rushed to the scene on hearing of the Burmese troops’ presence. A short battle followed, during which one SLORC soldier was wounded and many of the refugees managed to escape. The troops then retreated to Plat Hon Pai. They took 6 men as prisoners or hostages, carrying loads and in handcuffs, and took at least 10 other refugees, possibly more (number not yet confirmed) as porters to add to the 100 or more porters from Burma they had initially brought with them. Before they left Plat Hon Pai, soldiers ordered all the women and children out of their houses, went inside to loot the valuables, then burned the houses. Most of the houses in the camp were either totally or partly burned down, and the soldiers deliberately prevented the women from saving any of their belongings. As they left the village, they said that they would come back in 3 days and shoot anyone they saw. The troops then set off with the porters and prisoners for several days’ march across the mountains to Ye near the Andaman coast. Along the way several of the refugee porters escaped and others, such as the Plat Hon Pai section leader, were let go in Ye. (Infantry Battalion 61 had left Ye in early July to replace Infantry Battalion 62 at Three Pagodas Pass. When they arrived there, Infantry Battalion 62 took their porters and set off to go back to Ye, attacking Halockhani on the way.)

After the attack all the refugees in Plat Hon Pai and the main part of Halockhani fled across the Thai border and camped around the Thai Border Patrol Police checkpoint. Here they are suffering the constant rains in little overcrowded bamboo shelters covered with plastic sheets supplied by foreign Non-Government Organisations (NGOs). The Thais immediately said the fighting was over and they must go back, but the refugees heard more fighting in the distance and refused because they were afraid of more attacks. They only cross in the daytime to retrieve vegetables from their gardens. On July 25 the MNRC met with 5 Thai officials including the District Chairman of Sangkhlaburi District and were told that all refugees must return across the border immediately; that Col. Tin Kyaing, the commander of SLORC Infantry Battalion 61 based at 3 Pagodas Pass, had promised the Thai authorities not to make any more trouble for the Mon refugees if they returned; and that the Thai government will not allow any Mon refugees to stay on Thai soil. The refugees still refused to go back, but the Thais set a deadline of August 10 for them all to be gone. When that deadline passed the camp gate was closed and no further supplies were allowed in. As this report goes to print, the latest reports are that the situation remains a standoff, with 4,000 to 6,000 Mon refugees still camped around the Thai checkpoint. The Thais have tightened security on the camp, and now seem to be trying to starve the refugees back across: they have strengthened the blockade on the camp and are stopping any further supplies of food, medicine or other items. Doctors from the NGO ‘Medecins Sans Frontieres’ who were helping the refugees are now not being allowed in, nor are MNRC representatives, journalists, or visitors of any kind. Representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have also been denied entry. A 35-year old Mon mother of 5 reportedly died of cerebral malaria last week because the Border Patrol Police stopped her en route to the River Kwai hospital.

Fortunately, the refugees had a stockpile of rice to last most of the rainy season because the camp is almost inaccessible during the rains; however, the Thais have been dumping several hundred deportees at the camp every week who must also be fed and treated from the camp supply. These are IDC (Immigration Detention Centre) inmates: illegal immigrants, economic migrants, Burmese student dissidents, refugees and other people from Burma, and occasionally even Nepalese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysians and others. They have been arrested in Thailand, imprisoned, often robbed or raped, and are being ‘deported’ to the refugee camp at Halockhani. At this rate, the refugees’ situation becomes more desperate every day. Some people have argued that the refugees’ health situation would be much better if they went back; however, medical workers there say that the site on the Thai side would actually be much healthier, if only the Thais would allow the people to set up proper houses, latrines and a good water supply. The current health crisis at the camp is happening mainly because this is not being allowed.

There are various theories on why the SLORC attacked Halockhani: as revenge for the soldier killed in June, to remind the refugees who is ‘master’ on the Burma side of the border, to pressure the New Mon State Party into surrendering to a SLORC ‘ceasefire’ or any combination of these. In the following testimonies we let the refugees speak for themselves, and we leave it to you to decide if the Thais are right in saying that it is ‘safe’ for them to go back. If you think not, then your immediate and strong action is needed to pressure the Thai government in every way possible to stop abusing and threatening these refugees. The situation of the Halockhani refugees is also ominous for the refugees at the other main Mon camp of Pa Yaw, south of Halockhani, who were recently forced into an agreement to move across the border as soon as this rainy season ends.

 

The following interviews were conducted in the ‘New Halockhani’ camp surrounding the Thai checkpoint on August 5, 6, and 7. When reading of these events, keep in mind that all of this has happened in the depths of rainy season (June to October), when it rains every day almost all day and all night, the rivers are flooded torrents, and the jungle paths and overcrowded camps like Halockhani are mudbowls. Finally, this report may freely be quoted, republished, broadcast or used in any other way which may help these people. The names of those interviewed have all been changed to protect them, but the names mentioned in their stories are real.

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NAME: Nai Win Nai

SEX: M

AGE: 42

DESCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist

ADDRESS: Pa Nga village, Than Byu Zayat Township, Mon State

FAMILY: Married with 7 children aged 3 to 20

Nai Win Nai was taken as a human shield by the troops on the way from Plat Hon Pai to Halockhani.

I left my village almost 20 years ago because I couldn’t stand the oppression of the government. They took porters. My father was making tobacco pipes for a living. When they came to take porters he tried to run away, they shot him and he died. That’s why we left - we didn’t want to stay there anymore. We went to Three Pagodas Pass, on the Mon side of the border [Three Pagodas Pass marks the border with Thailand; it was controlled by the Mon and Karen governments until SLORC occupied it in 1989-90]. Then 6 years ago the Burmese troops were coming often and attacking there, so we crossed to Thailand. At first we didn’t go to a refugee camp, but then the Thais were arresting many people and we were afraid, so we went to Loh Loe [refugee camp]. We were there for 1½ years, then last year we moved to Halockhani. First we lived in the Thai side of Halockhani. Then we had to move to the Burma side so we went to stay in Plat Hon Pai.

On July 21 [1994] we were preparing the Buddhist celebration for the full moon, so we were making various kinds of cakes to send to the monastery. Then the Burmese troops came. At first we weren’t afraid - we thought they wouldn’t make any trouble so we stayed quiet. At first they stayed all around just outside the village, but then they came in and went house to house arresting the men. They arrested 47 men but no women. They ordered the men to go to Halockhani with them. It was 7:30 a.m. and there were about 300 troops. They told us we would have to show them the houses of the medics and the school teacher in Halockhani. We didn’t want to do that because we were afraid they’d make trouble for the medics and the school teacher. Before we left I saw soldiers beating up the headman of Plat Hon Pai.

On the way through the village we had to walk with one of us on the left and one on the right of each soldier [not all the soldiers went to Halockhani, Plat Hon Pai is narrow and about 1 km. long along a wide pathway]. After that the path becomes narrow and we had to walk in single file. They put 8 refugees in front as a cover, and these 8 men ran away. The soldiers gave orders to shoot them but they weren’t hit because they could hide behind the trees and rocks. The soldiers tried to run after them but they got away to warn the people in Halockhani [the path runs through thick jungle].

I don’t know where the Burmese soldiers met the Mon soldiers, I only heard some shooting, then the Burmese soldiers shot back. I don’t know who shot first. When we heard the shooting we ran away. We ran through the forest to a hill close to Plat Hon Pai, and we could see the village. We saw the soldiers coming back to Plat Hon Pai. Some soldiers made the women leave the village and didn’t allow them to take anything from their houses. Then they burned the houses. I saw it. First they looked inside and if they saw anything good they took it, then they set all the houses in the whole village on fire. Some houses only got partly burnt, and some burned until only the wooden posts were left. [Actually some houses set apart from the rest of the village were not set on fire.] We were afraid to go back so we slept on the hill. Then the next morning we went to the monastery and found most of the women and children there. The monastery was the only building the soldiers didn’t burn. My wife and children had slept there together with most of the women, some old men and one monk.

The soldiers left a half hour after they had burned the houses. With them there were some people with their hands tied up behind their backs with rope, and they had to carry the soldiers’ things walking in the middle of the column, one soldier after each person. Before they left, the Burmese soldiers told the women, "Within 3 days, everybody has to leave this village." They said if they see anyone there after that, they’ll kill us. We fled and came here. Sometimes we go back just to pick up some vegetables and then come back. Our house was totally burned. We lost everything. The soldiers stopped my wife from bringing anything with her.

When we got here we had to make shelter for the family, but we didn’t finished the first day so we just put some bamboo on the ground to sleep on. We only had blankets for shelter, and it was raining. Five of our children were with us. Two days later we got some shelter. Other people cared for us because we’d lost everything. I hope we can stay here because we’re afraid to go back to Plat Hon Pai or Halockhani, but I don’t know if we’ll be allowed to stay here. We’re afraid because the Burmese soldiers said they would come back after 3 days and kill anyone they see, and I think they might do it. If we go back we’ll have problems. I think they attacked because they think Mon soldiers might pass through the camp sometimes. I didn’t see any Mon soldiers, but it’s possible, so they don’t want this camp to be set up. In Plat Hon Pai they said, "All of you can go stay at Three Pagodas Pass. We don’t want to see you here anymore." I think maybe they don’t like it that we’re in a refugee camp. They want us to stay under their control.

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NAME: Nai Tin Shwe

SEX: M

AGE: 18

DESCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist

ADDRESS: Pa Nga village, Than Byu Zayat Township, Mon State

FAMILY: Single, son of Nai Win Nai (see above).

Nai Tin Shwe was taken as a human shield along with his father (see above).

I was born in Than Byu Zayat township, in the village of my father. When we were living in Three Pagodas Pass I tried to go to school but we had to run away. I began but we had to run, then began again, had to run again, and so on, so I never got any education. Then when we got to a refugee camp [Loh Loe] I didn’t go to school. I was too ashamed because I was much older than the other children.

When the Burmese soldiers arrived at Plat Hon Pai they went to see the section leader, and he said to the villagers "The Burmese troops have come but there shouldn’t be any problem, so don’t run", so all the people stayed quietly. The troops surrounded the village because they didn’t want any one to run away, then they went to the houses one by one. They didn’t beat me but they beat and kicked some people because they didn’t come out quickly enough. I was in the street when the soldiers arrested me. A soldier grabbed my hand and took me to the school. I saw my father there - he’d been arrested at home. The soldiers took us with them towards Halockhani. On the way they kicked me because I wasn’t walking fast enough and I fell and hurt my knee. I was near my father, and when we heard the shooting I ran away together with him, but other people further back in the line didn’t escape. They were forced to return to Plat Hon Pai with the soldiers.

 

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NAME: Nai San Lin

SEX: M

AGE: 20

DESCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist

ADDRESS: Pa Nga village, Than Byu Zayat Township, Mon State

FAMILY: Single, eldest son of Nai Win Nai (see above)

Nai San Lin was taken as a porter, first to Halockhani and then on the trip to Ye.

The soldiers arrived at Plat Hon Pai on July 21 at about 7:30 a.m., Burmese time. I was at home. When they arrived at our house, 10 soldiers stayed there. They cooked and ate inside our house. They ate all our rice and curry, and all the cakes we had prepared to send to the monastery for the Buddhist festival. Then another group of soldiers arrived and arrested my father and my uncle. They also arrested my brother away from the house while he was on the way to see his friend. About 5 minutes after they took away my father and uncle, the same group came back to arrest me.. They didn’t say anything. First they pointed their guns at me and then kicked me twice to frighten me. I was sitting down so they kicked me in the back with their big boots, and it hurt. Then they told me to go with them so I went. My mother and some of my younger brothers and sisters were there, but they didn’t dare say anything because they were afraid.

They took me to the school and on the way one soldier kicked me, put a gun in my back and asked me about weapons in the village. I saw my father and brother at the school just for a short time, then they took me with them to walk across the village and then on towards Halockhani. The soldiers had more than 100 porters from Burma. I think about a third of the soldiers and half of the porters were walking to ward Halockhani. The porters were carrying bullets. The soldiers put many refugees in front of them. I was behind. I had to carry 30 kg. of bullets. None of the other refugees had to carry loads, only me, because one of the porters from Burma couldn’t carry his load so they left him in Plat Hon Pai and gave it to me. Some of the refugees in the front could escape but I couldn’t because there were always soldiers in front of me and behind me. The line was very long. I think there must have been about 60 refugees with them. When some of the people in the front escaped, the soldiers asked the commander for authorisation to shoot and the commander authorised it. After that, people stopped escaping. They tried to shoot at some of the people who escaped at first but they all got away. Along the way they kicked me in my thighs 4 different times. If I walked too fast they kicked me and if I walked too slow they kicked me too. Then there was fighting. There were 3 or 4 shots from the other side - I think it was Mon soldiers. The Burmese started shooting back with 60 mm. mortars, then with their guns [G3/G4 assault rifles]. They told us to squat down on the path. The fighting lasted 5 or 10 minutes. I saw one Burmese soldier wounded, shot in his hip. He was about 15 m. in front of me. They put a dressing on his wound right there, then they carried him back with them. After the fighting we went back to Plat Hon Pai.

When we got to the village they ordered me to keep carrying the bullets instead of the porter from Burma. Then the soldiers behind us burnt down the houses. The first house they burnt was our house. They burned all our 200 tins of paddy and all our belongings. They went to each house, told all the people to get out, then they put kerosene on the house and burned it. They said to the people, "If you build a new house, we’ll burn it again" and they said they would come back. They burned all the houses except some which are far from the road. Some burned completely, some only partly. I saw 6 refugees handcuffed together in 3 pairs. They also arrested other people along the road and tied them up with rope, maybe because some had escaped. Some other people had to carry loads too and I heard that some people were tied with rope around their necks but I couldn’t see it because there were so many people around. Even the people in handcuffs had to carry big bags. I saw the section leader there and some others I didn’t know because they might have been new people from Loh Loe. After we left the village I didn’t see them anymore because I was among the porters from Burma.

We left Plat Hon Pai about 1 p.m. We got to Chaung Zone at about 6 p.m. and slept there. The next day the soldiers put a rope across the [Krain Thaung]river and we had to swim across holding onto the rope, carrying our loads. I sank with my load and some villagers from Chaung Zone saved me. When I finally got to the riverbank, the soldiers were pointing their guns at me and said, "If you lost your load, I’ll shoot you". Then when I tried to stand up, my load almost fell in the river. Along the way every one of us was beaten because the soldiers were in a hurry. Sometimes they kicked me sometimes they beat me with their guns. About 7 p.m. on the day we crossed the river there was fighting with the soldiers way in front [this was at Blad Ka Pow]. When it started the soldiers ordered us to run to get to the battle. It took us about 20 minutes because our line was so long, and when we got there the fighting was already finished. We stopped there and slept on the path. I was only wearing a thin T-shirt and shorts and it was raining continuously, so I asked the soldiers for a plastic sheet to cover myself at night but they didn’t give me anything. We couldn’t sleep so we sat all night long. There were a lot of mosquitoes and other insects. But I wasn’t alone; many of us were all sitting together.

The day we left Plat Hon Pai we didn’t get any food - not until the day after at 1 p.m.. After that we were given a small amount of rice once a day and nothing else. The soldiers were going to Ye town. The next day after the first battle, there was more fighting [near Kyat Thaing]. I was at the back of the group and when the soldiers heard the fighting, they ran to get there quickly. They left us alone, so we dropped our loads and ran away. I think all the porters got away at the same time. After I escaped, I tried to find the way back but I was alone and I didn’t know the way. One Burmese porter was with me, but he went back to Burma and I was alone. I didn’t eat for 4 days. I couldn’t find anyone and I had nothing with me. I survived on banana flowers. I met one Burmese man who was going back to Burma. He couldn’t walk very well and I was too afraid to talk to him. Later I met one IDC person [deported from a Thai Immigration Detention Centre]who was going back to Burma. Then I met 2 hunters. They gave me some food and I walked with them until I found my way. Then it took me one more day to walk here. I don’t know why the Burmese attacked Plat Hon Pai. I’m afraid to go back.

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NAME: Nai Chan

SEX: M

AGE: 38

DESCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist

ADDRESS: Mon State

FAMILY: Married one child aged 5

Nai Chan is the section leader of Plat Hon Pai section of Halockhani camp.

I used to live at Loh Loe. I’d lived on the Thai side of the border for 20 years. Now I’ve been section leader of Plat Hon Pai for 4 months. On June 20 at midnight, two men came to make trouble at a hut in a ricefield at Plat Hon Pai. It was dark so nobody knew they were soldiers. The farmer in the hut shot at them. We don’t know who shot first but I think the farmer shot first because he thought they were robbers. The farmer was wounded but not seriously and he went straight to hospital. The next day, we found the dead body of one soldier about 60 feet from the hut. Some of the farmer’s friends said there were 2 soldiers who came but I don’t know for sure because the hut was away from the village. Then the SLORC came to attack Halockhani. They didn’t send any message or warning. It was only when they arrived on July 21 that they asked us for guns.

They arrived at about 8 a.m. and asked some refugees "Where is the headman of the village?" The people came to inform me that the Burmese troops wanted to see me. They were afraid of the troops and I was worried for my villagers so I followed immediately. I met them 15 minutes after they arrived. There were about 300 of them, from #602 Infantry Battalion. They asked me if I was the chairman of the village and I said yes. Then they put me in handcuffs. Just after me, they arrested 3 others and handcuffed us together in pairs, then took photos of the 4 of us. After that they said to me, "In this village you have a gun". I told them we only had some hunting guns to protect us. They said "We don’t believe you. One month ago one of our soldiers was killed in the village. Where is his gun?" I said I didn’t know and I said "What if I say Yes but I really don’t know, what will happen to me?" Then they started beating me up and kept asking for the gun. They kicked me, punched me, slapped me, beat me with a gun on my chest and knees, and burnt me with a burning cheroot. I still have the scars of the cheroot burns [Nai Chan has 3 very visible burn scars]. They beat me on the chest and all over my body but I told them I didn’t know. They slapped and hurt my eyes with their fingernails and it didn’t swell much but even now I can’t see clearly. The other 3 men were beaten more seriously than me. They put a green plastic sheet over their heads and tied it around their necks so they couldn’t breathe, then they interrogated them again. They asked them, "Are you Mon soldiers?" They said "No, we’re only villagers" and the soldiers used a knife on them and punched them in the eyes. After they beat us, they kept us in a house and guarded us. Then they brought in another person they’d arrested.

It was another group of soldiers who took the refugees to Halockhani. We were still in that same house when they came back. I saw them carrying one wounded soldier. Then the soldiers guarding us told us to leave the house. Two of us had to go handcuffed in front of them, and we were also tied with a rope. There were soldiers behind us, then 3 more men with handcuffs also tied with rope, then one man who wasn’t tied up or handcuffed and then more soldiers. Six of us were taken together. I couldn’t see who else was taken behind us. When we got to the end of the village we saw a lot of smoke and I understood that they were burning the village.

We were all forced to carry loads. I had to carry a bag that weighed more than 10 kg., a soldier’s bag that probably had their clothes and things inside. After the first day, they made me carry 2 bags instead of one. The day after we left Plat Hon Pai we met another of the groups. One porter was a man from our village. When he came to get water for cooking we talked to him and he said there were 4 Plat Hon Pai villagers in his group. Then the solders started shouting at us because they didn’t want us to speak to each other in Mon and he had to go back to his group. The next day at 1 p.m., we met more troops and there were 6 Plat Hon Pai villagers with them. Their group stopped to eat with our group, so we spoke to them. They complained that they didn’t have enough to eat and we said it was the same in our group. Then their group went ahead of us. After that there was fighting, but only with a group ahead of us. they moved back and slept with us. One soldier was wounded in his hand.

We walked for 4 days, handcuffed all the time even at night. We couldn’t sleep at night because it was always raining and we had no plastic sheet. We always sat up all night, and we tried to sleep like that but we couldn’t. We were guarded all night. When we went to the toilet a soldier went with us and we were still handcuffed together. On the way we weren’t beaten because our loads weren’t too heavy so we could walk easily. But when the porters with heavy loads fell down, they were kicked and beaten. All the porters were from Burma except one boy from Plat Hon Pai, a young school teacher only 20 years old. The soldiers didn’t allow us to talk to the porters so I couldn’t speak to him.

There was more fighting. The second time was in a Karen village called Kyat Thaing but like the first time it was ahead of our group. After the fighting, the soldiers entered the village and burned 2 houses. The soldiers didn’t say anything just set them on fire. I saw them throwing a child out of a house like you would throw your things, and then burning the house. We were with #62 Infantry Battalion. They were on their way to Than Byu Zayat. We had to walk with them all the way to #61 Infantry Battalion camp in Ye, then we slept there one night and they took the train back to Than Byu Zayat. The soldiers took our handcuffs off, went to get on a truck and left us in the camp. While the soldiers were busy, we left. I don’t know if they were releasing us or not we just walked away. The six of us left the camp together and started walking. Two people went other places, then on the second day the other 3 people went another way, and I finally arrived back on my own 2 days ago. It was 3 days’ walk, but I got stuck at Chaung Zone for 10 days because we couldn’t cross the river. I built a bamboo bridge together with this villagers there.

I think the Burmese attacked Plat Hon Pai because they wanted their gun back. The soldiers also told me that people couldn’t stay there any longer. They said, "If they want to stay they have to go to Three Pagodas Pass. I don’t want to see any buildings here." I don’t know why they also wanted to go to the main Halockhani camp. Maybe because it’s part of the camp. They wanted to frighten the people. Now our situation is very difficult. We’re very afraid that the Thai authorities will push us back to Plat Hon Pai but it’s not safe. We hope we can stay here.

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NAME: Nai Thein Dar

SEX: M

AGE: 41

DESCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist

ADDRESS: Mon State

FAMILY: Married, 4 children aged 8 months to 12 years.

Nai Thein Dar is camp secretary of Halockhani refugee camp, which includes Plat Hon Pai.

When the troops came on July 21, I was in Halockhani main camp. After 8 a.m., some villagers ran away from Plat Hon Pai and came to inform us that Burmese troops had entered the village. One said that there were 20 or 30 soldiers in the village and others outside, and another said there were about 300 soldiers and they were arresting people. This was before the fighting. I spread the news to the other refugees, and some people started leaving the camp. I stayed and prepared to send 3 men to find out about it but they were afraid to go. Then at 11 a.m. when they heard the fighting, all the refugees fled and ran away to here. I worried because the Plat Hon Pai section leader didn’t come. Then one of the monks and some people came to tell us that the Burmese troops had left. In the after noon it was too rainy and cloudy to see, but in the evening some of the camp leaders climbed the hill near the office. From the top they saw the smoke so they knew the soldiers had burned the houses. The Thai soldiers from the 9th Army changed clothes and went to Plat Hon Pai to take photos, and after they saw it they believed us that the Burmese soldiers had attacked the village. The went back to Halockhani and told the refugees that the Burmese troops had now left. They said "There are no more soldiers there, so you can go back to your houses." Most of the villagers went back but that day they heard about fighting nearby at Blad Ka Pow. For a long time they couldn’t hear the noise of the fighting so then they ran away again to here. The Thai Border Patrol Police let them stay here but later they said the attack was over and told the refugees to go back. The camp leaders talked to the villagers but they were afraid to go back. They refused.

On July 25 there was a meeting between the Thai authorities and the Mon National Relief Committee [MNRC, the committee responsible for taking care of the Mon refugee camps]. The Thai officials said that the refugees were not allowed to stay so the MNRC talked to the refugees to tell them. But the people refused to go back and asked to stay on the Thai side. They said "Even if they try to kill us we will stay". They want to go back only when there will be peace in Burma and then they’ll want to go back to their villages, not to Old Halockhani.

After the meeting there were many Thai soldiers here and the Thais said everyone had to go back on July 27. The Thai police said it is impossible for us to stay here because the situation here is difficult, there is no clean water and diseases are spreading. They also said that SLORC #61 Infantry Battalion at Three Pagodas Pass had promised not to make any more trouble but the MNRC doesn’t believe this. We called a meeting with the villager and they said they don’t want to go back. After that, the Thai 9th Army said that we would have to go back to Halockhani by August 10. But still the villagers said that they will not go back, that they want to stay on this side.

Here the people have to stay in the rain with no proper roof, and they get malaria more easily. The old people and children are having problems of malnutrition because we’re not allowed to grow vegetables and things here, and we have a problem with diarrhoea because the water isn’t clean. Some of the rice at Plat Hon Pai was burned with the village, and we don’t have enough fishpaste and salt. The rice supply is still at Old Halockhani, and the chairman sleeps there every night to look after it. The refugees have to go to get their rations there every 15 days. [The site where the refugees are now is extremely muddy, and they are all living through the constant rains in small overcrowded shelters under plastic sheeting provided by foreign NGOs. Disease and malnutrition are a serious problem; NGO workers at the site say they have 4 times as many patients as before, but that it is actually a healthier site than Old Halockhani on the Burma side, if only the Thais would allow the refugees to make proper houses, dig proper latrines and set up a proper water supply. The Thais refuse to allow this and have officially blocked any further food or medical supplies, apparently hoping to ‘starve’ the refugees back to the other side.] We have no place to keep the sick. If it’s not serious we can treat them here at the dispensary and send them home. If it’s serious we send them to the River Kwai Hospital. If there’s a truck and the road is okay, they can go by truck. If not, they have to be carried on foot al the way [the road is very muddy and always collapsing in the rain. It is a 6 hour walk]. The Thais allow this if the patient is really sick as long as we guarantee that they will come back when they get better. One person is allowed to go along with the sick person.

Some of the people from Plat Hon Pai recovered a few of their belongings but most of them lost everything. Here we’ve got plastic sheeting, food, blanket, pots, plates and mosquito nets from NGOs, but 40 of the families don’t have enough. For example, we could only give 2 plates and one pot to each family. If the Thai authorities let us stay here, it is a good place. Old Halockhani is in a valley between mountains which is too narrow, the water is bad and it is too close to the SLORC, only 2½ hours to Three Pagodas Pass. Here it is very good, more open and flat and we can get good water.

As for new arrivals, 3 or 4 families just arrived from the Ye-Tavoy railway and 6 or 7 families who fled from being taken as porters. Now there are 6,063 people in this camp, all on the Thai side. Some people go back to Old Halockhani during the day to get vegetables from their garden but they come back here at night. Every Wednesday and Friday, the Thais bring 300 to 400 people from IDC and leave them here. [IDC = Immigration Detention Centres in Bangkok and Kanchanaburi, where the Thais imprison economic refugees from Burma, refugees caught in the cities, dissident Burmese students and others. These are prisons where they are usually stripped of their money and valuables, held for a few days to several months, then ‘deported’ to the border. The Thais are now using Halockhani as a convenient deportation gateway.] Every 25 IDC people choose a group leader and they get their rice and fishpaste from the camp supply. Some stay in a shelter here or with other families, some go back to Burma and some try to go back into Thailand.

When we first moved here from Loh Loe the NMSP [New Mon State Party] was holding peace talks with SLORC, so we thought that we could stay here safely, that the SLORC wouldn’t attack the Mon refugees. Now that the peace talks broke down. It’s a problem. We don’t want to believe SLORC and we’re afraid. I think they attacked because there was no agreement at the peace talks. The NMSP already talked with them 3 times but there has been no agreement so I think the SLORC attacked the refugees to put pressure on the NMSP to resume the peace talks. The Thais have a democracy, and I think if they understand human rights and feel sorry for the troubles of the Mon refugees then they should allow us to stay here. But if they are brothers of SLORC, then they will send us back to SLORC. I don’t think they will use violence to force us back like the SLORC would. If they force us, we will have to move but some would rather die first. When there is peace in our country, we’ll go back and stay there. Until then, please help to put pressure on the Thais to let us stay on this side.

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NAME: Nai Aung Nai

SEX: M

AGE: 55

DESCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist

ADDRESS: Ko Dot Village, Ye Township, Mon State

FAMILY: Married, 4 children aged 21 to 27.

Nai Aung Nai was taken as a prisoner porter when the troops left Plat Hon Pai to got to Ye.

I was a farmer in my village, and we tried to work for ourselves. But it was never for ourselves - we always had to give everything to the government. We could only keep 25% of anything we grew or earned and we often had to pay porter fees or go as porters. So I left my village 6 years ago and went to Ba Leh Ngo, near Three Pagodas Pass. Then I crossed to Thailand when the Burmese attacked. First I stayed in a village, then I went to Loh Loe camp, then I came here. I was in Loh Loe for 2 years and in Halockhani for 3 months, then when the rainy season began I moved to Plat Hon Pai because there was more land to grow vegetables there. I was there for 1 or 2 months. Then the troops came and arrested me. They came to my house and looked around to take things, then they called me out and tied me up with a rope. They pointed a gun at me, told me to go in front of them and took me to their commander. He was in a house close to the school. There were already 5 other people there who they’d arrested, including the section leader. I saw the soldiers beating up others but not me. They kicked them, kneed them and punched them. They asked the people for a gun but they had no gun. I had to stay in that house for 2 or 3 hours before we left the village. I was just sitting down tied up with a rope to other people. There were 5 others - I was the last one to arrive. The others all had marks on their bodies and their faces were swollen. When we left the village there were soldiers in front and behind us. We were in the middle, carrying the packs of the soldiers. I was only tied with rope, but the other 5 from the house were in front of me in handcuffs. There were 6 of us in that group. Just as we left the village I saw the soldiers of the last group burning the houses.

I walked with the soldiers for 4 days and 5 nights. I think they were going to Ye. After one day they changed my pack for a heavier load. It didn’t fit and I couldn’t carry it, but the soldiers said "Go! Go!" and kicked me. My load weighed about 30 kg. It was food, pots, plates and clothes for the soldiers. We had to climb many mountains in the mud. I fell with my load and they kicked me. Once I lost my shoe and they kicked me. I couldn’t get it back. We got 3 mouthfuls of rice with fishpaste to eat twice a day. At night if there was no rain, we put some banana leaves on the ground and slept. If it was raining, the soldiers gave us one plastic sheet for all 6 of us to sit under [these sheets are only big enough for one]. It was raining a lot. I got a cold and later it got worse. I think I have a chest infection. [Nai Aung was coughing badly throughout the interview.]

There was fighting 2 times, but it was at the front and I was in the middle so I couldn’t see. After the second fighting, the soldiers burned 2 houses. They also burned a house in another small village. In every village we passed they were taking more people as porters. I escaped on the evening of the 5th day. During the day while we were walking they untied us, then every evening they tied us up again. That night just before they tied us up, while they were busy I ran away. I’m from Ye Township so I knew the area a bit. That night I slept in the forest then the next day I found a village and came back with 3 of the villagers. It took me 4 or 5 days to get back because I had no tools with me and I couldn’t get across the river. Along the way I didn’t meet any soldiers but I found 3 dead bodies lying along the path. I don’t know who they were, but they were most likely porters. I arrived here about 3 days ago and met my family. We went back to try to salvage things from our house in Plat Hon Pai, but it had been totally burned. My wife was left alone and so was my daughter. The soldiers took away my son-in-law and he hasn’t come back yet. I don’t know why they attacked Plat Hon Pai. I’m only a villager. I helped at the monastery there. It’s not so bad here, and we’re too afraid to go back there. The soldiers said they’ll come back and shoot anyone they see.

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NAME: Mi Mee Ong

SEX: F

AGE: 57

DESCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist

ADDRESS: Ko Tun Palayin Village, Kya In Township, Mon State

FAMILY: Married, 7 children aged 16 to 37.

Mi Mee Ong watched the soldiers take away her son and burn down her house.

I left my village 15 years ago. First we went to Azin village, near Chaung Zone, then to Ba Leh Ngo. Then when the Burmese attacked 3 Pagodas Pass 6 years ago we came into Thailand. We spent 4 years in Loh Loe camp, then 5 months ago we moved to Plat Hon Pai. But I was often at the hospital in Old Halockhani because my husband is always sick. On July 21 I was in Plat Hon Pai. I saw the troops when they arrived at my house. They came inside, they cooked inside my house and they ate. They arrested my son. Two of my sons were there, one ran away and they arrested the other. They also wanted to arrest my husband but he was sick with fever and he couldn’t go. One soldier was going to beat him but another soldier said "He’s sick. Don’t beat him. Don’t take him." So they didn’t beat him. One of our neighbours was eating in our house and when he got up to go they arrested him too.

The soldiers fired a gun and ordered everyone to come out of their houses. Then they grabbed them by the hands, took them to the road and made them walk in front of them, firing their guns. They arrested many people. They had to walk 2 by 2, and behind every 3 or 4 people there was a soldier and they fired their guns. First they went to the school. After they gathered many people, they left for Halockhani. There was still a soldier in my house who stayed to cook and eat. He told me to stay inside the house and not go outside. I stayed in the front of the house but I couldn’t see much. I saw porters underneath the houses of some people with soldiers around them. The soldiers cooked the rice with the porters, then they gave them only a little rice to eat while all of the soldiers ate together. The soldier stayed around my house for more than 2 hours. I didn’t hear the Halockhani fighting because I’m a bit deaf. I just saw people running back from the fighting, so I went to hide underneath another house.

When the soldiers got back, they ordered the people to leave and burnt our houses. First they searched the houses, then they put kerosene on everything which burns - the leaves, the roof, the walls, every where. They got the kerosene from our lamps. Then if they couldn’t get the house to burn, they shot it with a gun with bullets that set on fire [these may have been either M79 grenades or a special type of incendiary bullet which is available for some assault rifles]. There were many soldiers in groups of 4 or 6 all burning houses. When they finished one, they’d go to the next. First they force us to leave the houses, then they went inside and then they didn’t leave until the house was burnt, so I don’t know what they stole when they went inside. I cried and pleaded with them, "Please don’t burn my house", but the soldier said "I have to do it. It is the order of our commander." When they left, I went to my house while it was still burning and with a long bamboo I managed to save a couple of plates and one basin. That’s all I could save. Afterwards I stayed near my house and I sat down. That night I slept close to my house on the ground. Some people went to the monastery but others slept like me on the ground close to their houses. I was so angry at the soldiers and so depressed. It’s horrible, because they took my son and I also lost everything I had. I gathered utensils and house equipment for many years and now I’ve lost it all. My husband stayed by the house with me. He wasn’t well. we got a plastic sheet for cover. I hadn’t eaten since morning. I didn’t think about coming to Halockhani at the time, I just felt lost. I couldn’t sleep that night, only sit there.

I didn’t feel safe. I was afraid the soldiers would come back. They said they would come back in 3 days and that "If we see anyone around, next time we’ll burn the people." The next morning my daughter came and called me to come here. My husband walked very slowly with his stick, and our youngest son came with us too. Now it’s very hard to build another house because my son is gone and my husband is always sick. When we got here we stayed in this shelter with 4 other families. Now, we are only 2 families in this shelter. Two of the men built it. [Her shelter is about 3 x 6 m., 2 m. high with a bamboo floor, plastic sheet roof and no walls.] My son came back, but now he’s left again to make charcoal, get bamboo shoots, etc. He’s always working. They took him as a porter. He told me he has wounds, and even now he still has pain in his chest. They only fed him a bit of rice with some beans sometimes, and it smelled rotten. He escaped. He didn’t tell me if they beat him but he said they threatened him with a knife. He probably didn’t want to tell me if they beat him because he’s worried his mother will be sad.

I don’t know why the Burmese attacked Plat Hon Pai. I feel safer here. I’m afraid to go back, because the Burmese troops might come back. I don’t know if this place is really safe or not but it’s safer than there.

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NAME: U Mya Aung

SEX: M

AGE: 47

DESCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist

ADDRESS: Ye Township, Mon State

FAMILY: Divorced, 2 daughters aged 10 and 15

U Mya Aung was taken as a porter in Ye, and was a porter with the troops who attacked Halockhani.

I am mixed blood between Mon and Indian. My grandfather was Indian and my grandmother was Mon. When I was young, I was Muslim, but now I don’t have any more religion. I’m Buddhist for now because sometimes I go to the monastery. I’m a daily labourer. Sometimes I sell things, like fish or clothing. Sometimes I clean the compound for people who hire me, or go with a fishing boat or work making salt. Lately I was working clearing bushes and grass for a rubber plantation owner. I was paid 50 Kyat a day, and they fed us and gave us cheroots. I gave as much of the money as I could for my elder daughter’s clothes and schooling. She’s staying with other people. I was staying at my friend’s house. I usually ate at my workplace. One night over a month ago when I came back to my friend’s place he told me the soldiers were looking for porters to go to Three Pagodas Pass. At midnight, soldiers came to his house to check his family registration list. He hadn’t reported me in his guest register, so they arrested me and took me to their office. The ward chief arrested me. I reported to him when I first came to stay at my friend’s house, but I hadn’t bothered to report in quite a while. That’s my crime.

After a few minutes at the office the soldiers’ truck came over and they put us on it so we knew they were taking us as porters. They took us to Infantry Battalion 61 camp at the edge of Ye town. They gathered the porters from Ye and Azin there. They kept us in the barracks for 5 days under guard. Even when we went to the toilets they followed us with guns. They gave us rice and beans but never enough. Sometimes the soldiers’ wives came around selling egg curry for 30 Kyat. Then they took us to 106 Battalion at Maw Ka Nee near Hla Mine, first by train and then by truck. There were porters from Hla Mine, Po Taw and Taung Bo there. We got to Hla Mine at 9 or 10 p.m. and then an hour or two later they took us to Maw Ka Nee. We rested for a couple of hours and they loaded the truck with many things then we took the truck for half an hour to a bridge. We started climbing the mountain from there. I had to carry 5 mortar shells which weighed about 32 kg. The others were carrying supplies, rice, cooking pots, but mostly bullets and ammunition. There were 2 porters for every soldier around me. Once we heard shooting behind us and we knew there was fighting. We climbed up and down for days. Then we heard gunshots again far away then behind us then in the middle. The soldiers shouted at us to lie down or else we’d be killed.

We walked 9 days on the way. The soldiers always said it wasn’t much farther, but we just kept on climbing up and down mountains and never saw any road. We cooked and slept along the path. They just gave us rice with salt, sometimes with a fingertip of fishpaste. It was terrible, always undercooked or overcooked. They guarded us all the time. One night we stayed in some abandoned houses, but every other night we had to cut banana leaves to sleep on, and sleep on the ground just covered by plastic sheets that we’d bought along the way. If someone didn’t have a plastic sheet we shared with him. It was raining all the time, and the path was very muddy. We had to pull ourselves up the mountains and walked backwards going down. I fell with my load at least 10 times a day and more than that when it was raining. They swore at me, and sometimes they kicked, beat or punched me. The two porters in front of me were kicked all the way because they fell down all the time. They looked so weak. Whether you were sick or not, you had to carry and follow. We walked from 5 a.m. until 7 or 8 at night, and only then we got to eat. To cross the flooded rivers, sometimes they just put one rope across and we had to hold onto it.

After we reached Apa Lone village, we talked to each other and I heard that 5 porters had escaped. Finally after 9 days we got to Chaung Zone. We had to cross a river by boat and then there was a road and ten trucks waiting for us. They put all our loads on the truck then they told us to wait. They took 35 of us back across the river and put us in a lockup at the checkpoint, 20 in one room and 15 in the other. They kept us there for 2 days and we found out we’d been handed over to Infantry Battalion 62. Up until then we’d been with Battalion 61. Then they took us across the river again, put us on a truck and drove us to Three Pagodas Pass. I saw a sign that said it was Three Pagodas Pass Army Camp. We saw a great many other porters there, and we were put with them. They checked the names of all the other porters but didn’t call our names so we were very happy because we thought they were going to release us. A soldier came into our cell, and we pleaded with him to free us because of our bad condition. He said "Don’t worry. We won’t make you carry a heavy load." Then they locked us up in an unfinished building together with all the other porters. At 9 or 10 p.m., they ordered us to pick up the loads and start walking. I had to carry the baseplate of a mortar tube. It weighed the same as the mortar shells I’d carried before, but it was much more awkward to carry. We had to carry very heavy loads the whole night, then the next morning we arrived at Plat Hon Pai.

First some of the soldiers went into the village to look while we waited outside the village for a long time. Finally they ordered us to go into the village and stay underneath the houses and they stayed all around us. There were 27 of us under one house. They told us to cook so we cooked. Then we heard gunshots. One of the soldiers yelled "Don’t try to escape or I’ll shoot you dead!" After the gunshots we ate, then we fell asleep for a few minutes. They woke us up and we had to carry again. [This is clearly when the troops left Plat Hon Pai to go to Ye.] When we were leaving we looked around and saw a lot of smoke. We started talking to each other and the soldiers yelled at us: "Don’t worry, they’re not your father-in-law’s houses. Just keep carrying!"

We followed the path to a river and slept the night there. The next morning they had made a bridge and we crossed. A soldier took my load across because he was afraid I’d drop it in the river. We had to cross one by one. Then we started climbing a very steep mountain. It was very hard, and my shoulders were badly wounded. I have so many scars all over my body. We didn’t even notice when we got a wound because they always yelled at us to hurry. We only had flip-flops for our feet and we couldn’t wear them because it was always too slippery. Whenever a porter fell, they kicked him and beat him with their guns and sometimes punched him. I fell once, and they kicked me and swore at me. Whenever porters were going too slowly, they pushed them and said "Go, go, go!" I started looking for a way to escape. I got a bit ahead of the soldiers and when I looked back I couldn’t see them, so I dropped my load and ran a few yards into the forest. Then I saw a hole and hid. I didn’t know which way to go. I didn’t dare go back to Plat Hon Pai because I didn’t know if it was safe. My legs were in such pain and I couldn’t move fast. I found a hut where a couple were tending their cows. Then I met two men and went with them to Plat Hon Pai. It was almost dark, and we saw the monastery and asked permission to sleep here. In the morning, they woke me and told me that I’d better leave because the soldiers might come back. They gave me directions to Halockhani. On the way I saw that all the houses were burnt, even the house I’d stayed underneath. Then I met two men who saw my wounds and told me I should go to the hospital in New Halockhani to get treatment and some food. Finally I arrived here.

Now I have sears all over my body, and my shoulders are badly bruised. After I escaped I couldn’t even lift my arms. When we were being held at Chaung Zone the others told me about 3 porters who’d been left behind, 2 of them couldn’t carry and one twisted his knee. They probably died, because there were no villages around. One of them was from Rangoon, one from Hla Mine and a man named Kaung Lay from Ye. We were with Infantry Battalion 61 from Maw Ka Nee to Chaung Zone and Infantry Battalion 62 after that. Battalion 61 is based in Ye and Battalion 62 in Three Pagodas Pass [note: now Battalion 61 is at Three Pagodas Pass, while Battalion 62 has returned to base in Than Byu Zayat.] We were the weakest when we were with Battalion 62, and they abused us the worst. I was a porter for 19 days, and I got here about 10 days ago now.

When we came here with the soldiers we didn’t know anything, we only knew we had to face the fighting. When we left Three Pagodas Pass on our way here, we thought they were taking us back to Burma. Now I don’t dare to go back. I escaped, and if they figure that out they can give me a hard time. They’d arrested me. One soldier told me he had an order from the commander to shoot dead any porters who tried to escape. So I’ve decided to stay here. I’ve told you everything in detail so you can spread it outside, and then maybe they won’t treat the porters so badly anymore.

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NAME: Nai Win Tint

SEX: M

AGE: 31

DESCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist

ADDRESS: Mon State

FAMILY: Married, 4 children aged 8 months to 12 years

Nai Win Tint was taken as a prisoner porter when the troops left Plat Hon Pai to go to Ye.

I arrived in Thailand about 8 years ago. First I stayed on the Burma side of Three Pagodas Pass, then when the Burmese troops attacked 5 years ago I came across to the Thai side. I stayed in refugee camps, first in Loh Loe before it was a big camp, then to Halockhani on the Thai side, then back to Loh Loe when the big camp was formed there. When Loh Loe had to move, I came back here. After 3 months here we went to settle in Plat Hon Pai. When the soldiers came, I didn’t see at first because my house is at the end of the village. They came to my house and said "There is a meeting in the village. We’re not making any trouble." When I came out of the house, they pointed their guns at us.

They took us to the school, and when we arrived they sent us two by two to see their commander. They put handcuffs on 4 of us and called us to have our photo taken. One of the four was the section leader. Then they started beating us. They asked me if I had a gun. I told them I only had one that uses gunpowder [a primitive flintlock used by hunters]. Then they said I was lying and beat me up. I told them, "I’m not lying. I don’t have a gun. If you don’t believe me ask the other people. If I had one I’d give it to you. If I’m lying, you can kill me." Then they kicked and beat us one by one. They put a knife on my throat and pointed their guns. They asked and they beat and they asked and they beat. Five soldiers were beating me up. When they stopped, they put me in another room so I could talk to other villagers, then they started beating up the next person. After he was beaten up they put him in the room where I was, one after another. There were 4 of us. Afterwards, another 3 people arrived and they beat them as well. Other than the section leader, we were all just villagers.

I was in the school when I heard the fighting near Halockhani. The soldiers asked me if I was afraid and I said yes because I was in handcuffs. When the other soldiers arrived back from Halockhani, they told us to come out of the school. They prepared loads for us to carry, then we left. At the beginning, two of us were attached to one pair of handcuffs. Then after we left the school each person had their own handcuffs. The three of us in handcuffs were also tied with a rope attached to the handcuffs, and the other 3 people were tied up with rope. My load was a pack weighing about 15 kg. I don’t know what was in it. Just after we left the village, we saw the houses burning. They began by burning the houses at my end of the village.

I think the soldiers were going to Ye. After 2 days I was separated from the other Plat Hon Pai villagers and put with another group that needed one more porter. Then I had to carry a heavy load of 3 bags. I told the soldiers it was too heavy and I couldn’t walk with handcuffs, so they took the handcuffs off. They told me not to run away or they’d shoot me. I was the only one from Plat Hon Pai in that group - the others were behind us. We were only given a little rice and fishpaste to eat, and I had to sleep under the rain because I had no plastic sheet. Along the way I saw them take more porters. There was fighting 2 days after we left Plat Hon Pai, and then again on the 5th day. That’s when I escaped. The soldiers all ran to the front and left the porters behind, so I ran away. I slept one night in the forest, then I came back. I arrived in a village where they’d heard that Plat Hon Pai had been burnt, and I told them it was true. The headman said the troops had also taken one porter from their village and he hadn’t come back yet. They fed me and I slept there 1 night, then I walked here with 2 women. On the way we met a porter who’d been left behind. His foot was badly wounded and he couldn’t walk anymore. He asked me to send him back to Burma, but I couldn’t carry him so I told him to wait for someone from the village. Later we saw another porter who was already dead. It looked as if he had died the day before, like he had been sitting against a rock and fell over when he died. I didn’t look closely to see how he died, but I can understand it because I saw myself how the soldiers treated us while I was a porter. If the porters can’t carry as they like they beat them up, kick them and push them with their guns. They very often kicked me or beat me when I was a bit slow and I still have pain from it. The day after we found the dead porter, we met another porter who couldn’t walk. Then we arrived in Chaung Zone, and the next day we made a small bridge across the river and arrived back in Plat Hon Pai. It took me 3 nights to get back.

In Plat Hon Pai I saw that all the houses were burnt down. Some were only partly burnt, but my house was completely burned down. I found 2 or 3 people in the monastery and they said every body else had come here, so I came here. I arrived 4 days ago. My wife managed to grab some of our children’s clothes while the house was already burning, but other than that we’ve lost everything. I don’t know why the Burmese attacked Plat Hon Pai.

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NAME: Nai Kror

SEX: M

AGE: 29

DESCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist

ADDRESS: Ye Pyu Township, Mon State

FAMILY: Married, 2 children aged 2 and 5

Nai Kror arrived in Halockhani recently after fleeing slave labour on the Ye-Tavoy railway.

I arrived in Halockhani from the Ye-Tavoy railway about 3 months ago [this railway project began in late 1993, and the SLORC had forced tens of thousands of Mon, Karen, Tavoyan & Burmese to do slave labour on it ever since - see "The Ye-Tavoy Railway", KHRG 13/4/94]. Before I escaped I had to work there for 2 months non-stop. Once I started, I never stopped. There were no rest days I had to work every day, and if I couldn’t go for one day I had to pay 200 Kyat. First we had to cut down trees, clear the forest and scrub, then dig the ground the level it and we had to build shelters for ourselves to stay in. At first it was close to my village, but then later is was farther away, close to other villages. We couldn’t go home at night. If I felt sick, I had to ask authorisation to go home from the soldiers on guard, and then I had to send another person to replace me. Once I was sick for 7 days. I wanted to hire someone to go in my place, but I had no money so I had to send my younger sister to replace me. I think I had malaria. I had to buy my own medicine.

At night we slept in small shelters of banana leaves that we made ourselves. They didn’t give us any food. I had to bring rice and fishpaste from home. I brought enough for one month, then when my food was nearly finished I asked permission from the soldiers to go back to my village to bring more food. When we first went to the railway they told us we’d have to work until it’s finished. They didn’t tell us how long that would be. We had to work on 3 sections, from our village to 3 other villages [there is a fork in the railway at his village, with one line coming into the village and two lines going out in different directions]. While we were digging the ground on the third section, there was a landslide and 3 men from my village died. Their names were Soe Win, Chan Soe and Hsa Aung. On the same section, a pregnant woman got diarrhoea or dysentery and they didn’t give her any medicine so she died. She looked about 28 or 29 years old. She wasn’t from my village. When these people died the soldiers made the villagers take the bodies away.

There are also children working on this railway - some are 10 or 15 years old. They have to work like a man but they couldn’t. Some children got very seriously sick. One nearly died. His village was too far away so he couldn’t go home. Some of his relatives tried to treat him right there. Sometimes the children didn’t bring enough rice, and the soldiers wouldn’t give them any. Sometimes people who had money bought rice from the soldiers when they ran out of food. The soldiers sell rice. We had to start work at 6 a.m. If someone was 2 or 3 minutes late, the soldiers beat them, then at noon they forced them to take off their shirts and sit down in the hot sun. They beat people with bamboo canes in the back, the thighs, on the feet, etc., until the skin breaks. Sometimes they hit on the head and I saw one man with a large infected wound on his head. They beat people when they didn’t work so well or if they tried to rest or sometimes if they tried to smoke. There’s no time to smoke or to rest all day long. If you try, the soldiers beat you. We had to work from 6 a.m. until noon, then we ate, then worked again from 1 p.m. until 5:30 without a rest. When they wanted us to finish something, we had to work later, till 7 p.m. There were old people working there too, 50 or 55 years old. We had to bring our own tools. The soldiers were always just walking around to guard and watch the people. If they saw anything they didn’t like, they beat us. During the night, the soldiers went back and left us.

There are 550 houses in our village, divided into 9 sections. At first, each section had to send one person from every house all the time. Then after 1½ months, they divided each section in half and the halves had to rotate. After 15 days of that, I escaped. I just went back to my village. First we sent our children to another village, then my wife and I went to join them. That was in May. It was already raining. Just for awhile they stopped the work to let the people go and plant rice because they’re all farmers, but now they’re back to work. Some sections of the embankment are collapsing because of the rains and the people have to go to repair it. In some places it’s completely collapsed and they need a lot of wood to repair it, so they demanded money for the wood from the villagers. The poorest families have to pay 1,500 Kyat, and others have to pay 2,000 to 5,000 Kyat. I had to pay 1,400 Kyat and my father had to pay 5,000 for that. They’re not laying any railway sleepers around there yet.

Before the railway, I had to go as a porter and I had to go clear the compound at their camp, sometimes once a month, sometimes twice. We had to pay them taxes for our own land, for our fields and for our gardens. When the troops came to the village we had to give them rice and money for them to buy their food. Sometimes they also took our pigs and chickens and ate whatever they wanted. We also had to pay 4 tins of rice per year and 100 Kyat per family for their militia. The SLORC set up their militia but didn’t give them any training. They made a draw and chose people from our village to be militia. No one can refuse. They have to report to the SLORC headman everything that happens.

When I left my village I went to Pa Yaw refugee camp, but it was not so far from my village and I was afraid of the Burmese troops, so I went to Loh Loe, but the Thais were already destroying the houses there so I went to a Thai village and then finally to Halockhani. We only brought one cooking pot with us. With the children, it was too difficult to bring anything else. It took us 4 days’ walk to Pa Yaw camp from the village, but the Burmese troops could do it much faster. I didn’t know Halockhani was on the Burma side of the border until after I got there but by then I’d gone to cut bamboo shoots. When I arrived back the people were already fleeing, and my wife had already left. Now that we’re here on the Thai side it’s not so bad but not so good either. I’m very afraid to go back. Even here, I’m afraid. Even if the Burmese troops don’t come, they can shoot artillery from Three Pagodas Pass to Halockhani. A mortar shell could hit the camp so I’m really afraid to go back. I don’t think the Thais will let us stay here though. I’m afraid of that too!