CHEMICAL SHELLS AT KAW MOO RAH SUPPLEMENTARY

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CHEMICAL SHELLS AT KAW MOO RAH SUPPLEMENTARY

Published date:
Monday, March 20, 1995

This is a follow-up report to KHRG's report CHEMICAL SHELLS AT KAW MOO RAH, February 24th 1995. It describes the ongoing investigation into the use of chemical shells by SLORC against the Karen army in Mannerplaw on the night of February 20th-21st 1995. This report includes one soldier's testimony of the effect of the chemical shells on him.

Medical and clothing samples from some of the soldiers exposed to the gas attack at Kaw Moo Rah are still under analysis overseas, and no results have been communicated to us as yet. However, some further pieces of information have been provided by various sources. Shortly after the fall of Kaw Moo Rah, Lt. Gen. Tin Oo (Secretary-2 of SLORC) was in Thailand at the invitation of Thai Army Commander-in-Chief Wimol Wongwanich. Tin Oo's contacts while in Thailand were primarily only with Thai military leaders. Just after his return to Burma, Thai journalists questioned Gen. Chettha Thanajaro, Assistant Army Chief of Staff of Thailand. In an article entitled "Burmese Admit They Used Chemicals to Fight Karens" on February 28th, the Thai-language Daily News paraphrased Gen. Chettha's words as follows: "Concerning the Australian government's protest over SLORC's use of chemicals against the Karen, Tin Oo replied that they had to wipe out the thieves and rebels that are against the government. He said that although the use of chemicals is not right, it is necessary."

At the same time, SLORC has been publishing a seemingly endless series of fictional - but supposedly true - propaganda pieces in their "New Light of Myanmar" newspaper telling the story of the fall of Manerplaw and Kaw Moo Rah, complete with fabricated conversations. In one of the articles, Gen. Bo Mya says, "I have instructed all my men to fire on towns and villages with heavy arms and small arms. I have instructed them to explode bombs everywhere. I have asked them to poison wells and tanks with potassium cyanide. ... I have asked Soe Soe to get me some chemical bombs, has he got any by now? Must explode them among my men, must explode them at Kaw Moo Rah. We may lose four or five men. I will have their bodies photographed. I will have them videotaped. I have asked them to bring in two Japanese to see for themselves how the Na Wa Ta [SLORC] army has been using poison bombs. The Na Wa Ta government will then become another Iraq. ... Well, get more potassium cyanide, poison bombs and bacteria bombs. Try and get them urgently." After working to incite a rift between Karen Buddhists and Christians, the SLORC claimed it was Bo Mya who deliberately incited the rift (despite the fact that it cost him his headquarters); after attacking Kaw Moo Rah, the SLORC claimed it was Karen who attacked Kaw Moo Rah; now it appears that after using chemical weapons against Karen, SLORC "covers" itself by claiming it was Bo Mya who used chemical weapons against his own men. The specific mention of potassium cyanide is intriguing, because no one else except SLORC has mentioned such a specific chemical. Potassium cyanide causes 'cyanosis': inability to breathe, respiratory failure and as little as 0.5 mg. can kill an adult, leaving the victim with blue face, lips and extremities. If chemically bound to some other organic compound, it can bind to the skin and cause burns and blistering, also entering the blood stream through the skin to cause cyanosis. People handling potassium cyanide without protective gloves and mask can very quickly become confused and clumsy, as it is a fine white powder which is easily inhaled. The highly lethal nature of this chemical does not appear consistent with the symptoms of the gas and burn victims at Kaw Moo Rah; however, potassium cyanide is water soluble and is ideal for the SLORC's mentioned purpose of poisoning village wells.

In the preceding KHRG report, wounded soldiers described SLORC's use of white phosphorus shells, and referred to 'liquid shells' which caused extensive burns. An article which recently appeared on BurmaNet News on Internet speculated that the 'liquid shells' may have been a blister agent, widely recognized internationally as one of the worst forms of chemical weapons. However, the fact that the burns did not spread to the men's hands even though they tried to brush off the burning flesh, and the absence of any apparent lung damage (which is usually associated with blister agents) make this appear unlikely. Some of the wounded are suffering from blurred vision, and there is usually a long-term eye condition caused by blister agents which can be tested for. We are hoping to arrange for this test to be done. It still appears likely that the 'liquid' shells and the white phosphorus shells were one and the same, because although white phosphorus is a solid, several sources confirm that it can appear like a liquid after the shell has exploded and is burning.

Recent discussions with KNLA soldiers previously based at Kaw Moo Rah reveal that the chemical gas shells began being fired at them sporadically at 2 p.m. on February 20th, not later that night at 1:30 a.m. as was previously believed. However, when soldiers began feeling nauseous that afternoon, they initially thought it was from some snake curry they had eaten earlier in the day. The number of chemical shells then greatly increased late at night. From the sound of the firing, the soldiers believe the shells were being fired from a 75 mm. reccoilless rifle or similar weapon. When the shells landed the explosions were very "soft", as though there was just enough of an explosion to break the canisters. A KNLA officer from Kaw Moo Rah also reports that in the days immediately following the fall of Kaw Moo Rah, a radio message was intercepted from Rangoon to a Captain Mo Myint Khaing of 317 Artillery Battalion, ordering him to destroy all remaining shells of code name "Saba" and to do so with no observers present, military or civilian.

The SLORC is now mounting new attacks in KNU 6th Brigade area, 50-100 km. south of Myawaddy. KNU and Burmese students in the area claim to have information that SLORC Battalions in the area have brought a "new weapon similar to those used at Kaw Moo Rah", and some of the escaped porters believe they may have been carrying the shells for this weapon. KHRG will hopefully be obtaining more information on these claims shortly.

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The following testimony was obtained from a Karen soldier who was in the frontline bunkers during SLORC's final assault on Kaw Moo Rah:

NAME: "Saw Kaw Lah"         SEX: M          AGE: 41
DISCRIPTION: Karen soldier

I stayed in Kaw Moo Rah from 1984 until 1995. I'm a soldier in 101 Special Battalion. The SLORC soldiers attacked one time on February 8th and then withdrew, then they attacked again. On February 20th they started shelling with a new shell, not the same as in other years. It had a different sound. It was very different. At last we knew that they were using some kind of chemical weapon, so we had to evacuate. I felt it myself, and all our officers saw it and knew it. Some of our soldiers, as soon as they smelled the smoke of those shells they fell unconscious, some for half an hour, some for one hour and Saw K'Der, he fell unconscious for about 2 hours. Saw Pa Neh was out for 15 minutes, and Saw Po Gay about one hour, but none of them were wounded. When they smelled the chemical they fell unconscious, and their noses and ears started bleeding. We knew the shells they were firing included chemical shells. It didn't hurt our bodies, but when we smelled the smoke it made us feel dizzy. I saw the smoke rising slowly, slowly, then when we smelled it we fell unconscious. It looked kind of like their usual smoke [the smoke bombs SLORC uses to cover its ground attacks], but if you smell even a little you'll go unconscious. The shell didn't hurt me [with shrapnel], but it fell near my bunker and then I felt a kind of pain in my heart, I felt dizzy and then I fell unconscious for about 15 minutes. The SLORC didn't attack us with soldiers, they just attacked us by firing chemical weapons. If their soldiers attack us or if they use 120 mm. mortars we'll fight against them, but when they use chemical weapons we can't stay and we have to evacuate.

They used shells called 'delay shells', when they hit the ground they drill into the ground about 10 feet and then explode 6 seconds later. They can break the big logs on our bunkers. One fell near our bunker and made a hole, and I tested it with a long bamboo about 10 feet long and it didn't even reach the bottom. They weren't 120 mm. delayed shells - maybe they were 150 mm. or 160 mm., but I don't know exactly. They exploded underground. If we consider that, it's not fair. These are not weapons to use in civil war, only in world war. They are too powerful, not for civil war, only for world war. Many of our soldiers were wounded, and some were not wounded but felt dizzy, they vomited and went unconscious. Then if the SLORC attacks, they won't even have to shoot us, they can just kill us all with bayonets. So our officers thought about it and said that if we tried to defend the place we would all be killed or wounded. So they said if we have to give them Kaw Moo Rah it would be better than to die, and we can find a new place. Then we evacuated Kaw Moo Rah. When we were leaving they were still shelling us, and one of the shells fell beside my friend. It didn't explode, but even so he fell unconscious for a moment. Then when he woke up and started walking again, his nose started bleeding and he felt dizzy. When he got to the Thai side, he got an injection of medicine and he felt better. He told me he thought, "The shell didn't even explode, so why did it make me go unconscious, and why did I feel dizzy and my nose bleed?", and then he knew it must be a chemical weapon.

They fired the chemical shells just one by one, not like the other shells that they were firing down on us like rain. We were on the left side of the front line, but the SLORC was shelling from all sides. On our side the bunkers were broken, so we moved back a little bit so that we could fight if they attacked. The wounded soldiers moved to the back and new soldiers came to the front, then when they were hurt by the chemical we had to change them again.

If we look at our revolution now, it is very weak so we need help, maybe from some organizations or some countries who love us and who can help us. My idea is not to fight the SLORC. We don't want war, we want peace. We don't want weapons to fight SLORC. If other countries want to help us, we want them to stand between the SLORC military regime and the DAB [Democratic Alliance of Burma] and try to bring about real peace talks between us.