KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP COMMENTARY

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KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP COMMENTARY

Published date:
Tuesday, May 9, 1995

SLORC is now directly involved in planning, preparing, coordinating and executing acts of international terrorism. Its role in the attacks on refugee camps in Thailand cannot be denied, despite all its claims that the attacks are only the work of the DKBA ('Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army'). Eyewitnesses have seen SLORC soldiers participating in almost every attack, while letters and orders from SLORC officers have referred to their 'control' over the DKBA. Furthermore, the latest wave of attacks, which employed several hundred men operating on different parts of the border with mortar support from a SLORC-controlled area on the Burma side of the border, simply could not have been planned and coordinated without direct SLORC involvement.

 

"My husband gave them the money and said 'We only have that money, I swear to God'. Then the man said 'The situation is not like before. There is no God any longer.' Then he shot my husband in the mouth ..."

Karen woman whose husband and son were murdered by DKBA/SLORC troops, Gray Hta refugee camp, Thailand

"international: concerning, taking place between, or recognized by more than one nation. terrorism: the use of violence or the threat of violence to obtain political demands." - Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

SLORC is now directly involved in planning, preparing, coordinating and executing acts of international terrorism. Its role in the attacks on refugee camps in Thailand cannot be denied, despite all its claims that the attacks are only the work of the DKBA ('Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army'). Eyewitnesses have seen SLORC soldiers participating in almost every attack, while letters and orders from SLORC officers have referred to their 'control' over the DKBA. Furthermore, the latest wave of attacks, which employed several hundred men operating on different parts of the border with mortar support from a SLORC-controlled area on the Burma side of the border, simply could not have been planned and coordinated without direct SLORC involvement.

If the refugees return, SLORC stands to gain alot of international legitimacy while simultaneously obtaining alot of free labourers for its military 'development' projects. Initially the DKBA tried to use agressive persuasion and threats. Then when that didn't work quickly enough, DKBA and SLORC began attacking the refugee camps, kidnapping or killing camp leaders and religious leaders, shooting refugees and threatening everyone with further attacks (see "SLORC's Northern Karen Offensive", KHRG #95-10, 29/3/95). Since February, these attacks have been happening several times a week and at almost every camp. By April, camp security forces had formed and were beginning to thwart many of the attacks. Some refugees were returning to Burma, but only a small minority. Then on April 25, SLORC and the DKBA launched the apparent 'Third Phase' of the strategy by hitting Mae Ra Ma Luang (which hadn't been attacked before) and Kamaw Lay Ko camps on the same day, then hitting Baw Noh camp on April 28 (see "New Attacks on Karen Refugee Camps", KHRG #95-16, 5/5/95). These attacks were completely different: they attacked brazenly with at least 50 or 100 heavily armed troops, in broad daylight in 2 out of 3 cases, and they showed no hesitation to attack Thai forces even without being provoked. At Baw Noh, they even had Burmese 81 mm. mortar support fired from the Burma side of the border. Furthermore, the attacks were no longer targetted at specific camp leaders or just a few houses, but aimed to destroy the camps wholesale by burning them down. 170 houses were burned in Mae Ra Ma Luang, 300 in Kamaw Lay Ko and over 700 in Baw Noh. During the attacks, DKBA troops made it clear to refugees that they also had orders to capture or kill foreign aid workers in the camps if possible.

"Bo Kyi Aung hates Christians very much, but I don't know why. In the village, Bo Kyi Aung said that Karen women are all like rats, and that when the cats are at home, the rats can't stay at home."

Buddhist Karen refugee from Klaw Hta, Papun District, describing a DKBA officer

"Some of the Buddhist families joined them, but some didn't join because they are afraid of the Burmese Army. Most people say that the power is in SLORC's hands and they are leading the DKBA on a rope. Even the families who joined DKBA did it because they are afraid of SLORC."

Buddhist Karen refugee from Klaw Hta, Papun District

Just after the attacks, DKBA 'Lt. Gen.' Toe Hlaing (formerly a Sergeant in a village militia) told Thai journalists "We are working with troops of the State Law & Order Restoration Council. When all Karen refugees come home, we'll cease fire [with Thailand] and SLORC promises to pull its troops out of border areas." If the DKBA really believes that SLORC is about to pull its troops out of border areas after fighting for 45 years to occupy those areas, its naïveté really does surpass all limits. It is more likely that once the DKBA has achieved what SLORC wants of it, SLORC will purge it and leave behind only some SLORC-installed 'front men' to maintain the appearance of a Karen organization controlling Karen State. However, judging by their actions, many DKBA members seem more interested in looting villages on both sides of the border than they are in the future of Karen State. Some of the DKBA's officers formerly served time in Manerplaw's jail for robbery and other crimes or joined DKBA because of some personal grudge. If it is plundering villages that they are most interested in then SLORC is more than happy to support them in that, because any chaos or conflict within ethnic peoples works to SLORC's advantage. SLORC already has an established history of supporting local bandit groups which operate in southern Burma's Tenasserim Division.

"If we even asked for fishpaste they hit us on the face and said 'This is not your mother's house!"

Escaped SLORC porter, Kawmoora area

"Khin Yi, Khin Yi, can you hear me. Khin Yi, Khin Yi, can you hear me?" - last radio transmission of a wounded SLORC soldier left behind on the Kawmoora killing ground, hours after the failed SLORC assault of Feb. 8. The calls went unanswered.

While terrorizing refugee camps in Thailand, SLORC has also continued its offensive to secure the Salween River and areas of Papun District west of it. Villages have been destroyed and many people have fled to Thailand or have been forcibly relocated to DKBA areas further inside Burma. Areas along the Salween's banks are clear of civilians, making it hard for refugees from further inside to get past SLORC to the border. In the Yunzalin and Kyauk Nyat areas which SLORC troops now occupy for the first time, they have already begun issuing orders for the remaining villagers to do rotating forced labour duties at army camps, and warning that entire villages will be destroyed if there is the slightest evidence of opposition in the area (see "SLORC Orders to Villages: Set 95-B", KHRG #95-14, 1/5/95). Villagers who go to the DKBA's 'refuge' at Khaw Taw (Myaing Gyi Ngu) reportedly face forced conscription into the DKBA Army, rotating forced labour as SLORC porters, and the danger of being killed during the regular shootouts between DKBA and SLORC soldiers within the camp. Given these circumstances, it is not hard to understand why only about 3,000 of 60,000 Karen refugees have been driven to return to Burma through fear of further attacks on the refugee camps.

"We slept in a village after SLORC troops had left it. In that village, I could see that the SLORC troops had shot the pigs and chickens and taken whatever they saw. I had never seen this situation before."

Escaped Burman porter from Rangoon, in Karen State for the first time

"They shot him dead. He was a villager. He was over 70 years old, so he couldn't run."- villager from Ko Lar Hta village, Papun District who fled after SLORC occupied his village

Villager from Ko Lar Hta village, Papun District who fled after SLORC occupied his village

"If the Army camp calls you, come. If the Army asks your help, help."

SLORC order to newly occupied villages, Papun District

The refugees whose homes have been destroyed have scattered into the hills surrounding their camps, where they now face the beginning monsoon with no roof and no food, or to other camps. Meanwhile, people in other camps - such as Kler Ko and Gray Hta - have also scattered because they believe they will be next and they have no faith in the nonexistent Thai security. Many camps are now like ghost towns. The Thai Army has deployed alot of troops - but to Thai towns along the border, not to refugee camps. Most camps still have less than 10 Thai soldiers for security, and even these are under orders to evacuate if the camp is attacked. In both Baw Noh and Kamaw Lay Ko, Thai forces on site had warning of the attacks and sent requests for reinforcements hours in advance, but no answer and no reinforcements came. After the attacks, several Thai soldiers and officers on site openly expressed anger and disgust with their superiors. If anything, it appears that the Thai Army high command wanted the camps to burn. Army Commander in Chief Wimol Wongwanich has often made it clear that he thinks all Karen refugees should be forcibly repatriated as soon as possible, and the burning of the camps appears to be bringing that day closer. There is now broad support in Thai official circles for a plan to move all Karen refugees into a few large, completely closed camps which would be an easy stepping stone to mass forced repatriation after the coming rainy season, when the Thai government will probably claim "all is now peaceful in Burma". The Thai Army and government are making it clear that the UNHCR and other foreign agencies would be kept out of these camps, which would be controlled by the Army. They argue that the Thai government can "save money" by having large camps and continue to care for the refugees as it always has. Of course, the Thai authorities have never spent a penny on the camps or the refugees, who receive all their aid from foreign agencies which in turn must buy millions of dollars' worth of goods from Thai businesses. However, the Thai public is being duped into believing that their government has always cared for the refugees, and can continue to do so. The refugees do not want to go into such camps, and are very afraid of what such camps imply for the future. They don't know what to think of their 'Karen brothers' in the DKBA. They are feeling lost and confused, they have no homes, and the rainy season is just about to begin. Even though the cross-border attacks now appear to have entered a fourth phase which involves attacking Thai forces and Thai Karen villages far from refugee camps, Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai is playing down the attacks - calling them a "trivial issue" which will not affect bilateral relations or the 'constructive engagement' policy. Despite the fact that SLORC has now joined the short list of regimes worldwide which actively engage in international terrorism, it appears that countries everywhere will continue to send trade missions to Rangoon instead of aircraft carriers.

"We can't do anything. My heart is shattered into pieces. Our own nationality is oppressing us."

Karen Buddhist woman, Baw Noh refugee camp, after her house was burned by DKBA/SLORC

SLORC abuses from Nyaunglebin District to Tenasserim Division also continue without abating, and we continue to try to document these as much as possible. Things are getting particularly worse in the area between Ye and Tavoy, where Ye-Tavoy railway labour is continuing from several large labour camps as never before, and Mon, Karen, Tavoyan and Burman refugees continue to flee the area toward the Thai border, increasing the population of some refugee camps as much as 50% since January. However, SLORC continues to beef up security to block refugees from reaching the border, and there are reports that orders have been distributed to some villages telling them that villagers caught heading for the border will be shot. We are looking into these reports. We have now obtained evidence that political prisoners are being used for forced labour on the Ye-Tavoy railway, in the form of a letter signed by a convict in one of the convict labour camps - he was sentenced to 8 years under Article 17-1, which prohibits association with 'illegal' or opposition organizations (see "SLORC Orders to Villages: Set 95-C", KHRG #95-15, 2/5/95). Part of the reason for the clampdown in the area is that the gas pipeline to carry gas from the Martaban Gulf to Thailand has now reached the stage where farmland is being confiscated, while some reports claim that forced labour is being used to clear the pipeline route. Several more battalions of troops have been sent into the area, forced labour has been used to construct at least one offshore naval base (to protect supplies being shipped for the pipeline), and the general human rights situation in the coastal areas and inland is becoming intolerable. At the same time, the Thai 9th Army has given Da Now See refugee camp in Thailand 45 days to go back to the pipeline area of Burma or starve. The camp is shelter to 550 Tavoyan refugees, and is located very near the point where the pipeline will cross the border into Thailand. Food shipments to the camp are no longer being allowed.

"We have been beaten many times. There are so many sick people. Help us out of this trouble."

Letter from a political prisoner (Article 17-1) in a convict labour camp, Ye-Tavoy railway line

"If you don't come because you are afraid of Mon rebels, we Army must show you that we are worse than Mon rebels. That's all."

SLORC written order to Mon village, gas pipeline area

Unocal Oil president John Imle went so far as to claim that more human rights abuses would be necessary as long as opposition forces continue to threaten the gas pipeline. However, those familiar with the situation in Burma know that there are no limits to SLORC human rights abuses even where it is not under 'threat'. We are fortunate to now be receiving information from Chin State (see "SLORC Abuses in Chin State", KHRG #95-09, 15/3/95) which shows us that even where there is very little opposition activity, SLORC pursues its regimen of arbitrary arrests, torture, summary executions, and forced labour. While it appears that John Imle does not understand this, the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Burma or already outside the country certainly do, and they now need the world's help more desperately than ever to save them from being sent back to SLORC's labour camps.

"I'm sure that you are not rebel collaborators. I could release you now by my authority. But I am so sad. I cannot do that for the time being because the Army ordered me not to release you and to put you in jail."

Civilian judge sentencing two political prisoners, Arakan State

"They have several ways of torturing and interrogating. Even though you're not killed, you can never be normal again."

Chin political prisoner after 3 years in a SLORC prison

UPDATE: In the report "SLORC Shootings and Arrests of Refugees", KHRG #95-02, 14/1/95, we reported the case of two Karen refugees at Noh Pa Doh village, Thailand, who crossed the border to plant peanuts on October 29, 1994 and were arrested and held at a camp of SLORC #44 Division, #9 Light Infantry Battalion. They are Maung Kyaw Pu, age 55, who suffers from gastritis, and Saw Tah Kee, age 30, who is physically handicapped. As of January, they were still being held and we directly requested action by Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Centre on their behalf. On May 8, we were notified that they have still not returned and no word of them has been heard by their families. People now believe they have been executed. However, until and unless this is confirmed it remains important to assume they are alive, and we hereby repeat our request for international action to help them.

"There is a patient Army. There is an impatient Army. Choose which you like."

SLORC written order to newly occupied villages in Papun District