Conditions North Of Myawaddy

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Conditions North Of Myawaddy

Published date:
Wednesday, January 10, 1996

The following reports were collected by independent Karen civilian human rights monitors who visited the area north of Myawaddy in November and December 1995. This area is under firm SLORC control. The DKBA (Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army, often referred to in this report as "Ko Per Baw" - the "Yellow Headbands") also operates in the area in cooperation with SLORC. The Thai Government claims that now that fighting has died down in this and some other areas, it will soon be time to drive all the refugees back across to villages there.

[Note: Some details have been omitted or replaced by ‘xxxx’ for Internet distribution.]

The following reports were collected by independent Karen civilian human rights monitors who visited the area north of Myawaddy in November and December 1995. This area is under firm SLORC control. The DKBA (Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army, often referred to in this report as "Ko Per Baw" - the "Yellow Headbands") also operates in the area in cooperation with SLORC. The Thai Government claims that now that fighting has died down in this and some other areas, it will soon be time to drive all the refugees back across to villages there.

For the security of the villagers, some details have been omitted or replaced by ‘xx’. Note: in the report there are some references to "#88 Battalion", a Light Infantry Battalion operating in the area which is part of SLORC #33 Light Infantry Division (one Division consists of 10 battalions). This should not be confused with #88 Light Infantry Division. #88 Division is also in the area, represented by 4 Battalions: #415, 416, 108, and 10, which operate between Palu, 50 km. south of Myawaddy, and Kawmoora, 15 km. north of Myawaddy. The reference to #88 in Report #2 below is definitely #88 Battalion, but the troops mentioned in Reports 3 and 4 may be from either 88 Battalion or 88 Division.

Tropic Summary

General living conditions (Reports #1-3), forced labour(#1-4), portering (#4), shootings (#4), abuse of women (#3,4), forced labour of children & elderly (#3), looting (#1), demands for logs (#1), village registration (#2), villagers abandoning / fleeing villages (#1,2,3).

Reports

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Report #1.

I travelled to XXXX on xx November 1995, XXXX. I went to T--- village at the Meh Bleh river, which I couldn’t recognize well, partly because I hadn’t been for a long time and partly because it has changed. About 10 years ago this was a village which was well inhabited, with a well-kept road, houses and a school. Before it had 50 houses, but now if you come into the village you don’t even know you’re in a village, there is no noise, it’s so quiet! The houses are unkempt, and looking into them I could see that few people were sleeping in them, so most must be sleeping outside the village. I talked with some of the villagers and they said that now there are only 18 households left. Of those who have gone, some went to Thailand and some fled further into the hills. The villagers said "We must make two or three houses each, so if the Na Wa Ta [SLORC] or Ko Per Baw [DKBA] come we can flee to our places in the fields". They have also taken all of their household items and hidden them in the rocks and cliffs in the area so that the SLORC or Ko Per Baw cannot take them, as the villagers have already suffered this in the past. T--- village is in the T--- village group, along with B---, T---, W--- and H---, and all these villages are experiencing the same situation. The number of houses in each of these villages respectively is 17, 8, 25, and more than 20. There is no school amongst them all, and only two monasteries.

From xx to xx November I travelled around the area of these villages and saw that many fields were not being worked, and also that many people were ill but had no medicine to cure themselves. People said that since the beginning of 1995 it has been very difficult to stay and grow food, but also that the way to Thailand has more and more problems [SLORC and DKBA are systematically blocking escape routes for refugees]. Village leaders said to me, "It is getting more and more difficult, when will things be better?" I could see that. My people. The parents hope for better times, but if the youth cannot keep their determination to help their families work their fields then all happiness is lost. When I saw babies my heart felt great pity for them, as they are growing up in the midst of sicknesses pressing down upon them, and with no opportunities to learn. I saw this and was angered but could do nothing. Inwardly I was thankful that we Karen who stay in the refugee camps in Thailand are blessed that our brothers and sisters from other lands give us the food, clothing, medicines and other help that we need.

On xx November I went from B--- to D---. In the fields I saw that a few people were working and that they still had some of their buffalo, and there were also a few people along the path, but not like before. As with the other group of villages, the houses are all in disrepair. People’s lives in this place are as water on a ‘ku’ leaf. [Water beads on a ‘ku’ leaf - if you touch the leaf the beads shake and scurry around, and they are easily knocked off the leaf.] From xx November I stayed in M--- for three days. On one day I went to the coconut seller, who said to me, "If you can climb the palm you can eat as you please and you need not pay me, because soon Na Wa Ta or Ko Per Baw will come, and if so they will take and eat them all anyway." M--- and D--- are both very pleasant places, but the people there live in fear and are always steeling themselves for the SLORC or Ko Per Baw to come and oppress them. They said that Ko Per Baw and SLORC came two times already and most of the people fled and hid, because if not they ask people about weapons and frighten people by saying that the people are hiding guns or Kaw Thoo Lei [KNU soldiers].

On the afternoon of xx December, two groups of village women passed through the village I was in, 3 or 4 to a group, following each other. They were grandmothers carrying children, with baskets on their backs and woven bamboo trays on their heads. They had left their village and were going into the hills, going like this, trip by trip, until all their household possessions were removed. I asked one elderly woman, "Why are you carrying all of this? You can run anytime and hide only yourselves, really". She answered to me, "Don’t speak like this. The ‘raw food eaters’ [presumably meaning SLORC or DKBA, who steal their livestock and food], they take everything until it is gone and leave you with nothing. So it is better to carry everything away now." As night was falling they went again, and went slowly and quietly from the village. I went to a person’s house and looked inside to see what was left, and saw only two wooden water carriers without any water in them. I spent the night there. That place is part of T--- village, close to H---.

So from xx November until xx December I was travelling around and visiting people in this village group. Whenever people saw us they would ask, "How long until things become better?" I heard that question "How long until things become better?" in so many places, and I know that they hope to have a decent government and to be free from this oppression. On xx December I went to L--- village and listened to a village elder from XXXX. He said that that very afternoon, Maung Chit Thu of the Ko Per Baw had sent a verbal message to XXXX, XXXX and other villages. It was to the effect that for the next 3 days, each village had to send at least 30 people to clear land, that they were required to bring along their own food, and furthermore the villagers must bring with them a total of 400 logs, each at least 7 feet long and three hands in circumference, all to Ker Ghaw village. The message also said "If you do not do as we instruct you to do and then something happens to you, don’t say it was our fault". Maung Chit Thu is a Ko Per Baw company commander in Ker Ghaw village. He stays near the Kho Khat monastery by the Meh Bleh river, and moves around the area. Maung Chit Thu did not say where they would have to do the land clearing work, nor what would be done with the logs. [The land clearing may be for a forced-labour military farm or an army camp; the logs are most likely to sell, because if they are for building the villagers are usually ordered to saw them into planks as well. The DKBA is known to be selling logs across the border to Thai traders in Meh Dan, 80 km. north of Mae Sot.] XXXX is a good place, XXXX is a good place, but when they heard Maung Chit Thu’s order their faces became full of troubles. I know that right now the villagers must finish the work of their harvesting, and some said to me, "I will finish the work for my harvest, then I will flee to Thailand if the way is open, or otherwise I must run to a faraway place."

On xx December I went to P--- in the morning and met an old friend from school, so I was very happy. He brought a melon to cook, but as I was cooking rice we heard that SLORC and Ko Per Baw troops had come to A--- village, so we had no time to cook the melon and we ate our rice with chillies and salt and then left to go back to L--- village, where we slept the night. Villagers there said to me, "There is no way we can encounter Na Wa Ta or Ko Per Baw". The people there must just act [run] without thinking about things. The next morning after eating, we heard that the Burmese would come to L--- so we left immediately. After we separated I went back to H---. Later that day when I was there cooking rice, people came fleeing from L---, saying that the Burmese had already arrived in L---. Therefore we left without finishing our cooking, back into the hills to head back to Thailand. The villagers had heard that the Burmese would be doing something around the Meh Bleh and Moei rivers and also in the hills, but they didn’t know what. So many people said that once their harvest is finished they will flee to Thailand. That night, xx December, we slept in the hills along with four elderly women, two babies and two teenagers. They were carrying bags and baskets and had followed behind us. When we asked them they said they were fleeing to xxxx refugee camp, so we came back together. On xx December we arrived back in Thailand. I felt restless and dissatisfied.

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Report #2.

On 22 December 1995 a meeting was held at the monastery in Htee Sah Ra village at 12 o’clock. The meeting was attended by Strategic Command officer Nay Aung from the Township LORC in Myawaddy; a Village LORC official; Timber Excise Department officials; an Education Department official; Health Department officials; and officers of 88 Battalion based at Meh Bleh village, as well as Htee Sah Ra village leaders and the public. The 88 Battalion commander opened the meeting by saying that in the past the leaders and members of Htee Sah Ra village community had not worked together with the Myawaddy leaders, and therefore now a new village administrative region would be formed consisting of Htee Sah Ra, Ker Ghaw, Kwee Lay, Sgaw Ko, Pah Klu, Meh Bleh and Kway Sha villages. He said the village leaders of each of these villages would have to work together with Myawaddy leaders. Furthermore, he said that if they needed something done they could inform Myawaddy, which would then examine the prospect of giving assistance. He then pointed to his badge, numbered ‘88’, and said that they are a peaceful Battalion. Having said that, he left the meeting.

Then the Township LORC officer spoke. He said that previously this region had been under the administrative control of Village LORCs and that is why the situation has not been so good, but now that Township LORC is in charge things will be good, and the conditions in the villages will be pretty reasonable in the future. He announced that they will begin registration of the village population, and requested the village elders to begin assigning numbers, after which they will conduct a full registration process. He said that people who did not attend at the time of registration and have their names recorded as members of the village community would be looked on as outsiders, so then if military units from other areas caught them to work as porters or such like, then the Township LORC would be under no obligation to step in. The Township LORC officer requested that as well as registering the number of people, the village elders should also register the numbers of bullocks and bullock carts, so that in future when called upon to send these [for SLORC use] it could be done more easily, and perhaps fewer would need to be sent. Finally, he said that people who had finished Standard 8 in a Burmese state school and who would like to be health workers or teachers could give their names to the Township LORC, and they would make arrangements for training. He then asked the villagers if there was any other thing they would like to do, such as fish farming, but the people answered that they couldn’t do this because there are no places available.

The Timber Excise official spoke next, and said that previously there has been no system of regulation for trading in logs, but now trading would be conducted with rules and discipline. After about 45 minutes, the meeting ended and the medics present examined villagers and prescribed medicines, after which they all departed.

However, the situation now is not really as the Township LORC officer reported. Presently 88 Battalion has greater power than any of those other groups who spoke, and their duty is to move about the Meh Bleh region. For example, on 23 December they sent an order to Htee Sah Ra village ordering the villagers to build a 5-foot high bamboo fence along both sides of the road leading out of Htee Sah Ra, and build it such that a person could not even fit their hand through the gaps, let alone pass through the fence, in order to prevent land mines from being laid on the road [building a fence this solid will require a great deal of bamboo and labour]. Villagers in Meh Bleh village have been ordered to construct this fence starting from their own village all the way to Htee Sah Ra, and Htee Sah Ra villagers have been ordered to continue the fence out the other side of the village to an as yet unspecified point.

Furthermore, the Township LORC are currently calculating the size of people’s farms in order to tax land holdings. The Ko Per Baw are ordering the villages to collect all scrap metal, which the Ko Per Baw will sell to get funds. On the road, a unit from SLORC #22 Division operates a small checkpoint on the way to Thailand, which demands 100 Kyat from every person coming in from Thailand, and 50 Kyat from every person going out to Thailand. Many villagers are saying to themselves that if the situation continues to worsen, they may try to go to Thailand until things get better.

[Usually, SLORC uses village registration in order to determine forced labour quotas for each village, as well as a way to decide how much money, livestock, rice, etc. to extort from villages as quotas. In this case they may also use the registration process as an opportunity to capture people who are suspected of having relatives in the KNU to hold them hostage, or to screen and arrest anyone they don’t like in the village populations. Anyone who doesn’t register will likely be subject to arrest at any time if found in the region. Failure to register would be seen as grounds to torture or execute anyone, on the assumption that only KNU people would avoid registration.]

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Report #3.

[The following account was given by villagers who were fleeing the area of the Kru Tu - T’Nay Hsah road construction, in southern Pa’an Township north of Myawaddy, in an interview with an independent human rights monitor at the end of December (their specific personal details are omitted for their safety)]

Starting in this dry season of l995 [October], people have had to go to dig and construct a car road starting from Kru Tu village [Kyone Done in Burmese language], coming as far as T’Nay Hsah. All villages in the region adjacent to the road must go. They are being forced by SLORC troops based at T’Nay Hsah village, Battalion 88, and a few DKBA soldiers. At the time that we went, the construction of the road had come as far as Noh Pyu village. We heard that the construction will continue until Paw Yay Bu in District 2. In the Ber Kho region of T’Nay Hsah District all villages must attend the road construction. We went together in a group of ten people, amongst fifty people working. The road is built five feet high [a 5-foot high embankment] and wide enough to accomodate two cars side by side. We had to take our own food and received no salary. If one of us has to go but is unable, such as if we are sick, wives or children must go. If there are no young people in the house, the elderly, even with white hair, broken teeth and stooped over, must go and cook rice for the SLORC soldiers. There were also some ten-year-old children, who carried the earth in trays. We were amongst fifty people at the road construction. If we finish, but our names are again selected by lottery, we must go again. As we are not free to attend to our occupations, it was necessary for my family to borrow rice to eat from others. At the time that we must go to the road construction, if nobody goes we have to find other people to go for us or pay 200 Kyat per person per day, or else they said that they will come and take our possessions, small livestock and cattle - as for me, all I have in my home is a pot and plates. When we came here we came secretly, we didn’t tell anybody.

We heard that the car road will have a gravel layer, and that the stone for this will be worked from the T’Nay Hsah cliff and that in order to work the cliff a sacrifice of living people is required - 7 women and 30 men. The women must be young and unmarried. [We have no previous reports of SLORC conducting ‘human sacrifices’, although there are a few radical elements within DKBA with some extreme and unusual beliefs. The call for a sacrifice is most likely a rumour based on the fact that SLORC has specifically requested young unmarried women. It is more likely that the people are being called for forced labour quarrying gravel, and in the process SLORC is requesting young unmarried women so they can rape them - SLORC units generally prefer to rape women who are young and unmarried. The fact that the villagers would believe SLORC capable of human sacrifices simply reflects the level of barbarity they are used to from SLORC.] In this month of December, at Kler T’ku village, the SLORC soldiers came and called one 16 year old girl to go back with them to T’Nay Hsah. The next morning her mother went after them and then SLORC soldiers said that they had already let her go the previous day. Until now people haven’t seen her. As the news that there must be a sacrifice of 37 people at the cliff has come to the villagers, now there is great fear amongst them.

Now the SLORC soldiers are staying at T’Nay Hsah. I heard people say that they are #88 Battalion or Division. As we could not bear the suffering any longer we fled along with some of our family members, and now we must return to get others who are still in the village. We left on 20 December 1995. [Note: the road construction project is still going on.]

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Report #4.

[The following report was submitted by an independent civilian human rights monitor who visited the Day Law Pya area.]

One unit of SLORC #88 Battalion and DKBA organized themselves at Sgaw Kho, then left Sgaw Kho on 3 December ‘95, went to Pah Klu on 5 December, Loh Baw on 6 December, and Htee Wah Klay on 7 December. On 8 December ‘95 they returned to Loh Baw Maw Ber Htah, where they saw villagers in a hut next to fields where they had gone to work and shot at them. N--- was seriously wounded in his right shoulder. N--- is about 30. He is a Karen Buddhist farmer from Day Law Pya, and has a wife and children. They also shot and killed two bulls and three cows. The cattle owner’s name is K---, who stays in Day Law Pya.

On 10 December ‘95 the same group of soldiers arrived at Meh Bleh Wah Kee. Some of the male villagers fled to save themselves, leaving the young and elderly women behind. More than ten people were arrested and taken forcibly from the fields they were working in. Naw M--- [a woman] was amongst the group, plus six men. Naw M--- is about 30, she is Karen Buddhist and a farmer, from Meh Bleh Wah Kee. They were forced to carry extremely heavy army equipment across the Dawna Mountains, to Ber Kho on the other side. They carried it for two days. An elder of Meh Bleh Wah Kee followed after them, and on 13 December ‘95 in the region of Htee Hseh Ker the SLORC soldiers released them and they were all able to return with the elder.