The Shelling Of Wah Baw Village

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Published date:
Friday, January 12, 1996

This report describes the human rights situation surrounding the shelling of Wah Baw village on Karen New Years Day. The report includes attacks on civilians, execution, kneecapping, shooting livestock, looting / destruction of property, porters, Ye-Tavoy railway labour, land confiscation / forced labour for military contracts with foreign companies.

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

The Karen calendar is lunar, and Karen New Year generally falls between 15 December and 15 January on the English calendar. This year Karen New Year, the first day of Thalay month of the year 2735, fell on 21 December 1995. Karens throughout Burma, Thailand and other countries celebrated with ceremonies, speeches, giving gifts to elders, music, Don Dance competitions and feasting. It crosses all religious boundaries and is one of the few expressions of Karen identity which is allowed by SLORC.

However, many SLORC commanders see any gathering of a crowd only as either a threat or an opportunity - a threat of an uprising, or an opportunity to round up porters and loot. In the Karen community of Insein, just outside Rangoon, SLORC saw Karen New Year as a threat - a KNU delegation in Rangoon for preliminary negotiations was prevented from attending until after the main festivities were over, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and some of her followers were detained and interrogated for trying to attend, on suspicion that they planned a secret meeting with the KNU representatives. Several days later 4 of the celebration organizing committee members were arrested by SLORC, apparently for allegedly helping to plan such a meeting, though no meeting was ever planned. Further south, in Wah Baw Village, Yay Hla Mine township in Mon State, the SLORC commander saw the regional celebration as an opportunity - as soon as the celebration was in full swing, one column of troops shelled the celebration while another column attacked and looted the village and the celebration field. One man was killed, others were wounded, a house was burned and estimates of the property stolen and destroyed are over 100,000 Kyat. It is important to note that this happened while a KNU delegation was actually in Rangoon for talks with SLORC, and that there is certain to be no disciplinary action whatever against the commander who launched the attack.

A young Karen civilian who was at the celebration gave his account below in an interview with KHRG. Wah Baw village is about 7 miles east of Hla Mine, and Hla Mine is about 20 miles north of Ye, halfway along the road from Ye to Thanbyuzayat.

Topic Summary

Attack on civilians, execution, kneecapping, shooting livestock, looting / destruction of property, porters, Ye-Tavoy railway labour, land confiscation / forced labour for military contracts with foreign companies.

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On 21 December, the Karen people were celebrating Karen New Year’s Day like every year. They were holding the ceremony peacefully - they had dancing, and competitions, and they made offerings to the old people, and the old people gave their blessings to the young. I was there at that time. There were over 1,000 people there. There are about 50 houses in the village, but the villagers from all around Wah Baw village were all attending the ceremony. I think 11 Don Dance groups came. You can imagine - in each dance group there are 20 or 30 people.

In the morning the celebration started at 8 a.m., and then at 8:45 a.m. the SLORC attacked. They attacked and destroyed all the things. It was #106 Battalion [LIB], deployed in Hla Mine, and #343 Battalion [LIB], deployed in Ye. They combined together to do this operation, about 240 soldiers altogether. They are under Southeast Command [commanded by Maj. Gen. Ket Sein]. We think they arrived outside the village in the early morning, before dawn. We think they left their battalion camps at night. They split into two groups: one group took their place on the hill beside the village, and one group raided the village. At that time we were in the field [the celebration was held in an open field just outside the village, where the villagers had erected a stage]. They just fired, and attacked the village without seeing any enemy there. And they ransacked every house, and they took everything. At the same time we were all running because we heard the shooting, and then the troops on the hill saw that all the people were jumping up and running away, and they shelled into the field, into the crowd. I think the shells were 60 mm. [small mortar], not as strong as 81 mm., because in my experience I have seen 81 and 120 mm., and they are very explosive, very strong. But these shells were not that strong, the vibrations were not as strong. We couldn’t count how many shells! For about one hour they fired, both with their small weapons and their artillery [mortars].

Also, they shelled two or three rounds of artillery into the village, and what happened is their own troops got injured. Two soldiers died, according to the porters. They took 8 porters from the village, and later these porters told us they had to carry these wounded soldiers, but that these 2 soldiers had died on the way to their battalion [camp]. Fortunately, no one else died from the shelling, but one of the villagers was arrested, and he was cut down, clubbed to death with a bottle and stabbed in the chest. He was just an ordinary villager. He was drunk - he wasn’t taking part in the ceremony, he was still sleeping. So they took him, dragged him into the field, asked him questions and then clubbed him to death with the bottle. They broke it on his head and then stabbed him with the broken bottle in the belly. His name was U Plaw Toh, he was 30 years old, from Wah Ka Mein village, Thanbyuzayat township. It happened at the same time they were raiding the village.

They searched every house, and they took everything. Some soldiers, when they saw anyone wearing a necklace, they snatched it right off their neck and took it. Also, one of the villagers, he was ordered to come down from his house, and then he was shot down. One of the SLORC soldiers shot him in his knee. They said "Come down from the house!", and as soon as he was on the ground, they shot him. They shot from right in front of him. They shot on purpose just to injure him. [Note: this technique, known as "kneecapping", is practiced by various terrorist groups worldwide as a torture or punishment - it is indescribably painful and causes irreparable damage. The victim can never walk properly again.] That villager, he knows one of the SLORC medics because the SLORC camp is near their village. He told us later. He saw the medic, and the medic said "What’s happened?" He said, "I’ve been injured." The medic said, "What are you doing here?", so he said, "I just came to attend the festival". The medic said "Didn’t you know not to come here?" and he said, "No. I didn’t know." So the medic treated him with a bandage. Aiyy! That villager’s name is XXXX, he is 32 years old, from XXXX village.

Some people managed to run away from the village, but some women and some men were arrested. They didn’t manage to get away. Other than the one who was clubbed to death and the one who was shot, there were 8 men [sic: actually 9] who they took as porters. The porters were released after they reached their camp. In the village the soldiers fired alot, carbine [rifle] and G3 [assault rifle]. They shoot at random, whatever they see. Of course, they’d like to shoot everyone, but the villagers run so they just shoot at anything running. One of my friends was in a house with a sick person, and a child came and told him "SLORC troops are coming", so he jumped down from the house and ran away. They shot at him. Fortunately he managed to escape, he narrowly escaped. The sick man stayed behind. Later we heard that they were going to burn down the house, but the sick man asked for mercy and said "How can I carry these things?" He had malaria and had an IV drip on at the time. So they didn’t bother him, they just took everything from the house and went away.

We stayed away from the village just 2 or 3 hours, hiding on a hill just opposite the hill where the SLORC troops were positioned. One of the village houses was also burned down. We could see the smoke coming from the village. It was U Maung Thaung’s house, he is 44 years old, from Wah Baw village. Three cows were shot. They just shot them and injured them. One of the cows died, the other two were injured so you can’t use them anymore [to pull carts or plough]. They just shot them and left them behind. Also all of our things, the soldiers got them all.

We think the troops only stayed in the village one hour. Because after just 2 or 3 hours some villagers went around and said it was all quiet, so we thought "Let’s go and see", and we saw the troops had already left. We saw the injured man, and the dead body, the house that was burned down and the cows that were shot. The injured man, some villagers carried him into a house, but later on he was sent to the hospital, maybe at XXXX. I think he will get treated okay there, but maybe first SLORC will force him to promise not to tell anything.

From the village they stole money, clothing, the 3 cows, necklaces, and so on. One villager’s house was looted of his clothing, money, and 40 silver coins [possibly colonial-era Indian rupees, which are still used as a valuable form of currency in some parts of Burma]. Altogether we can guess maybe things worth 100,000 Kyat, maybe more. Also, on the way back to their battalion the troops passed some other villages. One of the villages, Klay Taung, is close to Wah Baw. They stopped and took everything from the shops, they took bottles of beer, just drank a little and threw them away and destroyed them. They’ve appointed a man as Ya Wa Ta [Village LORC] headman in that village, but he couldn’t prevent them from doing anything they wanted to do.

We cannot imagine why they attacked Wah Baw [as opposed to New Year celebrations elsewhere]. Also, the KNU person in charge of that area thought that the SLORC wouldn’t disturb anything because the KNU had sent a delegation to Rangoon to meet SLORC leaders. So they should not have disturbed that ceremony. We can’t find any reason why they came and attacked. Because if the SLORC wants to get real national reconciliation, they shouldn’t order their troops to attack and destroy Karen ceremonies. It must have been ordered. Under military discipline, the commander of the Battalion cannot send his troops to do anything unless he gets an order from his commander. These troops are under Southeast Command, Ket Sein is their commander. So they cannot just do whatever they like, without any orders, right?

Q: In the village did SLORC give any indication that they were looking for Karen troops?

A: No. Maybe they asked the man they killed about that. But they didn’t say that to anyone else. Maybe they knew that the KNU was around there. But even if the KNU was there, it doesn’t matter. That celebration, that morning, does not concern the KNU, it concerns the whole Karen nationality. So no matter who is there, they should let them celebrate, if they respect each other, if they respect the customs of other nationalities. They can attack the KNU anytime, anywhere. SLORC always tries to suppress other nationalities, every ethnic people. They don’t want to see any other ethnic nationality’s customs influencing their people.

Q: What else is going on there?

A: They’re asking for labour for construction of the railway from Ye to Tavoy after Karen New Year Day. Because the village headman asked for a pardon, saying "We are going to make a ceremony, and after that we can give you the labour". Each house has to send one person. If you cannot go you have to hire someone to do it. This is the first time people there have to go. How long depends on the work - you have to dig holes, and carry dirt.

Also I heard that around Wah Baw village, the fields will be used as an oil palm plantation. They have a contract with Singapore, and also Daewoo Company, a Korean company. They have a contract with that company to grow oil palm. They will make a plantation. People think that they will be used as forced labour for that as well, that they will have to grow it without any wages. They have not started yet. They have a plan. It will be around that area, Ye - Hla Mine area. Thirty thousand acres. They don’t care whose land it is, on the mountain and around the villages, they will do it. The villagers have some sources of information, so they know this. [SLORC officers and officials often tell village leaders about plans for the area, even when they are not supposed to.] They will take land that belongs to people. These people have been living there since a long, long time ago. They have had to cut out their own fields, and they own them. So SLORC will not cut new fields, they will take the ones that belong to people. And they will use the local villagers as labour. [This plantation may be intended for purposes of "countertrade", a practice used by many foreign companies in Burma: they make their profits in Kyat, which cannot be exported, so they buy domestic agricultural produce from SLORC and export it to repatriate their profits.]

The witness also provided the following partial list of people who suffered losses in the attack:

No. Name Age Village Things lost / Remarks

1.
2.
3.
4.

5.

6.
7.
8.
9.
10.

11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
16.
17.
18.
19.

U P---
U M---
B---
K---

M---

XXXX
U A---
P---
U P---
U M---

U T---
U T---
T---
H---
K---
B---
B---
P---
P---

31
44
30
60

58

32
32
60
30
46

30
46
45
30
37
37
28
21
30

Duh Leh
Wah Baw
Wah Baw
Wah Baw

Wah Baw

XXXX
Wah Baw
Wah Baw
Wa Ka Mein
Wah Baw

Wah Baw
Wah Baw
Wah Baw
Wah Baw
Wah Ko
Wah Ko
K’Nyein
K’Nyein
K’Nyein

3,000 Kyat and clothing
House burned down
Cow shot dead by SLORC
Gold necklace, weight 5 mu, cash 8,000 Kyat, clothing
Gold necklace, weight 5 mu, cash 20,000 Kyat, 1 cow, and clothing
Shot, kneecapped
Cash 20,000 Kyat, 40 silver coins, clothing
Clothing
Beaten and stabbed to death
Cash 30,000 Kyat, 2 cassette players, clothing, & destroyed all furniture
Took him away as porter
Took him away as porter
Took him away as porter
Took him away as porter
Took him away as porter
Took him away as porter
Took him away as porter
Took him away as porter
Took him away as porter

20.

Other things, amount uncountable, belonging to people who were selling from stalls around the celebration field, all stolen or destroyed.