[Note: Some details have been omitted or replaced by ‘xxxx’ for Internet distribution.]
The following report was given in an interview with KHRG in early January by a civilian medic and human rights monitor who just returned from Pa’an District. The area he visited, also known as part of KNU 7th Brigade, was until 1995 mainly controlled by the KNU and not much bothered by SLORC; however, SLORC’s extensive offensives throughout 1995 have greatly weakened KNU presence in the area. In the process, SLORC installed the DKBA in the area and the two groups now effectively control it. The most disturbing news is that in order to try to complete its control over the area, SLORC is now imposing a blockade on food and medical supplies into the area, while simultaneously sending the DKBA into the villages to systematically loot whatever food the villagers have. It seems unlikely that this can be intended solely to hurt the few KNLA soldiers still in the area, because SLORC knows they get their supplies across the border. It is more likely that the intent is simply to starve Karen villagers, to wipe out some of the Karen population and to create a human disaster in order to weaken the KNU’s position in ceasefire talks. Regardless of the intent, this is already heading toward a human disaster which may be impossible to prevent if the SLORC and DKBA continue to rule the area. In addition to this, it is important to note that the area described in this report is one of the areas to which the Thai authorities now say it is safe to repatriate refugees.
KNU = Karen National Union
KNLA = Karen National Liberation Army
DKBA = Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army
SLORC = State Law & Order Restoration Council.
Food and medical blockade by SLORC, systematic looting of food by DKBA, orders for forced relocation to Myaing Gyi Ngu, execution, shooting, bunkers in villages, villagers in hiding, starvation, malnutrition, disease, infant mortality, landmines to block escape of refugees, SLORC masquerading as DKBA, villagers’ opinions of DKBA.
I was in Pa’an District, but we couldn’t reach all of the villages, because most parts are controlled by the SLORC. But there are still some parts where we can go. We were east of the Dawna Range, in Pa’an Township, H--- village group and M--- village group. Each village group has 8 or 9 villages. I went to 9 villages. We started 2 weeks ago and were there for 10 days.
Before, SLORC never came to those villages except maybe once every few years. It is only now, with DKBA, that they come every few days. All the villagers have very new bunkers for each house, even at the monasteries they have a big bunker. It is a big trench with covering over it. These are to protect from heavy weapons. This is because the DKBA wants the people to move to their DKBA village, this new village ruled by DKBA near Ka Ma Maung [Myaing Gyi Ngu, DKBA headquarters]. So they said "If you don’t move from here, that will not be our responsibility". That means they will not care about people from that area, if the KNU come in that area they will fight them even right in the village. They will not notice the villages. So the people are afraid and make bunkers. Also, they have already had some fighting in their villages. There are not so many KNLA Army in this area. There are some KNLA in the area, they are trying to regroup their soldiers. Now in the villages, the people don’t know who is in control, and the people are afraid of the DKBA and SLORC. The DKBA moves around in all the villages I went to. They come every 2 or 3 days. Some villages are quite far from their place so they only go there every week. There are quite a lot of DKBA, but among the DKBA not all are Karen - the villagers say that most of them are from SLORC. The villagers know who is Karen and who is not Karen, and they know the SLORC. They see there are quite alot of Burmese, and they know they cannot be DKBA, they must be SLORC. They wear DKBA marks, but they cannot speak Karen. The villagers told me that the DKBA has no badges, they only have their yellow headbands, and that means DKBA. When the DKBA needs a large force, they can get it from SLORC. In DKBA they have a problem, because some of them agree to work with SLORC, and some disagree. Also, I think the SLORC does not believe in DKBA, but they are playing politics.
If the village is near their base, the DKBA goes there every 2 days. At least 50 come together. Every time they come they steal all the animals, and even the chillies. They do not destroy the houses, and they do not shoot the villagers in the village if there is no fighting, but they take everything, including the clothing in the houses, so there is nothing left. They give no reason, and they don’t talk to the people. Also, the people are not allowed to visit their base. So they come, they steal everything, and they go back to their base, and next time they come they do the same, every time. Their base is at Kyaw Ko, east of the Dawna Range. There is a DKBA base and a SLORC base there. The commander of DKBA in 7th Brigade is Bo Tha Htwe, he is former KNLA who has had commando training.
The villagers there have very big trouble for food and medical care, because the SLORC is blocking all the supplies from Burma, from Pa’an or SLORC-controlled villages. SLORC is stopping anything from Burma getting to these villages. Even salt, they have cut it off. They are cutting off the food supply. And then DKBA goes to all the villages and takes the animals, cooking pots, and rice. All the pots! So for the villagers it is difficult to cook, and they have no rice. In this season they can get some rice, because it is harvest time. But they cannot cook because they have no pots. So the villagers are staying in the jungle. I went to quite alot of villages, and some villages are quite nice, but in the villages you do not see a lot of people. Most of the people are staying in the jungle, because they are afraid of the DKBA. They cook in bamboo [they use the hollow bamboo as pots].
The people told me that 6 months ago, they killed 2 villagers because the villagers were carrying salt. They can’t say whether it was DKBA or SLORC, but DKBA and SLORC are the same. In most of the villages, I think 20 percent of the villagers are suffering from iodine deficiency. I asked, "Why don’t you have salt?" They said "We have some salt, but not much." Now they have great difficulty getting salt. The villagers who were killed were from that area. SLORC has a base that’s on the way between there and Pa’an. Between Pa’an and those villages there are 4 or 5 ways people can go on foot. When the villagers want to buy something from Pa’an they go by those ways. All of those routes have a SLORC checkpoint and a DKBA checkpoint - 2 checkpoints. The villagers have to pay some money to SLORC, and some money to DKBA. But now the villagers are not allowed to go. Everything that was carried from Pa’an to the villages has been cut off. They don’t want it to get through.
Now is the harvest time so the villagers can get some rice, they cook it in bamboo and they stay in the jungle. They don’t stay in big groups - just 2 or 3 families, sometimes just 1 family, beside a stream in the jungle. When they see the DKBA, they run to another place. They run and run. They don’t know where to run to, they just run to wherever they think is safe at the time.
Every time DKBA needs porters, they collect money from the villagers. They say that this money is for porters. In these villages they have another big problem now - DKBA told the leaders of all these villages they want 2,000 Kyat for each house, and that will be the price for one year to pay to DKBA, like a tax. It doesn’t matter if the house is empty - if it is empty maybe they will burn it down. They say that "If you stay in this village, the result is not our responsibility."
Most of the villagers there are Buddhist, second is Animist, and the third is Christian. Some of them look Christian but they say they are Buddhist, I think because they are afraid of the DKBA. The people don’t want to go to Myaing Gyi Ngu, because they don’t believe the DKBA. The people believe DKBA will not last much longer, because they do such bad things to the people. So the people say that one day there will be trouble for the DKBA. There are no volunteers for DKBA, because the villagers hate the DKBA. The DKBA is a big group, but most of them are SLORC. But they even dress in the uniform and tie on a headband. Most are Burmese.
Most of the villages have a monastery, but there are not so many monks, only one or two monks. But the monks are also afraid of DKBA. All the monks I saw were afraid. I asked, "Why? Did DKBA give you any problem?" They said, "DKBA came, and they asked many questions." They don’t care about Buddhism. They usually try to get information from the monks. They ask "Have you seen any KNU or KNLA in the area?" The monks just say, "I don’t know."
We were in XXXX village, which has 200 houses. One hour after we arrived, we heard some shooting from the next village, 45 minutes away. It is near the DKBA base, only 10 minutes’ walk away. So they came. In this village there is one village guard - KNDO [Karen National Defence Organization, the KNU’s village militia] set this up for all the villages, but now in this area it is not controlled by the KNDO, so the village guards are independent. But they have weapons, and they guard by themselves. That boy, the village guard, I saw him after he was wounded. He was helping the people to cut up a pig. The DKBA saw him and shot at him, so he ran. All the people ran, and the DKBA took all the pork and went back. The guard was wounded in the leg. He was very lucky. They shot a medium weapon, like M79 [grenade launcher]. He was very lucky, he just had a small hole in his leg. When he was hit he hid behind a tree. I asked the villagers, "Did you get any of the pork?", and they said "No, they took it all". [The DKBA professes to be vegetarian.]
I saw the people harvesting. They harvest their paddy from the field, and then they hide it in many places in the jungle. They don’t keep it in the village. They divide it and hide it in many places, they usually hide it in caves in the mountains. Usually the people wouldn’t go in those caves because they are very dangerous, with snakes and other animals. The DKBA knows some of the places where the people keep the rice, so they took it. Usually the people keep one third or a quarter of their rice in the village to eat through cold season. All that rice, all that paddy is now gone. In the villages there you cannot even buy any food. We ate rice with just chillies and salt, but in some villages we couldn’t even get chillies, just rice and salt. The villagers are just eating rice with water and salt. They put water in the rice, because it is very new rice so it is sticky. The people eat some vegetables from the jungle, they boil them and eat them together with the water they were cooked in. Now there are very few vegetables left in the jungle. In better times the people don’t eat this kind of vegetable. When we arrived in villages, people came out of the jungle into their village, and afterwards they went back.
The people said it has been one year now that the SLORC and DKBA have been doing like this. In rainy season they couldn’t make as many problems, but now that it is dry season the DKBA comes and goes everywhere. DKBA and SLORC know, and they allow the people to grow the paddy in rainy season. They wait until it is time to harvest, and then the DKBA takes it all.
The DKBA got 40 or 50 percent of their rice, so the people know that they don’t have enough to survive until next harvest time. So they are afraid. They think that by the end of cold season [March] they will already almost finish all their rice. Then they have no idea what they will do. From these villages to Beh Klaw refugee camp is 12 hours’ walk. They feel they cannot go to refugee camps, because it is far to the refugee camps, and also if they move in a group towards the border, DKBA will make a problem. They have already laid some landmines. Nobody has been hurt by those mines yet, but some of their animals have. The villagers also say that even in the refugee camps they would have to fear the DKBA, so it is not so much difference between the jungle and the refugee camp. They say "In the refugee camp we can’t run. We don’t know how to run in Thailand, but at least we know how to run in the jungle". So the jungle seems better.
I don’t think the people can go on like this until next rainy season. Maybe the villagers will die. Many people there are suffering from severe malaria, and there is a lot of malnutrition. Even with the pregnant women, only half of their children survive. Half die under 2 years, especially under 2 months. For example, one woman gives birth 6 times, and only 3 will survive. 3 will die before age 2, especially under 2 months. There is no medicine, and when they have a big problem they have no idea where to go for medical care. I asked the villagers, "When you have someone seriously ill, where do you send them?", and they said "We have no medicine, and we cannot send them anywhere. All we can do is pray before they die. So we pray."
Even the hill Karen say the DKBA is crazy. Because the hill Karen wanted to know what are the DKBA’s aims and objectives, because the DKBA comes every 2 or 3 days and take things. But now when they ask, the DKBA do not answer anymore. They just say "We are Buddhist", but the hill Karen say "We don’t know everything about Buddhism, but we know one thing very clearly: Buddhism means no killing, to Buddhists killing is a very big problem. Now you have a gun - is that Buddhist?" And they say the DKBA cannot answer them. After that, when the DKBA comes to the village they don’t talk to the villagers, they just go straight to the village head, they say how much money and how much rice they want, and that’s all.