Papun District: Mass Forced Relocations
SLORC has seriously stepped up its campaign to clear the entire rural population out of Papun District and make the entire area a free-fire zone. Since December 1995, orders have been issued to every rural village under SLORC control from Kyauk Nyat in the north to Ka Dtaing Dtee in the south, from the Salween River (the Thai border) in the east to at least 10 km. west of Papun - an area 50-60 km. north to south and 30 km. east to west. This area is rugged hills dotted with small villages, averaging 10-50 households (population 50-300) per village. Estimates are that 100 or more villages are affected. Every village has been ordered to move either to SLORC Army camps surrounding Papun, such as Papun, Kaw Boke, or Par Haik, or to DKBA headquarters far to the south at Khaw Taw (Myaing Gyi Ngu) in Pa’an District. The orders have all been issued by SLORC. Generally a SLORC column enters the village with only a few DKBA soldiers accompanying them, and the SLORC officer issues the order. Villagers confirm that DKBA never operates in the area by themselves anymore - DKBA soldiers only appear in small groups as part of SLORC columns. SLORC units involved in the operation include Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) 340, 341, 434, and Infantry Battalion (IB) 5.
There is no apparent logic to which villages have been ordered to Papun and which to Khaw Taw; some villages the furthest from Khaw Taw have been ordered to move there, while some much closer to Khaw Taw have been ordered to move to Papun. The majority are being ordered to move to Papun area, where SLORC has allocated sites beside military camps for them. They have been ordered to take all their food with them because SLORC says no food will be provided. Villagers have been told that they will still be allowed to farm their home fields, but they do not believe it and they are probably right, because SLORC is trying to make this whole region into a free-fire zone in order to cut KNLA supply lines and to block the flow of refugees to Thailand. The relocation sites at military camps will almost certainly be used as forced labour camps. People in them will regularly be used as porters, army camp labourers, and probably for military forced labour farming for profit. It appears that the main use of the detained population will be as forced labour to work on the Papun - Par Haik - Kyauk Nyat car road to give the military access to the border area, and to make the 100-km. Papun-Bilin car road into an all-season road. Until now, the Papun-Bilin road has been washed out every monsoon season and the villagers are forced to rebuild it every year. Making it an all-season road will give the military rainy-season offensive capability in the region. To do this, thousands of men, women, and children will be required to smooth the road and break rocks and gravel.
Villagers are also being ordered to move to Khaw Taw, most likely because the DKBA needs a civilian population as a source of new recruits. Villagers in both Papun and Pa’an Districts, where DKBA is the strongest, confirm that no one is joining DKBA anymore because DKBA abuses villagers and is "under SLORC, just part of SLORC".
The main deadlines for the move were between 13 and 18 January. Thousands of villagers fled their villages before the deadline, because SLORC and DKBA said that if they failed to move serious action would be taken, such as burning of villages and shooting villagers as "rebels". Five hundred to a thousand arrived in Thailand, and said that all villagers are trying to flee rather than obey the orders. Some are fleeing to Thailand, others into the hills, and a few are still trying to hide in their villages but run and hide in the forest whenever SLORC is nearby. Those who fled to Thailand say that the way is increasingly difficult, that they can only travel at night and sometimes crossing the Papun - Par Haik car road is impossible due to SLORC presence. Along the way, all they saw were completely abandoned villages. They believe that anyone found hiding in the forest or en route to Thailand will be executed or arrested as porters.
Hundreds of refugees flowed into refugee camps in mid-January, but then the flow suddenly and almost completely stopped, despite the testimony of villagers that everyone is trying to flee. This is a frightening development, because it most likely means that SLORC is succeeding in blocking many escape routes to the border. If SLORC follows this up by combing the hills for villagers trapped in hiding, the resulting toll in death, torture, and rape could be staggering.
Further details will be available in an upcoming KHRG report.