[Note: Some details have been omitted or replaced by ‘xxxx’ for Internet distribution.]
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 may be affected. Every village has been ordered to move either to SLORC Army camps surrounding Papun, such as Papun, Kaw Boke, Par Haik, or Ka Hee Kyo (all along the Papun - Kyauk Nyat road route) 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 area 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 military camps near 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 (Karen National Liberation Army) 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 "the same as 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.
The following interviews were conducted by KHRG in refugee camps in Thailand in mid-February 1996. Those interviewed come from 14 different villages scattered from the north to the south of Papun District, and all of them say that all the villages around them were also ordered to move. All of their names have been changed to protect them, and false names are indicated by enclosing them in quotation marks. KNU = Karen National Union; Ko Per Baw = 'Yellow Headbands', common Karen name for the DKBA (Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army); SLORC = State Law & Order Restoration Council.
Forced relocation, villagers fleeing, SLORC/DKBA blocking escape routes to Thailand, burning villages and food supplies (Stories #1,5,6,16), killings (#1,6,16), bullet & chillie messages (#1,9), conditions at army camp relocation sites (#2), conditions at Khaw Taw (#5,7,10), forced labour as porters, at army camps, on roads, child labour (#1,3,12,15), abuse of women (#3,5,10), looting, extortion, landmines (#1,2,5).
NAME: "Pu Tee Ku" SEX: M AGE: 60 Karen RC Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 6 children aged 5-25
ADDRESS: Toh Wih Der village, Bu Tho Twp., Papun Dist. INTERVIEWED: 14/2/96
I've been here about one month, because of SLORC soldiers. They ordered us to be their porters, and some villagers died from landmines when they went as porters. People who didn't go had to hire someone to go in their place. First they would order us to go for 5 days, but then they didn't release us. Sometimes it was 10 days, or sometimes they only released us when they got someone to replace us. The SLORC stays at Ka Hee Kyo [northeast of Par Haik camp]. It is 2 hours [walking] from our village. They are LIB 434. Sometimes there are 80-100 soldiers there, sometimes 300-400. They also made us work on the roads, like Papun to Bilin and Kaw Boke to Par Haik. We have to go by turns, one group every 5 days until the road is finished [these roads have to be rebuilt every year in Nov.-Feb., after every rainy season]. At least 5 people have to go each time, everybody including women, children 10 years old and old men 70 or 80 years old. When I was there I had to go, and now my brother still has to go - he's only one year older than me. We have to take our own food and sleep at the workplace. This year they started on January 1st, on the Kaw Boke to Par Haik road. It is an existing road and they are rebuilding it. They do it every year. They also demanded 5 baskets of rice from Toh Wih Der, and money for porters ["porter fees", which are not given to porters.]
They sent letters 3 times ordering us to move. They sent a letter along with a chillie and a bullet [a standard SLORC message meaning we will kill you and burn your village if you don't obey]. It ordered us to move to Par Haik, near their military camp. Some villages have to move to Papun and some to Kaw Boke, around their army camps, and after that they will burn and destroy all the villages. That letter came one month and 10 days ago. It said that within 10 days we had to arrive at Par Haik military camp, even that we should arrive tomorrow if possible. But before that 10 days was up we came to Thailand. After 5 days, we left.
There are 50 houses in Toh Wih Der. We all left the village, but some ran into the forest and some came to Thailand. About 30 families arrived in Thailand. As for the people in the forest, they hide and some still try to tend their fields and animals. If SLORC leaves the village the villagers go and tend their farms, but if SLORC stays around they have to cut new fields and plant in the hills. They don't know where else to go. Nobody went to the SLORC place. We asked the SLORC, "If we go to Par Haik will you give us food?" and they said we have to take our own food to the camp. We know that if we stay there they will demand everything from us that they want at any time. SLORC will take people as porters, and they will order them to show where other villagers are hiding. If SLORC finds people hiding in the forest they will arrest them. All the villages around us have been ordered to move. Toh Wih Der and Baw Khaw Der were ordered to move to Par Haik, and Saw Bweh Der village was ordered to move to Kaw Boke village.
Before this year, they only asked us for labour. Last year they killed two villagers from Toh Wih Der: Pa Tweh, 60 years old, and Kyaw Dee, 40 years old. Also, one man from Toh Wih Der died as a porter last year, Klo Htoo Mu. He was 40 years old, married with 4 children. He died in the fighting. Now his family lives in the forest. In our village they always took the headman away and asked him questions before releasing him. Other villages like Baw Khaw Der, Saw Bweh Der and Kaw Wih promised to do everything SLORC wants, so their people didn't suffer as much. [Note: these villages have also now been ordered to move.] In our village, after they killed people and took all our animals last year we asked permission to work with them [they promised to do everything as demanded], but then they started ill-treating us again. The situation just got worse and worse until we had to flee to Thailand.
I have seen DKBA in the village. They came at night and killed the village tract headman last year. His name was Pa Maw Heh, he was 50 years old with 4 children. I don't know why they killed him, maybe they didn't like him. He was a Christian. In Toh Wih Der 10 households are Baptist, 10 are RC [Roman Catholic] and the other 30 are Buddhist. Now there are only SLORC around [no DKBA], and they stay in their camp not far from the village.
It took us 2 days to walk here. It was not easy - we had to come secretly at night. They are trying to stop people from coming to Thailand. But if the situation keeps getting worse, I think everyone will come here. If you go back there, you have to do everything for SLORC. I know that they won't ever stop giving trouble to villagers, so I won't ever go back to my village.
NAME: "Pa Bleh Htoo" SEX: M AGE: 35 Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY: Married, 1 child aged 10
ADDRESS: Oo Thu Kloh village, Bu Tho Twp., Papun Dist. INTERVIEWED: 14/2/96
I have been here for one month, because there was so much trouble in the village. When SLORC said "We'll take you as a porter for 3 days", then they always took us for at least 5 or 10 days. They made me carry one big basket of rice. When I was tired and couldn't walk anymore, they showed me a pistol and pointed it at me, so I was afraid and had to do everything they ordered. We had to go work at their camp every month, by turns. We also had to build and guard the road as they ordered us to do. It is an old road that they are rebuilding, from Oo Thu Kloh to Dat Kway. It's part of the main road to Papun. Ten or fifteen people have to go, but my village is very small so this means everyone must go. There are only 18 houses in my village. Even though they said we only had to go for 5 days, we had to go for one complete month. They also took all our animals and our belongings. I have only one shirt left, and I'm wearing that now. They took all my things. When they came to the village they shot pigs, chicken, cattle and buffalos. They are still giving us more trouble, until I couldn't suffer it anymore and I left the village. Last month we had to follow them to their camp and on the way the soldiers were wounded by a mine. The soldiers said, "You put this mine on the path!" I tried to appease them and said, "I didn't do it, do not kill me", and they pointed a pistol at me. I was really frightened, but my life was spared this time.
There are only a few DKBA in our village. They ordered us to move to Khaw Taw but nobody went there. They came back again and made trouble, but nobody listened to them. Then later SLORC ordered us to move to Kaw Boke. That was last month. They sent a message that said if we villagers didn't move they would come and force us very brutally and take all our belongings. All the villagers went. At Kaw Boke there was a fence around us and we had to do their labour every day. SLORC didn't release anyone to go home when we were there in their camp. After considering things, we all decided to flee from them to different places. They ordered me to carry water for them three times every morning. On the third time I went right across the river, and they yelled at me, "Don't run away, come here!" Then I ran away. I went home just for two nights, then I left for Thailand.
All the villages around us were also ordered to move, but if we stay at their place [the SLORC camp] we can't survive, so we decided to flee to Thailand. Now ours is just an abandoned village. The main reason is because of the suffering from the relocation order. Also, after one family flees the others have to as well, or else SLORC will give trouble to those who stay [interrogating them and blaming them for the escape of the missing families]. Now if they see anyone go back to our village, SLORC will take them as a slave until they die.
NAME: "Naw Paw Lah" SEX: F AGE: 17 Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY: Single, 7 brothers and sisters
ADDRESS: Meh Thaw Kee village, Bu Tho Twp., Papun Dist. INTERVIEWED: 16/2/96
I came here with my whole family. We have been here over 20 days. We came because we have trouble in our village. SLORC orders us to go as porters, but there are only girls in my family - except my father, but he's too old now. So I myself have to go. They take all the men and women as porters. I went all the time. I've had to go since 5 years ago, when I was 12 years old. I had to go, because it was a strong order. We had to go anytime they ordered, because if we didn't they would come and catch us. As I grew older they noticed, so they gave me heavier and heavier loads. I've carried weapons, bullets, 5 big shells... I remember one time, they said "You must come only for two days", but actually it was 7 days. I had to carry one big tin to Wah Kyo twice in a day. It was a long journey. When I came home I was seriously ill and nearly died, and as soon as I got better we left to come here. They still make villagers go like this, 12 year old girls too.
They ordered us to move to Khaw Taw. Both Ko Per Baw and SLORC ordered it. They ordered it last dry season, and this year too. They said if people don't move they will come themselves and move us by force, so we were afraid and some villagers ran to hide in the forest and some came to Thailand like me. There are 10 houses in the village, but no villagers because they are hiding in the jungle. Six families arrived here. If we go to Khaw Taw they won't allow us to do farming. They will give rice, but not enough. People don't want to go because they'll have to work for SLORC and there's not enough food. Ko Per Baw are Karen people, but they give trouble the same as SLORC. When I was a porter there were Ko Per Baw soldiers as well in the column. They are travelling together [DKBA and SLORC].
We had to walk just one day to get here. We went at night, or else SLORC soldiers would see us. They would arrest us and torture us, because they don't allow us to come to the refugee camps. Along the way I saw only deserted villages. All the other villages were ordered to move too - Saw Bweh Der, Dee Taw Kee, May Say Kee, Kyo Ko Der, Meh Wah Ler and Oo Thu Kloh villages. Now we can't go back, because they already said if they see us and arrest us they will kill us on the spot. [This was written in the relocation order, that anyone found after the relocation deadline would be considered as enemy rebel soldiers.]
NAME: "Naw Say Say" SEX: F AGE: 50 Karen Christian (RC) farmer
FAMILY: Married, 6 children aged 10-25
ADDRESS: Meh Wah Der village, Lu Thaw Twp., Papun Dist. INTERVIEWED: 15/2/96
We stay in xxxx refugee camp, because we don't dare stay in our own house. When we were in our village SLORC took us to carry loads for them. It was 5 days for each person. When one person completes 5 days, another has to go and start. We must go by turns. Our village has 20 houses, and 3 people had to go every 5 days. If we didn't go we had to pay money. Not just 1 or 2 Kyats, we had to pay 1,500 Kyats just for 5 days [of missed labour], from every house. Now we have no money left. We also had to work in their camp in Papun. Papun is only 3 hours walk from our village. They ordered us to bring logs and bamboo for their camp, and leaves for their roof. But I didn't dare go to their camp myself. I heard that if they ask for people for one day then we have to go for 10 days, so I didn't dare go.
Now they have ordered us to move to Papun, and they say "we will work together there peacefully". We can move to Papun, but we worry that if we go there they won't allow us to go anywhere, and they will order us to work like dogs. Even when we live in our village they treat us as their slaves. When they order labour we must go, even though we are afraid. All men and women must go. SLORC ordered that within 15 days we all must move to Papun. That was about 5 months ago. So we all left the village and fled before the 15 days were up. We left together with 3 families. As for the others, some ran away to the forest, some went to stay in xxxx village and yyyy village. If the SLORC still orders them to move, I think they will come here. No families went to stay with the SLORC in Papun. So if they come to the village now they will move us by force, they won't even give us a few minutes to collect our things or livestock. I think they will do that as soon as their new soldiers come, and then more people will have to seek shelter in Thailand.
Sometimes Ko Per Baw come to our village. They come together with SLORC and order us to move to Papun. They say, "If you villagers move to Papun, later we will prepare a special place for you in Khaw Taw". Most of the people in our village are RC [Roman Catholic].
All the villages around us were also ordered to move, like Baw Thay Kee, Pa Naw Klaw Ko, Meh Wah Der, Ta Per Der and Lah Nah Der. I don't know what is the SLORC's plan with this order. Sometimes we see KNLA soldiers in our village, but there is no fighting because we tell them not to attack DKBA or SLORC because if they do, DKBA or SLORC will make trouble in our village. KNLA are our own nationality and they always listen to what we say, and we also give them things that they need. So after that they went away from our village. But when SLORC or DKBA come, we are really afraid of them. When they are searching our houses they take things, and if we try to grab our things back then they hit our faces, point their guns at us and show us their knives, and it makes us really afraid. People don't dare stay in the village anymore, they have to hide in the jungle. There are only 4 or 5 houses left in the village. Six families have arrived here. It took us 2 days to come here. Oh! What a big worry we were in, we had to come by night, and there were SLORC soldiers in Saw Bweh Der when we came. We had to cross the [Papun-Kyauk Nyat] car road. Now we don't dare go back. If we go, SLORC will come to our village and ask us so many questions, beat us and point their guns at us.
NAME: "Naw Htoo K'Paw" SEX: F AGE: 23 Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY: Married, 2 children aged 1 and 5 years
ADDRESS: Tee Tha Lay village, Dweh Loh Twp., Papun Dist. INTERVIEWED: 14/2/96
We have been here one week. It took us 2 days to walk. Our village is near Ka Dtaing Dtee [in the south of Papun District, 30-40 km. south of Papun along the Papun - Ka Ma Maung road]. We came because we are afraid of SLORC, because they order us to be their slaves. [Q: SLORC says everyone loves them, why not you?] I don't love them, because they beat us while we are working. When we are in the village, if they order us to go as porters and we refuse to go then they punish us for sure. I've had to go. All men and women have to go. I had to carry weapons and bullets, from Ka Dtaing Dtee to Ka Ma Maung for IB #5. There are about 100 houses in our village, and 30 people have to go at a time. Sometimes it is for 5 days, and they don't give us enough food. Even children and old people have to go and carry 20 or 30 viss [32-48 kg.].
We also have to clear and build car roads for them. The road goes between Papun and Ka Dtaing Dtee. Their soldiers start from Ka Ma Maung and go through Ka Dtaing Dtee and on to Papun. We have to sweep the road, because they worry that the KNU will lay mines on the road. We have to do that 2 or 3 times a month, 20 or 30 people each time. When the men don't dare go, we women have to go. It is supposed to be for a day, but if they won't let you go then you have to sleep there. If no one comes to take our place, we must sleep there with SLORC. We don't dare, because we already have husbands! The soldiers are used to raping women all the time. They take women away on their trucks and nobody can chase them. When the [army] trucks come, villagers are their security. We have to sweep the road before the trucks come and then stand alongside the road when they come. SLORC is afraid the KNU will attack them so they use the villagers. But we can't do anything, we are just afraid so we lay down like chickens!
Sometimes we find mines on the road. One of my friends was killed by a mine this year, not so long ago. His name was Ba Gyi. He was 38 or 39 years old, married with 5 children. He lived in my village, and he stepped on a mine on his way home.
We also have to build another road. It is a road for SLORC to send food to their soldiers, and it goes near our village. We started work on it one month and 18 days ago. It is 4 miles long [the stretch her village has to work on]. We have to go by turns, 15 or 18 people each day. If we don't go they will beat us. They'll give us trouble and force us to move to another village or an army camp. Their camp is in Ka Dtaing Dtee. They demand food from us and they burned all our rice. They did this in rainy season. They said, "You've got a lot of rice, maybe you'll give it to Karen soldiers". So we gave the Burmese half of our rice, but they didn't want it, they want all of the owner's rice, so they burned all of it. They took or destroyed all the rice they saw. About 30 families lost all their rice. They took some of our rice to Ka Dtaing Dtee, and we had to buy it back from them. We had to buy it back one milktin at a time [about 200 ml.] and survive on rice soup. They also demanded money and cattle - 10,000 Kyat and 3 bulls, because it is a big village.
There are a lot of DKBA near our village. Sometimes they come into our village, about 50 or 100 of them together with SLORC, and order us to move to the Ka Dtaing Dtee military camp. People don't want to go, because we have land, farms and orchards in the village. SLORC also orders us to build their barracks and maintain their camp in Ka Dtaing Dtee. I always run away, but my brothers and sisters have gone for 3 or 4 days at a time and they had to cut trees and make firewood. Villagers also have to go for DKBA. We had to build houses and do other labour for them because they haven't got anything in their camp. Their camp is on the hill above Ka Dtaing Dtee, near Taw Thu. DKBA also demands money, 4,000 or 5,000 or 7,000 Kyat. They say, "You haven't moved to our camp, so you must pay us money". I don't know who gives all the orders, but if DKBA orders us to do something for SLORC then we must do it and if SLORC orders us to do something for DKBA we must do that too. SLORC and DKBA are very friendly with each other, but sometimes they kill each other. Some villagers join DKBA because they don't want to suffer anymore. Then their families don't have to go or pay. Most villagers don't like DKBA.
In rainy season DKBA ordered us to move to Khaw Taw camp. About 16 families went as they had ordered. Since then, only the farmers and people who don't join DKBA have come back. As for families whose children have joined DKBA, their children won't allow them to come back. The people who came back from Khaw Taw said they didn't get enough food, and that when they stayed there the SLORC soldiers asked to sleep with their daughters and then raped them. They said if the parents didn't allow them to do it, they came at night and killed the parents. I believe them.
I left my village because the situation is very bad, and I am afraid. They destroyed all my rice and all the rice barns, so there is no rice left in the village. Most people are still staying in our village, but some have run away and are hiding in other villages. On the way here it was a very difficult way, we had to be afraid of both SLORC and DKBA and avoid them. We came the mountain way. Our family came alone, but 3 other families from our village arrived before us. Maybe more families will come later.