REFUGEES FROM PA'AN DISTRICT

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REFUGEES FROM PA'AN DISTRICT

Published date:
Monday, March 18, 1996

This report documents the experiences of recently arrived refugees from southern Pa'an District in central Karen State, interviewed in refugee camps in Thailand in February 1996.  The testimonies below focus on forced labour, extortion, arrest and abuse of villagers in general, as well as the specific abuse being targetted at Christians and relatives of KNU members.

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

The descriptions below were given by recently arrived refugees from southern Pa'an District in central Karen State, interviewed in refugee camps in Thailand in February 1996. For background on this area, the reader should see 'SLORC / DKBA Activities in Kawkareik Township' (KHRG #95-23, 10/7/95) and other related KHRG reports. The refugees in this report are all from the area around Bee T'Ka, north of Kawkareik towards Hlaing Bwe. In this area, SLORC and DKBA are ruling in tandem, with a limited presence of KNLA still in the area. Villagers are finding that now they have to pay fees and provide forced labour for both SLORC and DKBA, and that the DKBA have no qualms about handing over villagers to be tortured or executed by SLORC. Two names which always occur in the testimony of villagers, and have appeared in KHRG reports before, are Pa Tha Dah (aka Pa Tha Da, Kyaw Tha Da, Saw Tha Da) and his brother Nuh Po (aka Kyaw Nuh Po, Saw Nuh Po). They are two former Bee T'Ka farmers who joined DKBA for the power it gives them, and have become even more notorious than SLORC in the area for their looting, torture, and gratuitous abuse of villagers. As a result, SLORC had them promoted to officer rank in the DKBA.

A relatively small but steady stream of people are fleeing the area. Further north in Pa'an District the situation is even worse (see 'SLORC / DKBA Activities: Pa'an District', KHRG #96-05, 14/1/96); however, SLORC has now begun major new forced labour road construction projects in the Bee T'Ka area and so the forced labour situation is about to get much worse (see 'Road Construction in Pa'an District', KHRG #96-12, 16/3/96).

The names of all villagers interviewed in this report have been changed in order to protect them, and false names are enclosed in quotes; some details have also been omitted or given as 'xxxx' where necessary to protect villagers. Several of the villagers mention 'porter fees'; this is a common name for extortion money paid to SLORC or DKBA which is supposed to be for porters, but is never given to porters. It should not be confused with money paid to avoid porter duty or to hire people to go in one's place. People who pay 'porter fees' are also called to go as porters.

Abbreviations

SLORC = State Law & Order Restoration Council
DKBA = Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army, a mainly Karen army allied to SLORC, commonly known as 'Ko Per Baw' (Yellow Headbands)
KNU = Karen National Union, the main Karen revolutionary organization
KNLA = Karen National Liberation Army, military wing of the KNU.

Topic Summary

Killings (Stories #1,4,5), torture/beatings (#1,2,3,6,7), arrest/detention (#1,2,4,5,6,7), porters (#1-5), road labour (#1,4), army camp labour (#1,2,5), abuse of returning refugees (#2,4), religious persecution (#1,2,6), abuse of relatives of KNU (#5,6,7), stealing/extortion (#2,4-7), fees / rice confiscation (#1-5).

Interviews

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INTERVIEW #1.

NAME: "Pi Tha Htoo Paw"          SEX: F          AGE: 56 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 1 daughter
ADDRESS: Peh Kru village, Hlaing Bwe Township      INTERVIEWED: Feb/96

I came here on January 2nd, because of Ko Per Baw [DKBA] and SLORC. In rainy season [July-Oct/95] SLORC arrested me, tied me up, and covered my head and eyes with plastic. They beat and kicked me, and put me in water. Then in dry season Ko Per Baw arrested me. They said they suspected me of working for KNU, but I'm just a villager. When SLORC arrested me they came at night and I couldn't see clearly, and they tied me with a rope. They held me in the village for a night, and they punched me a lot, they hit me on the head with a torchlight and they hit my back with a gun. They twisted my hair around my head and sank my head underwater. They told me to give them guns and show them where I keep guns. But I have no guns, because I'm a farmer. It was raining and I was wet, and that night I had to sleep in my wet clothes. Then they took me to the monastery in the morning. Then they took me to their camp over a mile away and put me in the lockup for 3 days and 3 nights. They gave me some food in there, but I didn't want to eat because I was afraid and I hate them. They kept asking me to find guns for them, and I told them I'd pay them money if they would release me. Nobody dared come to help me. Finally they released me after considering my story. That was #25 Battalion. They often come to the village.

The second time was in January [1996]. the Ko Per Baw came and took me into the village for a meeting. They said they would let me go, but after the meeting they tied me with rope. They arrested me because of my religion - that day they arrested two Christians, and the other was killed. They took me to the monastery, and they told me, "If you know or see KNU are coming to the village you must inform us immediately, and you must not have any contact with them." I had to stay together with a nun in the monastery. They kept me tied up except when they fed me. They didn't beat me, but at first one of them said they would kill me. Then another one of them said "If you kill this woman, where will you hide your wife and family?" [Referring to the fear of revenge by the KNU.] So instead they made me drink promissory water, and then they released me. The man they killed that day was Thra Shee ['Teacher' Shee]. He was about 36 or 40 years old. They took him to the monastery together with me, but then they gave him to the SLORC soldiers. They took him outside. I don't know how they killed him, I think they killed him in Pway Taw Roh village. I think Ko Per Baw had him killed because of his religion, because they say "We want to kill all Christians". After I was released I saw six people who'd had their earlobes cut off by SLORC and Ko Per Baw. Some people were hanging under the monastery on ropes [the ropes were slung around their chests and under their arms]. In the daytime they put them in the lockup, and at night they left them hanging. One person died from the hanging. I don't know why they were arrested, but I think they were held for 3 or 4 months. As for the man who died, he didn't belong to any organization. This was all done by Ko Per Baw, at Peh Kru monastery. I heard that some other people were also killed.

Peh Kru village has about 60 or 100 houses. Only 10 houses are Christian. The Ko Per Baw are Peh Kru villagers. I don't know why they join. Sometimes they come together with SLORC, sometimes not. We have to do whatever they ask and go wherever they go as porters. I am alone, so I have to hire someone else to go instead of me. I have to pay 25, 45, 100 or 150 Kyat - they ask for porters many times, all the time. They are also building a road near our village. It is going to Paw Yin Pyu [army] camp, and maybe to Myawaddy or Kawkareik. Every day 10 people from the village have to go. We have to carry sand and everything else they want. We also have to go and clean and carry water in their camp. We have to do everything they order. It is the same for Buddhists and Christians. People don't want to stay any longer in the village, under the thumb of SLORC. Many families are leaving. It took me 3 days to come here by myself - my daughter stays at her husband's village, and my husband was already here. I had to come secretly. Some families want to come to the refugee camp but they have a lot of children, so it is not easy for them to come. They have so many problems, but they can only fear and cry their tears. Some families have no rice to eat, we have to give so much. We have to pay porter fees and taxes so many times, and we have to give 4 big tins of paddy [over 60 kg.] to SLORC for every acre. They don't pay us anything for it. They also ordered me to give them rice for people who are blind and lame, but I don't know whether they give this rice to the blind and the lame. I don't know who ordered this, I just have to do everything they order. We've been suffering since I was young. Now even here [at the refugee camp] I don't know if it's safe, I can only stay quietly and worry every night. Every night I hear rumours.

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INTERVIEW #2.

NAME: "Naw Sah Ghay"          SEX: F          AGE: 38 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children aged 5-13
ADDRESS: Bee T'Ka village, Hlaing Bwe Township      INTERVIEWED: Feb/96

I arrived here on 20 January, because we had no money to pay the fees and taxes. We had to pay at least 700 Kyat per month, sometimes 1,000 Kyats, for porter fees. Even if we don't have any money we must pay - they tell us to borrow it from other people, and we have to give it to them. On top of that, we also have to send porters. The money is for Ko Per Baw and SLORC. They stay together. There are more SLORC than Ko Per Baw. They come and stay for a day, then they move from one village to another. The Ko Per Baw stay in people's houses, and the SLORC stay in the monastery. In October they made us move near the Church. They said they were searching for guns but they couldn't find them so all the houses had to move near the road. They separated the Buddhists and Christians. I have a garden where I plant many things like oranges and lemons, but after they made us move near the Church the Ko Per Baw destroyed my garden. I used to get 700 to 1,000 Kyat per month from that, but now nothing. From other people's houses, they steal so much chicken and fruit. The Ko Per Baw also stole one of my sister's cattle. They don't eat the meat, they just steal it for SLORC.

Since they started coming to our village [last year] we have to go as porters for 5 days every month. I was called to go, because after paddy planting time my husband was never home [he was staying in his field], and because even though we aren't KNLA soldiers they always arrest the men and ask them to find bullets and guns. I hired people to go instead of me, because if we go we have to carry everything for them. This is not a duty for women - it is so heavy to carry. The men who go have to carry bullets and rice up and down the mountains, and do everything that SLORC or Ko Per Baw orders. Sometimes we have to go for a day to carry their food, one person from each house, 100 people or more. Some women take along their babies, and 10 or 12 year old children have to go because their parents can't go. We have to carry for about one and a half hours' walk. We have to carry one basket of rice between 3 women, or one basket between 2 men. We also have to cut and send them bamboo, usually 20 or 30 bamboos per section. There are 10 sections in Bee T'Ka. They use it to make fences for their yellow bean garden. They were not building a road yet when I left, but they are going to build one.

They allow us to go to Pa'an or to other villages, but not to the [Thai] border. If we try to come to the border they say we belong to KNU. Some people who went to the refugee camps and then came back have been arrested by Ko Per Baw, so people who have been to the refugee camps are very worried. The Ko Per Baw accuse them of having guns and ask them for money. They ask 1,000 or 2,000 Kyat to release them. Many people are beaten. One man named Ta Dah Pee, when the Ko Per Baw arrested him they dug a hole for him and said, "Do you dare to die?" But they didn't kill him, they were just threatening. Because of all this, when Ko Per Baw went to Paw Ler village some of the villagers who had come back fled to xxxx refugee camp again.

None of the Christians join Ko Per Baw, but some of the Buddhists. There are two brothers from Bee T'Ka who are their officers, Kyaw Tha Dah and Kyaw Nu Poh. They are really cruel and do silly things to people. They used to be villagers and earned their living by farming. Before I came here, Ko Per Baw demanded 15 tins [over 200 kg.] of paddy from each section of the village. They don't get their rice from SLORC anymore so they take it from the villagers. They also ask money - Buddhists and Christians both have to pay the same. Ko Per Baw are a small group, so they always follow with SLORC. When they stay in the village at night, they always order villagers to stay together with them.

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INTERVIEW #3.

NAME: "Saw Ler Thu"          SEX: M          AGE: 40 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 5 children aged 3-17
ADDRESS: Bee T'Ka village, Hlaing Bwe Township      INTERVIEWED: Feb 7/96

We arrived on January 31 on foot. It was a three-day walk. We left because we could no longer carry their loads or give porter money. The SLORC makes us go as porters. It is Battalion #18. They are in the village, about 60 of them stay in the monastery. The Ko Per Baw are also in the village, in their own building.

I had to go as a porter many times, so I had no time to rest. I had to go for 5 days each time, three times each month. That means 15 days of every month. Each time they demanded 20 people. A Burmese officer sends an order to the village headman. When we go we have to take along our own food, and they never give us money. The last time I had to go was this last month, just before I came here, in January. I had to carry ammunition, rice bags, and the vegetables that they robbed from the villagers' fields. I had to carry over half a basket of rice, ten tins of condensed milk and 5 boxes of machine gun ammunition at the same time. I couldn't cope with the weight, but they insisted and I had to struggle along with the load. We had to carry their loads over hills and hard terrain, a long and hard way. The weight of the loads is beyond human endurance. I couldn't bear to do it anymore, so I couldn't dare stay in the village because if I refuse to obey them they'll tie me up and beat me. They've beaten me before, many times. They beat me especially hard because I don't speak their language. Last time they beat me was last month, and it was unbearable. They kicked me with their big boots and wouldn't stop, because I can't speak Burmese. It caused wounds, and they hurt very badly. We had to pay fines if we couldn't go as porters, 500 Kyats up to 800 Kyats. There are many kinds of fines, and we also had to pay porter fees every month. SLORC and Ko Per Baw will never make things good for us.

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INTERVIEW #4.

NAME: "Naw K'Paw Wah"          SEX: F          AGE: 25 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 2 children aged 3 months and 3 years
ADDRESS: Bee T'Ka village, Hlaing Bwe Township      INTERVIEWED: Feb/96

I arrived here yesterday. I came because I had to pay porter fees to DKBA. When my husband came back from Thailand, we had to pay 300 Kyat, and another time we had to pay 700 Kyat. They ask for porters for five days at a time, and if we can't go we have to pay 700 or 800 Kyat. SLORC also moves around and stays in the village together with DKBA. They stay in people's houses. There are about 30 or 40 [soldiers] altogether, and most of those are SLORC. There was fighting in the village in November 1995. At that time SLORC was staying in Teh Ber village, and only DKBA was in our village. At night KNU attacked them. It was midnight and we were all asleep, then we heard the shooting and ran without knowing anything. Then we had to stay with the DKBA during the fighting - they said "Stay with us or we will kill you". A village girl was wounded in the fighting. Afterwards, DKBA demanded 4 mer [64 kg.] of pork and 4,000 Kyats. They said, "KNU came and attacked us, so you must pay for this."

There are about 300 houses in the village - many are Buddhist and many are Christian. The problems started on May 24th, 1995. First, two villagers joined DKBA and they organized more people to work together with SLORC. They ordered everyone to move to the main part of the village. They ordered all the Buddhists to move near the monastery and all the Christians to move near the Church. Most of the villagers didn't want to join. Only two people in the village joined DKBA. Most of them come from Peh Kru [a nearby village]. They wear the same uniform as SLORC, because SLORC issues it.

There are 10 sections in Bee T'Ka. Two people from each section have to go as porters for 5 days at a time. Then new people have to replace them. They have to climb up mountains and go from village to village, while the soldiers try to find where KNU are staying. They have to take along everything they need, like rice, fishpaste and chillies. They have to carry bullets and things that the SLORC and DKBA steal from the villages. DKBA takes everything they want without asking, just the same as SLORC soldiers. They are led by the SLORC. Now people like Kyaw Tha Dah [aka Pa Tha Dah] and Kyaw Nu Poh [aka Nu Poh - the 2 Bee T'Ka villagers who joined DKBA], they don't stay in the village, but when they want money or food they order it from the villagers. Before I came they asked 100 Kyat from every house many times, so many times that we had no money to pay. They ask 100 Kyat [per family] every month for their food, and more than that from the richer people.

When my husband came back from Thailand in August, DKBA tied him up and asked him about guns - but he never joined any organization, so he had no gun. I think they just wanted money, because they know my husband works for money in Thailand. Then Kyaw Tha Dah wouldn't allow anyone to go to Thailand. The headman and I had to go and ask them to release my husband, then they released him. They tie up many villagers, and they often ask for money. Two old men were beaten, Peh Koh Pa and another old man from Naw Ter village. Peh Koh Pa is about 60. These two old men just asked some food from their friends, but when SLORC and DKBA heard about it they came and beat them [on suspicion of collecting food for KNU]. They beat Peh Koh Pa with a gun, and when he fell down the DKBA men kicked him and stomped on him like a football all over his body, and he died on the spot. Since then they have arrested many people, usually because someone says that person has a gun and has contact with KNU. Some villagers have grudges against each other from the past, so they say that just to make trouble.

In another village called Meh Thi Hla they have started building a road, and now they order villagers to go and clear the road. It will go from Meh Thi Hla to Bee T'Ka. The distance is two days' walk. One person from each house in Bee T'Ka has to go, starting this month. We also would have to go, because it is one person from each house, but we left the village. If those two brothers [Kyaw Tha Dah and Nu Poh] are in the village they make a lot of trouble and we couldn't dare leave, but now they are not staying in the village. It took us 3 days to come here. It is not easy to travel, because they don't want any villagers to travel right now. One merchant tried to send his cattle to the border [to sell in Thailand], but along the way SLORC and DKBA stopped them and took all their cattle and money. A lot of families from Bee T'Ka have come here now - I have met 10 families already.

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INTERVIEW #5.

NAME: "Naw Muh Muh"          SEX: F          AGE: 38 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children aged 7-14
ADDRESS: Ler Dah village, Hlaing Bwe Township      INTERVIEWED: Feb/96

We came here two months ago because SLORC and Ko Per Baw make trouble in our village. My husband is in the revolution [KNU], so they always came to our house and told me to give them guns. My husband was not staying there, they only suspected that I kept his gun at home so they gave trouble to my family. One day they came to my house and arrested me, but when the SLORC soldiers were taking me, I collapsed along the way because I suffer from thwe toh [very high blood pressure]. Then they released me. Another time they sent me an order to come, and I had to go and meet with the Battalion Commander. That was 2 months ago. He asked me when my husband left home and said my husband should join with them, but my husband has no desire to join SLORC. The Commander said if my husband comes back home I have to report it to them, and he threatened that if I didn't he would burn down my house. He also said if he saw me become pregnant he would take serious action against me. SLORC and Ko Per Baw came to my house one after the other, again and again, saying "Your husband must keep some guns at home - show them to us", and "Why don't you convince your husband to join with us".

Our village only has 16 or 17 houses. Most of the Ko Per Baw stay in Kaw Paw section of the village. Some people joined because the monk [U Thuzana, patron of DKBA] told them that the Buddhists will get their own country. Some people didn't want to join them but the others arrested them and told them, "You must join us or you won't be in this world any longer". Mostly the Ko Per Baw make trouble for people whose husbands or sons are in KNU. I've only got 3 cattle but they told me to give them, so I said, "My husband was your friend and worked with you for many years, and he never stole from villagers, but go ahead and take them if you want". So then they didn't take my cattle, but they take things from other people. We also have to send porters and pay porter fees for both SLORC and DKBA. Each family has to pay 50 or 100 Kyat per month porter fees, depending on how rich you are. We also have to go and plant vegetables like carrots and yellow beans in the SLORC Army camp.

Now everyone is even more afraid of SLORC because of DKBA. The DKBA know all about everyone, so when they tell SLORC we get more trouble than ever. SLORC gives the orders. Last summer [April-May] SLORC killed a man in the village, because all the villagers had convinced him to be KNU headman for the village. But SLORC found out because of DKBA, so they arrested him and killed him. As for me, my husband is in the KNU, so I can't dare stay in my village anymore.

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INTERVIEW #6.

NAME: "Saw Tee Ler"          SEX: M          AGE: 46 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 5 children aged 5-22
ADDRESS: Bee T'Ka village, Hlaing Bwe Township      INTERVIEWED: Feb 7/96

I just arrived here today. I left the village on December 25th, but I have been staying in different places. I left because just within the last year I've been seized and bound 8 times by the DKBA, between June and December. The first time was July 14, and the last time was December 20. It's because I'm an ex-KNU soldier and now my son is a KNU soldier. Sometimes they came and arrested me in the daytime, and sometimes they came at night when I was asleep, aimed their guns at me and tied me up. When they arrested me they bound my hands and feet, they put iron handcuffs on me and took me to their office. I couldn't do anything bound like that, and it was not easy to sleep at night. When the village headman found out, he had to come and give them 10,000 Kyat to release me. Usually it was the DKBA leader who arrested me, Pa Bu Lah, who comes from #1 Brigade area [Thaton District]. The real reason they arrested me is because some people told them I had plenty of money. They thought they would get plenty of money if they arrested me. They already took five cattle, one bicycle, and my household belongings from me. They can't take away my farmland, so they said I have to pay them twenty thousand Kyat for my three plots of land. I also had to give 1,600 Kyat every month to SLORC and DKBA.

The DKBA seized a student from Bee T'Ka village school and asked him whether he has sympathy for Kaw Thoo Lei [KNU]. When he said yes, they beat him up even though he is just a schoolboy. They also seized and bound the pastor of the village. His name is xxxx. People had to vouch for him, and then they released him. That was in August. The DKBA are staying in Bee T'Ka village, sometimes 8 of them and sometimes as many as 30. They tried to get people to destroy the Church by telling them that if they dig up the Church compound they'll find a relic of the Buddha. They lighted candles around the place and they made incantations. We told them there is no relic there, but they insisted that there is. Our Church building cost us 700,000 Kyat. So we told them to go ahead and dig it up if they like, and if they find the relic that is good and fair and we won't ask any compensation - but if they don't find anything, they will have to pay us 700,000 Kyat to rebuild the Church. When they heard that, they changed their minds and didn't dismantle the Church.

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INTERVIEW #7.

NAME: "Naw Thalay"          SEX: F          AGE: 44 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 5 children aged 5-22
ADDRESS: Bee T'Ka village, Hlaing Bwe Township      INTERVIEWED: Feb 7/96

["Naw Thalay" is the wife of "Saw Tee Ler" - see interview above.]

I arrived here on December 27th, 1995. I had to sleep 4 nights along the way to reach here. I left because I couldn't bear their atrocities anymore. We married women have to go and stay with them whenever they order us to go [she apparently means arrest rather than rape, though she has left the point unclear]. Our problems with Ko Per Baw started on the 11th of May. They asked for my husband, and I told them my husband had fled the Burmese. They accused my husband of hiding arms and ammunition. They ordered me to look for him but I couldn't find him, then they ordered my husband's cousin to look for him but she couldn't find him either. They said if they found him they wouldn't allow even a single drop of his blood to be spilled. [This Karen idiom means they will kill him especially brutally; "To kill someone without letting any of his blood leave his body".] Then they came to my house and demanded to see our things. They asked how many boxes of my husband's cousin's things I have and I said "Two". They said I was lying, and Pa Tha Dah hit me twice in the head with the handle of an axe. He tried to hit me with it about 10 times, but I blocked it and only two blows hit me. Later it swelled badly and it hurt for a whole month. I said I wasn't lying and showed them the boxes, and they destroyed the boxes and everything in them. There were four of them: Pa Tha Dah, another Ko Per Baw [probably Nu Poh], and two Burmese from #28 Battalion. After hitting me they took me to their [DKBA] commander Pa Nwee. He asked me why my two sons joined the Karen Army. I told him that it was during the time that the KNLA recruits soldiers, they wanted to be soldiers so they joined. I said I couldn't pay money, so they had to go [generally once a year the KNLA conscripts soldiers in the area, and those drawn must pay money if they don't want to go]. Then Pa Nwee said nothing more, but Pa Tha Dah kept bombarding me with questions. He threatened to hand us over to the Burmese, and he asked the Burmese there about it. I said, "You can kill us if we've done anything wrong. If you kill us we'll die, there's nothing we can do about it." We were there from 2 p.m. until it got dark. I was with my aunt and my cousin - they were arrested because two of my aunt's sons are in the KNLA. Pa Nwee accused us of having plenty of money. Then he dismissed us because it was getting dark, even though Pa Tha Dah wanted to keep us there all night.

Ever since then, whenever KNLA soldiers come near the village they accuse me that my sons were with them, and they arrest me and take me to their place. They keep me there all day long and tell me to call my sons to come and join them. When my son who is still in school came to visit me during his school holiday in October, the Ko Per Baw heard about it and they ordered me to pay 40,000 Kyat. I couldn't pay that, so I asked them to reduce it and I only paid them 8,000 Kyat.

Nothing is getting any better in the village, and I guess it will always be unpleasant for the villagers in the future. Many of the Bee T'Ka villagers have come here already, over 30 families. As for me, as long as the DKBA exists I will never go back to my village. I will stay here.