INTERVIEWS WITH SLORC ARMY DESERTERS

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INTERVIEWS WITH SLORC ARMY DESERTERS

Published date:
Saturday, May 18, 1996

The following accounts of life in SLORC's Army were given by four deserters who fled to opposition-held territory or to Thailand, one fleeing in Tenasserim Division of southern Burma around New Year of 1996, the other three fleeing Pa'an District, much further north, in March 1996. As they fled two different battalions in two different areas, their treatment and experiences differ somewhat; however, for the most part their stories are similar and reflect the hardship and brutality of life as a rank and file soldier in the SLORC Army.

In the interviews, the soldiers mention radio broadcasts on the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and VOA (Voice of America). These two foreign Burmese-language shortwave services are almost the only source of objective news to people in Burma. Some other abbreviations used: MNLA = Mon National Liberation Army, which made a ceasefire deal with SLORC in June 1995; DKBA = Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army, a Karen faction created in December 1994 which is now allied with SLORC; KNU = Karen National Union, the main Karen opposition organization; IB = (SLORC) Infantry Battalion; LIB = (SLORC) Light Infantry Battalion.

The first interview was conducted by KHRG, the second by independent human rights monitors covering Pa'an District. The names of the four have been changed and some details omitted where necessary for security. For further background on life in the SLORC Army, see also "Testimony of SLORC Army Defectors" (KHRG 7/8/94), "Ye-Tavoy Railway Area: An Update" (KHRG #95-26, 31/7/95), and other related reports.

TOPIC SUMMARY

Recruiting (p.2,7,10-11), training (p.2,7,11-12), abuse by officers (p.2,3,5,7,8-9,11,12), boy soldiers (p.11), salary cuts (p.3,10), food (p.2,7), brickmaking labour (p.7,9), other labour (p.8,11,12), execution of prisoners (p.3,4,5), SLORC/DKBA/MNLA cooperation (p.5-6,9), Army propaganda (p.8), censorship (p.3,13).

Abuse of civilians: Executions (p.4,5), rape (p.3-4), torture (p.4,5), interrogation (p.4), porters (p.3,6,8), road labour (p.8), logging labour (p.8), extortion/looting (p.2,4), crop confiscation (p.10), land confiscation (p.8).

Interviews

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INTERVIEW #1.

NAME: "Ko Sein Myint"          SEX: M          AGE: 24 Burman Buddhist
FAMILY: XXXX         EDUCATION: 7th Standard
ADDRESS: Rangoon     INTERVIEWED: 3/96
RANK: Lance Corporal UNIT: LIB XXX          SALARY: 700 Kyats/month

I joined the army in 1991. When I first joined the army, my father came and took me back home. The second time, I joined the army again and my father didn't take me back this time. I joined in Rangoon - Mingaladon. At the time, I was in Rangoon. My family also stays in Rangoon. Two days after I arrived in Mingaladon, I was sent for basic military training for 6 months.

Q: Were you taught how to treat villagers?

A: No.

After I finished the military training, I was sent to #XXX Battalion in Ye. I always stayed with #XXX. First, I had a refresher training, especially in light weapons, how to use them and to maintain them. After that, I was a messenger-soldier under the battalion staff. I always stayed in the battalion staff office. For the first 6 months after the training I didn't go anywhere. Then I went to some places.

Before, the battalion second-in-command was XXXX. Now it is XXXX.
I was a Private and the duty of our unit was fighting. I was at the observation post. I didn't face any big offensives because we are a local battalion [some battalions control an area and are only rarely used on offensive]. We had to organise the local civilian people in Ye area, south and north of Ye. When we entered the villages, the villagers were frightened. Sometimes we took food from them. When we went to the frontline, we had a shortage of food. We didn't get any supply from the battalion headquarters. So, we had to find food ourselves. When we were at the battalion headquarters, there was enough to eat and we didn't need to find any food but we were in the frontline, so we needed to because the transportation was a problem.... [Later, he admitted...] When we went to the frontline, the commander and the second-in-command were selling the rations. That is why we always had a shortage of food and we had to take food from the villagers. The army rations were for one month but they sold about half of them.

When we went to the frontline, our column had one medical platoon. If we were sick, they nursed us kindly. We received medicine for free. In fighting, many of our soldiers were wounded. They were carried away and hospitalised. If they didn't need to go to hospital, they were given treatment. I never saw them [the officers and NCOs] kill the wounded in my battalion but I heard about that in other battalions.

There were some conflicts between officers and privates. The officers beat the soldiers. I was beaten sometimes. When army officers made a mistake, I criticised them. The first time, they warned me and slapped me in the face. When I criticised more, they beat me a lot, they punched me and kicked me. When they were drunk, they used to beat us. We had to prepare their meals. Once I forgot about it and they beat me up. They have so many reasons to beat the privates!

Some of the privates were seriously wounded by beatings. Some from our battalion even died. Once, one intelligence corporal whose name is Kyaw Oo was beaten by one of the army officers. The corporal was keeping money for the officer and he gambled the money. The army officer was angry with him. He beat him a lot. This money was also illegal. It was the porter fees from the Ya Wa Ta [Village LORC, i.e. money collected from villagers by local SLORC authorities which the officer was going to keep for himself]. He beat him up and put him in the lock-up. He was beaten by the officer and also by the soldiers who stood guard over the lock-up. After they beat him up a lot, he was bleeding. After 4 days, he became sick and died. They didn't give him any treatment, that is why he died. This happened in October 1993 but I don't remember the exact date. Sergeant XXXX, Sergeant XXXX, Private XXXX and Lieutenant XXXX from OTS [Officer Training School] were the ones who beat him up.

I usually received my full salary but sometimes we had to give money for sports competitions and battalion competitions. We had to give 150 or 200 Kyats sometimes, not every month. [Note: he reported his Lance Corporal salary as 700 Kyats/month, whereas current salary for Privates is 750; they may have been cutting more than he realised.] I never wrote to my family but we were allowed to. They allowed us to listen to the radio except for BBC, VOA and other revolution groups' broadcasting [which leaves only 'Radio Myanmar']. Also, they didn't allow us to read magazines, journals and pamphlets published by the revolution groups. We could only read comics. After 3 years, I could get 10 days' leave. They allowed visits [by family members]. XXXX 

The rebels, we killed them. Even the injured rebels were killed, because of the front line situation. The SLORC army always kills rebels who are in the frontline. They kill them in the jungle with no eyewitnesses. If they arrest a rebel in the town, they transfer him to the police and to the military court but the rebel has no chance to get a lawyer.

We captured villagers who look strong and healthy to be porters. Sometimes we caught them along our way. The minimum number we arrested was 10 and the maximum 15. It depended on the quantity of our ammunition and the number of soldiers. If necessary, we had to catch 30 or 50 villagers. Sometimes we caught them ourselves and sometimes we ordered the headman [to send them].

We did beat porters. If they couldn't carry their loads and when their cooking was not good enough for us, then we beat them. In 1994, at the end of the Water Festival, one of the porters died between Chaung Hna Kwa and Fa Thein. His name was U Thein. He was 70 years old. He was carrying a rice sack. When he arrived at the bank of the river in Fa Thein, he fell down on the ground. They didn't give him any treatment and he died. He didn't get any compensation. Then the soldiers ordered the villagers to bury his dead body. I didn't see any porters being beaten to death in my battalion, but this has happened in Battalions #XXX and #XXX.

Q: Is it common for soldiers and officers to rape women?

A: Yes, I saw a lot of that. I would like to tell a real story. When we went to the frontline in Chaung Hna Kwa during the Water Festival in 1994, some of the army officers played Water Festival with some girls [during Water Festival in hot season in April, people chase each other around and pour water on each other]. I was on sentry duty that night. One officer tried to get one of the girls to sleep with him. His name is XXXX. The girl refused, so he tried to rape her. Then the girl pleaded him, "Please, leave me!". I was not far from them. I heard their conversation. I really sympathised with her, so at that time I shot in the air with the automatic trigger. After that, XXXX put me in the police lock-up at Chaung Hna Kwa for more than two weeks. He came and punched me.

I never raped anyone. In another case, I saw one of the women at Anay Pu Da. She was too young. She was raped by the commander. It is not good for the soldiers of the column to see that. Her house was at the top of the village. He was Major XXXX. When he got his star [Major], he became a column commander. He went to visit her and she got pregnant. When that happened, he refused to marry her and she shot him and he died. She had to pay compensation.

In Ka Law, Ma Nyo was raped by Lieutenant XXXX and everybody knows about it. I didn't see it but I heard about it. She was 18 years old. They stayed in her house. He was a Lieutenant and she liked to attend him well. When he was drunk, he tried to get her to sleep with him. Then the problem happened. He caught her and forced her. After, she tried to get him to marry her but he refused. Then she took the case to court, but the court did nothing. That was a long time ago, when I joined the army.

The money collected in the villages is for the officers' personal expenditure. We had to get people for "voluntary labour". If the villagers couldn't come and work we collected the money, 2,500 Kyats. After collecting the money, for example 100,000 Kyats, the junior officers kept some of it, like 20,000 Kyats, and gave the rest to the battalion commander. When we were fighting with the enemy, all the people in the village ran away. So we took some of their valuable belongings, like gold, jewellery, cassette recorders. We kept that for ourselves. That is why the public call us "official robbers".

I always worked in the Intelligence Department of our battalion. I was working with the wireless telegraph coding and decoding messages. I also had to go and collect taxes and bribes in the harbour from black market trade for the army officers' expenditure. I also worked in MI5 [Special Military Intelligence] for more than one month. When I was in that Department, I had to interrogate some prisoners from the revolution groups. When we caught someone, we had to investigate the prisoner's background and biography and enquire in the village about this man. There are so many investigation methods. One kind of investigation method I saw used in the Intelligence Department. The intelligence officer has to be very clever and smart. He first tries to get the confidence of the prisoner. He has to lie and tell him that he is a senior officer. Then he can ask some questions. He tells him, "I am also going to take part in your revolution. I will follow you. When we get a chance, we will flee from here." He always gives him some hope. Then the officer follows the suspect to the place where he keeps his weapon. Then he will arrest him again with the weapon and ammunition. If we need to know some facts from him, we interrogate again by using mental and physical torture. We have to make an investigation file for him and we put the facts in it. Then we transfer him to the police and to the court. When we arrested people with weapons in the jungle, we killed them. We also killed one man who was carrying dynamite in the town. Maybe he was trying to destroy some building and came from the jungle. Sometimes we put them in jail or we hanged them. Women were also arrested and we had to transfer them to the female Intelligence officers. We only had to take their biography to the police and investigation department. Once, we arrested one person with a hand grenade and a pistol, in a house in Hangan village. I don't remember his name. We took him out of the village and we killed him. After that, we sent a message to the battalion headquarters that he had tried to escape. This was in 1992.

Q: Did you torture villagers or suspects yourself?

A: ... Yes ...

Q: Did you ever kill anyone?

A: I never killed anyone ... but I killed only two people. Because one of the officers ordered me to kill. I had to obey his order. They seemed to be rebels. They had some weapons. So I killed them. One man was killed at the battalion headquarters. The woman, she was from KNU in Kyaun Pyaw forest. She was a very beautiful woman with a pistol. We couldn't ask her any questions. That is why the commander ordered me to kill her. [She probably couldn't speak Burmese.] I ordered her to dig her own grave but she refused. Then I shot her. They were both Karens.

Q: Why did you leave the army?

A: It was my own feeling. I had some problems. Our activities were wrong. All my relatives too were involved in politics. Now my father is in jail. I don't know what he did because I was not interested in this. He was a leader in xxxx township during the [1988] uprising. The group from xxxx school was led by him. That is why he was arrested. His name is U xxxx. When I joined the army and when I had to fill in my father's and mother's names, I put my aunt's and uncle's names. My younger brother also is suspected by the M.I. [Military Intelligence] And I was in the army. When I visited my family, my younger brother slapped me and said, "Now your father is in jail, and you are with our enemy!" I had to do some work which I didn't really like. But I could get some money. If an officer could make 1,000 Kyats, I could make 500. All of my activities were wrong. While we are eating good food, some people don't have enough food. Sometimes the officers oppressed and tortured me. I didn't want to stay like that. XXXX. Before, when I was in XXXX, I tried to flee but I was afraid to surrender in KNU 6th Brigade area because of the Karen woman case. Here also, I was afraid whether the rebels would kill me or not. So I didn't dare desert the army.

On Christmas day, 25th of December, our commander XXXX was transferred. We made a party to celebrate. One of the Intelligence Lieutenants with two stars, XXXX, was drinking with a prostitute in his room. I brought some liquor to him. Some liquor fell on his longyi [sarong] and he slapped me. I fell down on the ground and he came and kicked me. I apologised but he didn't forgive me. I felt really upset. I took the liquor bottle, hit him on his head and punched him. I stabbed him with the broken bottle in his belly. At the same time, one of my friends named XXXX came. "What is going on?" he said. Then I ran away from the battalion to XXXX and then to here. XXXX. 

Q: Have you ever met DKBA soldiers?

A: We were making operations together. #XXX Battalion was responsible for Koh Na, Kya In, Kyaut Nyunt, Ta Ko Naing, Taun Tee, Pa Pyat, Mu Doh, Kyaik Mayaw, Chaung Hna Kwa and Kyone Kweh areas. DKBA, #XXX Battalion and the Mons joined together. [Since the Mon ceasefire, some kind of communication has reportedly been set up between SLORC, the Mon National Liberation Army and the DKBA, most likely at the insistence of SLORC.] DKBA are responsible for Taw Tee and Ta Ko Naing, and the Mons for Ko Pin Kaw Pauk. #XXX Battalion has 2 columns; Column #2 is responsible in XXXX and Column #1 responsible for XXXX - XXXX. [Note: Battalions often create Columns for operations, but not all the soldiers in the Battalion are part of a Column. The area he says XXX is "responsible for" is quite large; there are actually many battalions in this area, and he is really only referring to places where XXX Battalion has posts.]

We stayed in Ye and we went to the frontline with DKBA troops - to Mu Doh, Kyaunt Yon, and Klar Ta Na. About 20 DKBA soldiers. When Bo Kyaw Thaw came, there were about 100 DKBA soldiers in that area. They have their own organisation there. Ya Ta Ka [Southeastern Military Command] pays for their food, medicine and ammunitions. We stay separately from them. Only in operations, DKBA go first and we follow them. The DKBA soldiers wear a simple guerrilla uniform or a green one. The soldiers have a cap but with no marks, only the leaders have markings. SLORC gave them the uniforms. They also have a yellow headband and wherever they go, they wear it around their head. They are staying in Mu Doh. [This is far south of the DKBA's main operating area, but SLORC is apparently trying to help them spread in order to divide the Karen.]

At first when they came, there were a lot of DKBA soldiers. But afterwards many went back to Myaing Gyi Ngu and there were only 20 soldiers together with us. Now, there are many villagers who have joined DKBA. About 40, near the place where we stay. Only 5 were ex-KNU and most of the others were villagers who joined. Their main leaders are Soe Aung Kyi and Ko Aung Kyi. For example, in 3rd and 6th Brigade [KNU Brigade areas corresponding roughly to Nyaunglebin and Dooplaya Districts], SLORC ordered DKBA to organise the people. DKBA soldiers are sent to recruit their friends and tell them about their good situation: "We have plenty of food, medicine, money and everything. Come and join with us."

Q: Did you talk to them?

A: Yes.

Q: Why did they join DKBA?

A: We were not allowed to ask them about that.

Q: Did you receive orders from your commander about how to speak and deal with DKBA?

A: Yes. We were not allowed to speak to them in a friendly way. Also, we were not allowed to talk a lot. If they ask one question, we have to answer shortly. When we were going on operations, they were gathered by their leaders, Saw Aung Lee and Tain Kee, and our soldiers were gathered by our column commander and our company commander and we discussed how to operate. We only discussed about that. At other times we didn't talk to each other. We organised a meeting in 6th Brigade but the KNU didn't come.

Q: What was the meeting for?

A: Ceasefire. But they didn't come, only two people from Mu Doh district.

Q: Who called this meeting?

A: DKBA was ordered by SLORC to organise this meeting.

Q: What is the situation in your battalion with the MNLA [Mon National Liberation Army] since the [June 1995] ceasefire?

A: I don't know. We are not staying together with the Mons. They are responsible for Ko Pin Kaw Paung and our column for Kya In, Pa Pyat and Naw Ngeh.

Q: According to the ceasefire agreement, SLORC will not take porters in the villages anymore. Do you know about that?

A: They only promised, but they are still taking porters. For example, if we go from Mu Ywa to Chaung Hna Kwa, we take porters from Mu Ywa, and when we go from Chaung Hna Kwa to Kyaw Weh, we take porters in Chaung Hna Kwa. They still do. They order Ya Wa Ta and Ma Wa Ta [Village LORC and Township LORC] to get porters. They don't catch them themselves.

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INTERVIEW #2.

NAME: "Aung Myint"          SEX: M          AGE: 29 Karen Buddhist
ADDRESS: XXXX, Irrawaddy Delta

NAME: "Zaw Oo"          SEX: M          AGE: 18 Burman Buddhist
ADDRESS: XXXX, Rangoon Division 

NAME: "Maung Nyunt"         SEX: M          AGE: 16 Burman Buddhist
ADDRESS: XXXX, Pegu Division

[All 3 were Privates with LIB #547 in Pa'an District. They escaped to Thailand in March 1996 and were interviewed on 24/3/96.]

"Aung Myint": I was in the army for about one year. I gave my name to the army recruiting officers who arrived at my village. Out of about 50 houses [his section of town], 5 to 10 people must be recruited. They recruited about twice a year. [Actually this is forced conscription by quota; section leaders face arrest if the quota is not met.] Then, I had training in Weigali, Than Byu Zayat, at Division Headquarters No. 10 [Training Centre]. After the training, I was stationed in Nabu [north of Kawkareik in Pa'an District] where our headquarters were. 

We mostly worked doing fatigue [army term for soldiers' labour], building barracks and baking bricks. We needed more bricks, so later we hired civilians to work, and we gave money to them. For those who carried the earth, 70 Kyats per day and for those who dug the ground, 110 Kyats. This is the fixed amount, but they [the officers] cut some of it for the battalion funds. So, that's why if the civilians rest, we had to bake bricks, alternating - civilians 10 days, soldiers 10 days, and so on. We had to bake 2,500 bricks a day, starting from 6 a.m. until 11.30 a.m., then 12.30 p.m. until 6 p.m. [Rank and file soldiers throughout Burma are being forced to bake bricks for the profit of their officers. Villagers from Nabu area say they are constantly forced to provide wood fuel for LIB 547's brick kilns and that this has wiped out most of the forest in the area. They also say that they are not paid when forced to bake bricks. The officers may be claiming salaries for villagers from SLORC authorities, then pocketing the money. See "The Situation in Pa'an District", KHRG #96-17, 15/5/96.]

We were moved [from the camp] to the brick kiln site. The food was bad. Sometimes the beans were unavailable. And beef - according to the rules we should get 3 pieces of beef [per issue] but actually, we received 3 beef bones - we could not eat them. Two meals per day, lunch after 11 a.m. We always rushed to have lunch and dinner. We never received tinned meat from the battalion [the officers sell it]. We could still have accepted this if an effort was made to do the best possible. As soldiers we had to follow orders and sometimes finished our duties late - we came back, and without time to have a bath, packed our dinners, took our guns and went to sentry duty. But when we would open our dinner, we despaired because of the food. On patrol, not much was different. If we asked the villagers, we could get vegetables, and we usually sold condensed milk [to the villagers, to get extra money] but this was not sufficient. We could not carry enough rice, so we had to ask the villagers [for rice]. At the brickworks site we received 5 Kyats per day for food, plus money from sales of condensed milk, so our food was so poor and so bad that dogs could not eat it, and we had to work very hard. We had to make 2,500 bricks [per day] and we used a cow on a rotating beam mechanism to grind the mortar. There were three shifts, so the total number of bricks to be completed per day was 7,500. If we did not finish, we were beaten. Those who beat us were also soldiers, the same as me but a different section, and some were younger than me. So once I told them, "My younger brothers, don't beat us. Look at that cow, we are the same as that cow. Willingly or unwillingly, we must work."

Our commander was Major Sein Win. He was just promoted and receives a major's salary. Our battalion also do other activities, like bean plantations, and pig and duck rearing. They are using soldiers for this work too. There are not so many soldiers in the battalion. After those who are on leave, in training, and who have run away, now our battalion has only 504 soldiers [technically, a full Battalion should have close to 1,000, but 500 is more common in the SLORC Army].

Our company stationed at the headquarters of the battalion worked in brick production. The other companies did other duties. I went to the frontline for two months, for mobilization in Myatpadine [southeast of Nabu towards Kawkareik]. There is a new road from Myatpadine to Kyone Doh. The battalion called villagers as porters. If the column arrived to a village, we changed porters. Some villagers could not go as porters, so sometimes old women had to attend as porters, they couldn't carry things. The battalion gave no money to the porters. Each group of porters had to serve for at least a week. If we went to rest in a village we changed the porters, and collected new porters and new carts. If the porters didn't bring food with them we shared food with them, but I didn't see any special arrangement of food for the porters.

The villagers have to send logs for the battalion sawmill. The villagers must cut the trees and send them to the battalion. We used them for buildings and bridges. [In Nabu] there are quite a lot of Muslims, but now some ran away and some moved because LIB 547 took exactly half of the village. The only Indian [Muslim] part remaining is right around the mosque. The road cut the village down the middle, and one side became the LIB 547 compound. Many good houses were demolished. The Army also took the ricefields for their own bean plantations, 'bocate' and 'mart' beans. Nabu village has about 700 families, and about 300 families lost their land. The situation of the Muslims there is pitiful. The Nabu villagers lost their homes, farms, even their ricefields, so now they do not want to see the soldiers anymore.

As for road construction, from Nabu there is one main road headed to Kyone Doh and Kawkareik [actually this is 2 roads], and another headed to the DKBA monk's place [Myaing Gyi Ngu - he may mean via Pa'an or via Pain Kyone]. That one starts at the Nabu mosque. The roads are about 40 feet wide. I myself didn't have to call the villagers, but a lot of villages have to work on that: Myatpadine, Nan Kaw Tay, Mon Su, Kalah Gone, In Chay, Da Way Hta, Tone Poh and so on. Sometimes 80 to 100 people per village. They had to sleep around the ricefields, and we [soldiers] also lived without shelter at the brickmaking site. Neither group had any decent shelter. We [soldiers] also had to volunteer to work on the road, but just for show, just for a very short time, together with policewomen and other soldiers. That day the TV reporters recorded it. They wanted to show that the Army served and worked for the people, but actually the people did the whole thing. About 40 policewomen came. They also helped to build army barracks. The battalion has many buildings yet to build.

I don't want to be a soldier, because we didn't have our basic living requirements met, especially for food, and they did not instruct us as human beings or treat us as human beings. If we are tired, they beat us like dogs and cows. They should speak encouragingly and gently, especially because there are many young guys in the battalion. The higher ranks usually say, "Stay if you can, and if you can't, you can run". Saya XXXX said that. He is a quartermaster. But if we were caught [running], they would detain us. When they detain us, each time we come in or out of the cell they beat us five times - 5 times going in, 5 times coming out. They beat with a stick, not by hand. Sometimes they order the prisoner to fill a bag with sand and stones and run for 3 hours [carrying it].

There are few Karen soldiers [in #547 battalion], and only two soldiers understand the Karen language. The DKBA soldiers, we called them "yellow headbands", and we use them only as guides, and to get information about the situation in the villages and the region. I know about them and their places because I am from headquarters, and we provided rations [to them], the same as our own, and we supported them with arms and ammunition. Before operations, they asked us for a number of weapons. The battalion provided them G-3 and G-4 [assault rifles], the same as ours. We also use Uzis, carbines, machine guns, 81mm and 82mm [Chinese manufactured] mortars and also RPG's [rocket-propelled grenades]. The Uzis are used by patrol leaders, assistant patrol leaders, medics, signals men. Yes, also medics.

I don't know the names or units of DKBA soldiers and leaders, because they seldom came to the battalion compound. The deal between us and them was for guidance on routes. Sometimes, they guarded the [SLORC Army] compound. But I didn't deal with them myself. We did not trust them, because they have no clear policy or aims and no good leadership. What I heard is that they just demand paddy totalling 10 to 15 baskets from each family in the villages.

We also had other duties, but brick production was very hard and the reason we ran away is because of the brick production work. We could not eat well, and at night time, we had to carry timber for fuel. After that, for those who had sentry duties that night, they could not have a bath, only rush dinner and go away again. Sentry duty lasts for two hours per person per night, and I managed to escape when I was on sentry duty. I woke them [the two other interviewees] and we ran together. XXXX. 

There are many soldiers who want to run away, and before there were many who ran, prior to us. Also some of the higher ranks like Saya XXXX, and other sergeants. I heard they went to the hills. At least 6 to 8 soldiers wanted to join with us, but we didn't have enough time to call them. Also, I thought we could not all manage to escape. As for me, I don't have any good vocational training. In my village, I was a local farmer of betel leaves. It was not so bad, but because of inflation it is hard to live. The paddy farmers too have many difficulties. About four or five years ago, farmers had to give, for a reduced special price, about 12 baskets of unhusked rice per acre. Now they have increased it to 18 baskets per acre. Their price is less than half the value of the local market price. For those who have to borrow money from the government, they suffer the most. Some have no money at the start of the paddy season, so they take loans. Most of the farmers take loans.

On the way, we had one pair of clothes each, and now some people helped us for some more. He ["Zaw Oo"] had no sandals on the journey. As a soldier, it is very difficult to buy a longyi. My salary was 600 Kyats [per month], but each month, I put 50 Kyats into a savings account [the usual advice of army officers], plus had to give some for social welfare and we did not receive our full kit, so they cut our salaries in order to buy equipment. For example, we had no boots, belts or shoulder straps,...

"Zaw Oo": These were never reissued since we were first stationed, after training.

"Aung Myint": These things were excluded from the 1025 form [some kind of army issue document], so we had to pay out of our own salaries, as it was necessary to have them for patrols. So the battalion issued these things and cut the costs from our salaries. I received 600 Kyats, but this was not sufficient for my expenses for the whole month, and they ["Zaw Oo" and "Maung Nyunt"] received 450 Kyats, so it was very hard for them.

"Zaw Oo": We only received between 360-390 [in the hand]. Before, I worked in a shop selling dry goods [chillies, onions, spices, etc.] in XXXX. I didn't do any regular school study. I joined the army in April 1995 in Mingaladon. I met some soldiers who encouraged me to enlist. My younger brother followed me and tried it also. He was placed with another battalion. I had training for 4 months at Training Centre No. 9 in Thaton. After the training, I was sent to LIB 547.

"Maung Nyunt": I was a student. I attended 7th Standard, then I left school. I am the eldest of six, my brothers and sisters are in Standard 7, Standard 5, and some do not attend school. My family has a lot of problems, I did not want to stay at my house. I was not good in education, and my parents beat me. So my friends and I enrolled in the army, but my parents came to the Nyaunglebin recruiting camp and took me back home. My friends and I, the four of us enlisted together there. All of our parents and sisters came to take us back home, so they let us go back home. I was about 15. After that, I left school and I stayed with my grandmother, then I joined the army again with my friend. His name is xxxx. XXXX. He is the same age as me.

"Aung Myint": In the battalion there are many young soldiers, younger than him.

"Maung Nyunt": They are about 13 or 14 years old. During the training, out of 250, there were about 8 or 9 soldiers who were around 13 or 14 years old. I don't know exactly for the whole #547 battalion, but in my company about four were younger than me.

"Aung Myint": Now the blind or cross-eyed are accepted too.

"Maung Nyunt": During the night time they cannot see, so they bump into people and things.

"Aung Myint": My experience during training was that before I thought I would be the oldest, but I saw that grey- and white-haired people without teeth also had joined. They were older than me, so I had to lower my head to them. They were about 45 to 50. Now they are still in the battalion. They also work but at light jobs.

They ["Zaw Oo" and "Maung Nyunt"] both finished the same training course and arrived at the same time.

"Zaw Oo": About three weeks were for basic military training, and after that fatigue, such as carrying stones from the stream to the training compound, and constructing roads and bridges. Sometimes, finding and collecting wood for fuel. We went to Ngamoeyaik Hill to collect wood. Usually, morning was for drill practice, and afternoons for fatigue. We had to work even if it was raining. We were beaten, at least three slaps per day.

"Maung Nyunt": We were kicked.

"Zaw Oo": We had to jump like frogs too. Put your hands on your head and jump up and down for quite a long distance, and sometimes we had to jump across the drilling practice field. It was so tiring that we could not eat sometimes. The field was quite wide, and we had to go back and forth sometimes three times.

"Maung Nyunt": After the training I never shot a gun, but during the training I did. About 3 or 4 times. Firstly, we practiced shooting from 100 yards at a 4 foot square target. Then, using a submachine gun, shooting mobile targets from 50 yards. Then, we practiced shooting water pots and bottles. I hit the pot from a distance of 100 yards. I used 5 rounds, with a G-3. And I shot ten rounds of a G-4 also.

"Zaw Oo": I had to try two times, but hit nothing. And then I shot 22 rounds and hit only once. We did not receive enough practice. We had to spend most of the time on road construction, and clearing scrub. Even then we were not finished. We had to go to the top of the mountain and build a pagoda. We carried sand and stones to the hill.

Q: What did you do at #547 battalion?

"Maung Nyunt": Mostly fatigue. Before working at the brick site, we had to carry bricks to the battalion compound, and clear scrub around the perimeter. They did not provide enough equipment, such as machetes, to clear the thick bushes.

"Zaw Oo": Our company commander was Major XXXX. We worked for the battalion funds. Actually, to carry 1,000 bricks we should get 600 Kyats. One time, we took 3,000 bricks, and we did that three times in one day.

"Aung Myint": The army battalion commander kept that money, for the battalion funds.

Q: Why did you escape?

"Maung Nyunt": We could not persevere.

Q: Persevere... Don't you know about our 3 causes? [The "3 National Causes" constantly trumpeted by SLORC: Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of National Solidarity and Consolidation of National Sovereignty]

"Maung Nyunt": Yes, I know of them.

"Zaw Oo": We don't want to go back.

"Aung Myint": The army's administration is not fair. Officers and privates; his men and my men [gesturing to indicate different places for each]. Privates are treated as cows, that is why many soldiers try to escape. Some try to go to Thailand and some try to return home. It is very dangerous, and we are very lucky. Many soldiers will try to escape in the near future, because they suffer a lot and there is inequality. For those who run to their homes, they are mostly rearrested and the army forces them to serve again. I didn't want to be rearrested. I prefer to choose between death or freedom. Before leaving, we discussed about what the Karen soldiers would do to us [if they surrendered], that we would explain the truth and let them decide, because we had only one chance to be free. If there is equality, we could serve. If a soldier accidently fires a round, he is punished. When the same thing happened to an officer, he was promoted. An officer misfired his pistol and he was not punished, but got a promotion a month later. But if this happened to a private, he would be punished. And officers are very proud - they never treat the lower ranks as human beings, so most of the privates suffer a lot and then despair. My experience with an officer was with Captain XXXX, who slapped me because I had put only a small amount of Ajinomoto [Japanese MSG seasoning] in his curry, which was not sufficient for him. Then he clicked his tongue, and I was slapped again. The army considers only rank, not right or wrong. This is injustice. Maybe this is the higher ranks' mistake or the lower ranks' mistake, I don't know, but there is injustice.

Q: What is the soldiers' opinion of NLD?

"Aung Myint": As for the soldiers, we can see Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD are not a problem. I don't know about my officers' opinions, but I know they listen to BBC and VOA. We could not because we had no radio, as they are very expensive and very hard to buy. [Even if they can get a radio, soldiers are generally strictly prohibited from listening to foreign broadcasts.]