The following interviews are with villagers from Dta Greh Township in Pa’an District of Karen State. (In Burmese, Dta Greh is called Pain Kyone and SLORC considers it to be in Hlaing Bwe township.) The area is 40-50 km. northeast of Pa’an, just west of the Dawna Range and the Thai border. SLORC (Burmese military junta), DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, allied to SLORC), and KNU (Karen National Union, fighting SLORC and DKBA) forces all operate in the area, and the villagers are caught in the middle, having their livestock killed and their money extorted from them by all 3 groups. Furthermore, anyone or any village suspected of helping one group is certain to be punished by one of the others, including the possibility of executions or destruction of the village. SLORC in particular has a policy of relocating and destroying villages which have the potential to provide voluntary or involuntary support to KNU forces. As part of this policy, in Dta Greh township SLORC ordered the villages of Ta Ku Klaw and Kwee Pa Taw to relocate to Naw Ter Hta in January, while Noh Law Bler village was ordered to move to Tee Per. Then in May, Tee Po Lay Kee and K’Law Lu villages were ordered to move to Tee Per and these villages were immediately burned down by SLORC and DKBA forces.
Villagers who moved to Tee Per as ordered found that no food or facilities were provided, and that they were being used to build a new SLORC Army camp in the village. Most of the families fled into hiding in the jungle and are now struggling to survive, while some headed for the refugee camps of Thailand. Their feelings on the situation in their area and on their own personal situation are clear from their testimonies below. Their names have been changed and some details omitted to protect them. All false names are enclosed in quotes.
SLORC = State Law & Order Restoration Council, Burma’s ruling military junta
DKBA = Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, Karen group allied with SLORC
Ko Per Baw = ‘Yellow Headbands’, common name used by villagers for DKBA, referring to the yellow scarves they wear
KNU = Karen National Union, main Karen opposition group
KNLA = Karen National Liberation Army, army of the KNU
Ko Per Lah = ‘Green Headbands’, name increasingly used by villagers for KNLA troops, who now wear green scarves to distinguish themselves from DKBA.
Forced relocations (Interviews #1,3), burning villages (#1,3), death of children due to relocation (#3), death threats (#1,2,3), torture (#2), Army camp labour (#1,3), road labour (#1,3), porters (#2), SLORC/DKBA extortion (#1,2,3), SLORC/DKBA stealing food/livestock (#3), KNLA extortion (#1), KNLA stealing livestock (#3).
NAME: "Naw Muh Paw" SEX: F AGE: 22
ADDRESS: Tee Po Lay Kee village, Dta Greh township INTERVIEWED: 9/7/96
I arrived in this refugee camp about 3 weeks ago. From my village 4 families came here. I ran away from SLORC with my uncle at night and stayed in the jungle for one night. Then we left early in the morning for Thailand.
I left my village because I had no more house to stay in. Last month [actually in May], it was burnt by Ko Per Baw and SLORC. The Ko Per Baw leader is Mu Naw Nget. He and his soldiers burned down my house. They burnt down all the houses in Tee Po Lay Kee. It was in the morning. There were about 25 to 30 houses in my village. Some houses were wet and they couldn’t set them on fire, so they took straw in the village and put it in our houses and then set it on fire. They did it because we didn’t move to Tee Per village. Tee Per is about 20 minutes’ walk from our place. They said: "If you stay in your village, you will support the Ko Per Lah [KNLA soldiers] and you are KNU rebels". They came together [SLORC and DKBA] and ordered us to move. Then suddenly they burned down our houses. They didn’t even send a warning letter. They came only once and burnt our houses.
Only 3 families moved, the other families went to hide in the jungle [after the relocation order]. If SLORC or DKBA finds them, they might be killed. The SLORC said: "If anyone stays in the jungle they are rebels and if we see them we will kill them, even babies, children and women." No one was killed while I was there because they stay quietly and always post one person to watch for the soldiers. Whenever they hear that the SLORC Battalion is coming near their place, they get ready to run away.
When the villagers who moved went to Tee Per, they had to take along their own food. SLORC soldiers even said: "If possible, you have to bring your own land with you to build your house on." There is no SLORC camp near our village but they are building a camp in Tee Per village, on both sides of the stream. They ordered the villagers to build their camp, to dig trenches and bunkers. One column is staying there but I don’t know how many soldiers and every month they are changing their column [a SLORC column is anywhere from 100 to 300 soldiers]. Every day 15 people had to go and work there and they had to carry their own tools for digging and cutting. My family didn’t go because it was not our turn yet before we left. Maybe later we would have had to go, because all the villagers have to do that.
They were collecting taxes in our village [before the relocation order], 25 Kyats per month. They said it was for porter fees. They also ordered people to clear the car road. I never went to work there. Only the men were ordered to do the labour - for 2 days, 3 men from each village. We also had to pay a lot of money to the KNU soldiers. 20,000 Kyats was collected by Saw Day Day who is a KNU soldier. When he came to our village he did the same as DKBA and SLORC soldiers, and the villagers said, "They [KNU] are collecting even more money than our enemies". KNU soldiers only came into our village once or twice. There was no fighting near our village, but there was in T’Wee Koh village. No villagers died.
They also burnt down K’Law Lu village. That village was also ordered to move to Tee Per village. That’s why SLORC and DKBA soldiers burnt it down. [These villages were ordered to move so that they could be controlled by the military and not provide any support to KNLA forces, but also to obtain a ready supply of labour for building the army camp.]
NAME: "Pa Li Kloh" SEX: M AGE: 35
FAMILY: Married, 3 children, youngest one is a son aged 1 year
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Dta Greh township INTERVIEWED: 10/7/96
DISCRIPTION: Karen, buffalo trader
I arrived in xxxx [a Thai Karen village on the border] on 7th June. It took me one day to walk from my village to here. I have been here over a month already. I am waiting for my money from the Thai trader. I sold 15 bulls to him. When I receive the money I will go back to my village. I have to trade bulls for my family. That money is to support my family and my relatives. We have to pay a lot of taxes in my village, like porter fees and labour fees. For porter fees, 150 Kyats to SLORC soldiers for 3 days. The porters have to carry their food and bullets, usually to the Dawna mountain range. They have to carry about 20 viss [32 kg.]. But I have never been there. I always hire people to go for me.
They beat up Saw D---. A SLORC soldier borrowed some money from him and when he asked for his money back, the soldier said, "I won’t give it to you. I spent it." He kept asking and asking and the soldier said, "Don’t come anymore and pester me when I am tired or I will kill you". Saw D--- was afraid, and angry as well. Before he went home, he went to the company commander to ask for the money from his soldier. The commander told him, "You can ask him for yourself. If he tortures you, bring him to me." So he went to the soldier again. The soldier knew immediately that he would probably ask for his money again. He kicked him in his testicles, gave him 3 punches on his face, pulled off all the hair on both his temples and told him, "You are a very headstrong and stupid man. Go back to your village". Then he went back to the commander to tell him that his soldier had tortured him. But the commander punched his nose and the blood fell down like the rain. When the blood was running down he asked for medicine to make the blood stop but the commander showed him his gun. "Here is the medicine to stop your blood." And he had to stay without medicine. So he took some sort of green leaves and put them into his nose and it seems that it really worked. He couldn’t get his money back. He had received this money from a person who hired him to go as a porter. He was a porter for 3 days. The soldier who punched him was the commander’s brother [company commander’s brother]. He didn’t know what Battalion number nor the SLORC leader’s name. He can’t read or write, and he only stayed with them for 3 days. But he described that the company commander was of dark complexion and with red-tinted hair and was about 35 years old.
There’s been no fighting in our village but there was some nearby our village. No villagers died, only a KNU soldier. I think it was about 2 months ago. I heard that he was deaf and couldn’t hear the shooting. His friends ran away and left him alone behind. DKBA came and surrounded him and shot him.
DKBA also collects 45 Kyats per month. They said it is for porter fees too. If someone can’t pay, he is taken as a porter for 15 days or more. Last month on a Saturday, this happened to Saw T---. He is about 30 years old. DKBA told him: "You don’t want to give money to us because you save your money for the KNU soldiers. So we will treat you as we like". They ordered him to carry food to XXXX village.
NAME: "Naw K’Paw Ghay" SEX: F AGE: 35
FAMILY: Married, 3 children aged 9 months to 13 years
ADDRESS: K’Law Lu village, Dta Greh township INTERVIEWED: 9/7/96
I arrived in the refugee camp about 3 weeks ago. I left my village last month [June] because SLORC and DKBA forced us to move and burnt down our houses. Two months ago, they forced us to move to Tee Per village near where the SLORC column stays. It is on both sides of the Noh Ree stream. It is 20 minutes away from our village. They will build a camp there. We worried that if a SLORC camp is in the village, we will be ordered to build it and to do labour in other places as well. They also forced Tee Po Lay Kee village to move.
The DKBA said: "If the Ko Per Lah [KNU] soldiers come to your village, they will order you to go to the refugee camp or ask money from you. So come and stay with us in the other [Tee Per] village". The SLORC and DKBA told us that, but they also steal the rice in our rice barns and the rice that we hide in the jungle. I saw them once when they were stealing my rice and I told them, "Don’t do that", and they pointed their guns at me. Then I was afraid so I stayed quietly, like the mouse hiding from the cat.
In our village there were 27 houses. Only 2 families went to stay in Tee Per and the others went to hide in the valley. They took some rice with them and they stay there like that. I think they can stay like that for a long time. Our forebears did like that, and we will follow them. They didn’t starve. Our Karen people can live like that. Our mothers used to tell us, "Villagers from our village used to live in Pa’an, and then they found this land. And they called this village K’Law Lu".
They will kill us if we don’t move. I stayed only one day in Tee Per. We had no time to carry our rice. So the next day we asked permission to go collect our belongings and the rice from our village. They allowed us to go. Then when we arrived in our village, all of us ran into the jungle. I stayed there for 7 days and nights. Two children got sick and died in the jungle, Pee Htoo, 14, and Taw Lay who was 12 years old. They were coughing and sneezing with blood.
They also ordered us to do labour but I never went, I hired someone instead. They usually ordered 3 people from our village to clear the car road in Lu Pleh for 3 days at a time. Each household also has to pay 45 Kyats as porter fees [per month]. Sometimes when the new SLORC soldiers arrive in the village [on regular rotation], they order us to give them one pig. "If you can’t give it, we will kill you. You are Karen rebels", they said. This happens every time. So if you come to my village, you won’t find any animals. Some were eaten by SLORC and DKBA and some were caught by Ko Per Lah [KNU] soldiers.
There was some fighting between KNU and Ko Per Baw. No villagers died. One time the Ko Per Lah fired one RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] and it fell in front of the Ko Per Baw, but fortunately it did not explode. They were very happy. They looked at the shell and passed it to each other, saying: "Our monk’s medicine really works for stopping bullets". Then suddenly they dropped the shell amongst them and it exploded. Two of them died and 5 were wounded.
Q: Did you meet any soldiers on your way to the refugee camp?
A: No, but don’t even talk like that. It makes me afraid. Kwih da lah!
[’Kwih da lah’ is a Karen exclamation which does not translate directly into English; depending on context, its meaning is somewhere between "Oh, it’s so hard", "Oh, what to do?", and "It hurts to even think about it".]