Some of the interviews in this report are with Karen villagers who fled Papun District in northern Karen State to become refugees in Thailand in April and May 1996, and some are with villagers still living in Papun District, some in their villages and some in hiding. Much of this area used to be partly or completely controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU), until it was captured by SLORC in its major 1995 offensive with the help of DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, the rival of KNU). After that, these villages started being ordered to move to the DKBA’s headquarters at Khaw Taw (Burmese name Myaing Gyi Ngu, on the Salween River near Ka Ma Maung) as the DKBA attempted to establish a captive civilian support base. Many resisted, and in December 1995 and January 1996, SLORC and DKBA troops gave final orders to about 100 villages to move to Khaw Taw or to SLORC military camps near Papun. Most villagers fled into hiding in the forests or tried to head for the Thai border. As shown by the interviews in this report, SLORC troops in the area conducted several executions and burned some villages as a result.
At the time of writing, the SLORC troops have withdrawn somewhat - largely due to the monsoon rains and possibly partly due to the ongoing ceasefire talks with the KNU - and many villagers have trickled back into their villages, though always on the lookout. DKBA forces are still in the area, but are now experiencing difficulties themselves - SLORC has cut off their salaries, reduced their supplies and cut off many of the supplies previously sent to their headquarters at Khaw Taw. Many DKBA soldiers have deserted and gone back to their villages, and many local DKBA groups are doing little but looting and extortion on their own initiative. Families previously forced to Khaw Taw or living there without permission to leave are now being allowed to go, and at least 2 large groups of families - 130 in late March and 200 in May - have arrived ‘en masse’ in Papun District after leaving Khaw Taw. Many of them wanted to cross the border into Thailand, but the refugee camps would not accept them out of fear that they might include DKBA informers and agitators sent to further DKBA’s program of destroying refugee camps. In the end, most of these families simply dispersed into Papun District, living as internally displaced people or trying to get back to their home villages.
One of the interviews in this report describes the DKBA’s effort in 1995 to create a "new village" as an alternative relocation site for those they couldn’t force to Khaw Taw. They called it "Ku Mu Per" ("cool pleasant place") and may have viewed it as a potential second civilian support base, but at its peak they had only driven 60 families there and now fewer than 10 remain after most fled the constant forced labour they were forced to do there for both the DKBA and the SLORC. Unlike Khaw Taw, which had previously been a Buddhist monastery and refuge with many villagers, Ku Mu Per was created from scratch.
The names of those interviewed in this report have been changed, and all false names are enclosed in quotes. Some details of locations are also omitted to protect people.
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
IB = (SLORC) Infantry Battalion; LIB = (SLORC) Light Infantry Battalion.
Forced relocation (Interviews #5,6,7), Khaw Taw (#5,6), Ku Mu Per (#6), DKBA school (#6), families fleeing Khaw Taw (#5), problems within DKBA (#5,6), burning villages (#1,3), destroying food (#3,4,8), shooting up villages (#1,8), killings (#1,2,4,8), killings of children (#1,4), detention (#4,7,8), torture (#2,4,7,8), road labour (#5,6,7), Army camp labour (#5,6,7), portering (#6,7,8), sentry labour (#6,7), looting (#1-4,7,8), extortion (#5,6), treatment of KNU prisoners (#8).
NAME: "Pa Noh" SEX: M AGE: 40
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Ler Doh Township INTERVIEWED: 6/96
DISCRIPTION: Karen Animist farmer
They [SLORC troops] shot my wife dead on 14-1-96. It was 1 p.m., on a Sunday. They shot into our house with their G3’s [SLORC assault rifle]. They shot into 3 sides of our house - later I found 70 bullet holes. I wasn’t there - I’d gone to Yeh Muh Plaw village to sell betelnut leaves. There were 4 people in our house, and 2 of them died - my wife and my daughter. One shot hit my wife just under her arm and went right through her body. One shot hit my daughter. Then they both died under the house. My daughter was 7 months old. Her name was Hser Ghay Paw. My wife’s name was Naw Day Ray. She was 30. I saw their bodies the next day, on Monday at noon. They didn’t bury them. I know them, they are #57 Battalion. They are from Swee Hgay. They didn’t stay - after they killed my wife, they looted our house, burned down the village, and then they left. They went to search Wah Pi Der village. Then they went to Pya Ghaw village the next morning. From my house they took 5 big tins of rice and they opened my box [most villagers keep good clothing and other valuables in a large wooden box] and took one Karen blanket [handwoven] and 3 other blankets of ours.
[The following account was given by a Karen woman in Papun District who watched SLORC troops execute her son in front of her. She is not sure the date, but other sources confirm it was 23 April 1996. She has now fled her village.]
Q: Did you see them when the SLORC came to your village?
A: Yes, I saw them. People told me that when they were coming along the path on the way they were very noisy. But when they came into our village they were very quiet. My son and his youngest brother had gone into the forest to hunt wild animals. When they came back, my son told his younger sister to prepare dinner, and said he would go back into the forest to look for wild animals again. There are many wild animals in the forest. When he was preparing his gunpowder [they have an old flintlock gun for hunting], suddenly SLORC troops appeared in front of him and arrested him. I saw it. The Burmese asked him, "Where is your father? Why is he not at home?" My son told the SLORC, "I don’t understand your language." My son was just sitting beside the fence. Then suddenly the SLORC kicked him and knocked him hard to the ground. He fell in front of me, I saw it, but I didn’t dare hold him. When he tried to stand up they kicked him in the face. Then they shot him. The bullets hit his arms and legs, I don’t know how many bullets, and then they kicked him again before he could even breathe. Then the SLORC soldier looked around and said, "There are 2 children in the house." They kicked my son with their jungle boots, twice on his back and once in the groin, and he tumbled down beside the stream and died.
After they killed my son I went up into the house together with my daughter. The soldiers came to the front of my house and pointed their guns at my daughter. We were very afraid. There were 20 of them, their skins were blank and their faces were very angry. Two of them were very short-tempered and looked angry. She said, "Don’t shoot me". He asked, "Where is your husband?" She told him, "My husband is not living anymore, he already died. I was very sad, and I love my children." Then they went into the room, spread out a cloth and stole all the [Karen] trousers and new clothes. They left only the old trousers in our house. They took 2,200 Kyat that belonged to my son, 5 kyat-weight of gold and 3 Karen bags. Then they left. They also took one basket of rice and 2 goats from my children.
My son’s name was Paw Lu. He was single, about 22 years old. He was never a soldier, he just helped KNDO [Karen National Defence Organisation, KNU village militia] once but only for a few days. I have 3 sons and 3 daughters. The one who tortured my son was the leader, the first one who arrived at my house. He is a big, strong and jealous man. I didn’t dare look at him. I had never seen him before. He was wearing a SLORC uniform. Twenty soldiers were at our house, but more were at other houses so I don’t know how many there were altogether. They stayed a long time, until it was getting dark. They killed 2 people, my son and a [Karen] soldier. I don’t know where these troops came from. The Burmese troops never came to our village before, except once when they came to arrest Ta Nay Kyaw.
NAME: "Saw Tamla Wah" SEX: M AGE: 21
FAMILY: Married, no children
ADDRESS: Meh Way village, Dweh Loh township, Papun District INTERVIEWED: 4/6/96
DISCRIPTION: Karen Christian farmer
["Saw Tamla Wah"’s village is west of Papun. It was ordered to move in January and then burned in March.]
I arrived here [the refugee camp] about 10 days ago because the Burmese came to our village and burnt down my house and the whole village and took all our things. I always had to run when SLORC came to my village. I can’t run anymore, so I came here.
SLORC burnt down the village two months ago. It was in the morning. I can’t describe it because when the SLORC troops came I ran away. I lost my rice in the rice store and some gold. They did it because our village is near the soldiers’ camp [KNU]. When they attacked, they burnt down the KNU camp and also our whole village. The SLORC camp is not nearby and there was no fighting.
It was the first time SLORC came into the village while I was there. Before I never had to run away from SLORC troops because I was never there when they came. But this time, I was staying there. I ran away and forgot everything. Ko Per Baw also come and they rob everything in our houses. They usually come once a month. Then all the villagers run away. If they see money, they rob all of it. When they ask villagers for it, we lie to them and tell them that we have no money. They want it for their own pockets. They don’t do anything, but they rob everything they see. Nobody in our village joined DKBA.
We are not staying in a ceasefire [i.e. opposition-controlled] area. We are staying near Meh Way. I mean, a place under the thumb of the SLORC troops and controlled by them. So we have to run when they come. I will stay here now. I came with my wife. It took one week. We had no problem because we came with the buffalo traders. There was one checkpoint when we crossed the car road but we passed through at night time.
NAME: "Saw Lah Say" SEX: M AGE: 30
FAMILY: Married, 2 children aged 3 months and 4 years
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Papun District INTERVIEWED: 9/6/96
DISCRIPTION: Karen Christian farmer
My village is 3 days’ walk away from Mudraw. It is on the other side of the Salween river [from the refugee camp], between the Bway Loh Kloh [Yunzalin] and Salween rivers but closer to the Bway Loh Kloh river. There is no other village near mine. It is in the mountains and it has about 50 houses. To walk to Khaw Taw would take one week.
I arrived here 3 weeks ago. It took me 5 days to get here. I couldn’t stay in my village anymore because we always have to worry about SLORC and DKBA and we have to be alert. We always heard SLORC will come to our village. If they come, we men have to be ready to run away from them. The KNU leaders also told us that nowadays our people always have to be ready [to run]. In the harvest time, we dare not go to our fields to harvest our paddy.
We must stay in our house. It is very difficult for us to survive day by day. Because of these problems our villagers are complaining and say that they will leave for Thailand. But it is very difficult to come here, and also very expensive. So some of the people have to stay there leading a very difficult life. But most of the people want to come here. I came here in the summer. I left after 3 families had already left for Thailand. Five other families already moved to xxxx [refugee] camp. After I arrived here the rains started.
There are only 5 or 6 KNU soldiers near our village. DKBA is not staying near the village. Only SLORC and some KNU soldiers are staying nearby. I don’t know which SLORC battalion because I never go to their place. Their place is Maw Pu camp and is near our village. If they meet KNU or villagers, men or women, they kill them or shoot them dead. When SLORC troops come to our village, they loot our animals, such as chickens and pigs, and our rice. They also destroyed our rice caches and paddy caches that we kept hidden in the forest. They took some of our rice, and the rest of the rice which they could not carry they destroyed it all, in the forest and in the village.
Last year they arrested two people in our village. I don’t remember on which day. But later those people came back to the village. Also one mother and her 2 children were arrested by SLORC troops in July 1995. She was coming from another village to my village. On the way SLORC soldiers met her and killed her child. They took them to Moh Koh village. The SLORC soldiers broke the child’s arms, pulled out his eyes and cut his throat. They killed him in front of his mother. That child killed by the SLORC was about 15 years old. At night, the mother secretly ran away to her village but her youngest child was left with the SLORC troops. He was only 3 years old. I don’t know the name of the woman. She is about 35 years old. After that, she went to stay in XXXX village.
Usually, if they see women they rape them before they kill or release them. But for the men, they just kill them. If they see them on the way but they can’t catch them, then they shoot at them. Last year at harvest time, two men from my village were killed when they went to their farms. On the way the Burmese soldiers met them and shot them dead. There were Thra Poh Htoo, 32, and Thra Lay Poh. They were killed after they came back from Papun, where they went to buy salt. There was no reason for that. If they see anyone on the way, they just shoot them dead.
Q: Do SLORC make the villagers work for them?
A: No, because we are always hiding in the jungle. When we hear the SLORC is coming near us, we run away. We always keep one person out to look for the SLORC. If he tells us, "The SLORC is coming", the whole village runs into the forest. Sometimes the headman told us, "The situation is not good. Stay in the village. Don’t go anywhere. If the person who is looking for SLORC gives the message that the SLORC is near our village, I will fire 3 bullets and then all the villagers have to run into the jungle. There is no time to go and give the message to each house." When people are doing the farming the whole family goes to the farm together, because when they have to run they don’t want any of their children left behind in the village.
Usually SLORC comes twice a month, because the SLORC troops change places twice a month, one group replaces the other. At these two times each month, we are always ready to run to the forest. Sometimes we are hiding there one day and one night, sometimes longer than 2 or 3 days. When we hear that the SLORC soldiers have left our village, we go back. The headman himself never meets with the SLORC, because he is always hiding too. Their camp is near our village but the SLORC soldiers never see us in the forest. If SLORC comes nearby we run, and if they come nearer we will run further.
The SLORC waits until the farmers finish harvesting the paddy. After the people harvest the paddy and hide their paddy in the forest, then if they see paddy or rice stored in the village or in the jungle, they destroy it completely. I never lost any rice [he hides it well]. But before I used to get 100 baskets of rice per year from my field, and now only 30 or 40 baskets, because we have no time to look after our paddy [they are always running and hiding].
I am pleased to stay here. I dare not go back for the moment. I will stay here for a while.
NAME: "Saw Wah K’Paw" SEX: M AGE: 36
FAMILY: Married, 2 children aged 4 and 6
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Dwe Loh township, Papun District INTERVIEWED: 4/6/96
DISCRIPTION: Karen Christian (RC) farmer
I arrived here [the refugee camp] one month ago. The Ko Per Baw and SLORC asked us to do a lot of labour and moreover they collected a lot of money from us. So I left my village. They asked for porter fees and we also had to pay someone to go instead of us if we were not able to go and carry their food. 1,000 Kyats. Sometimes it took 20 days. For 20 days, you get 1,500 Kyats from someone who hires you. DKBA asks money so many times, and quite often we don’t even know what the taxes are for. When they ask and collect money they say it is for porter fees or to hire someone as a replacement, but sometimes they don’t even know themselves what taxes they are collecting. Even so, we must pay every time they order. Both collect the same. We don’t have to give rice [to SLORC or DKBA].
Our village has about 40 houses. I know two of our villagers who joined Ko Per Baw, Maung Than Oo, 24, and Kyaw Lwin, 22. They are not collecting money, their leader does. Before a lot of villagers wanted to join DKBA, but now not so many. Some who joined before have now come back to their villages.
We have to build houses for the DKBA families, dig holes, cut down trees, guard the road, ... Their camp is about 2 kilometres away, near the [SLORC] Battalion camp, but they stay separately from the SLORC camp. Only the DKBA families [soldiers and their families] are staying there. Most of them are from other villages. Before, when DKBA was formed, the DKBA soldiers received some salary, but now I heard that they have no salary. They receive food like rice, yellow beans, and cooking oil. Not so much.
We had to work on the Papun to Ka Ma Maung road. We had to clear and cut the trees along the old road. The road is wide enough for one truck. We have to clear the roadsides. Sometimes 7, 8, or 10 villagers have to go, sometimes groups of people and sometimes one person from each house. People who live far from the road have to come and stay at the military camp and work every day on the road for 10 days. But people who live near the car road have to go by turns every day. They have to work each time for 3 days, sometimes one week, by turns. The road is near our village. Just before I left, I had to work there 5 days in a week and sometimes 4 days in a week.
I also had to build a fence around the Ko Per Baw battalion camp. I spent one week doing that. Mostly we have to work for Ko Per Baw. We are always building houses for them. I had to build 20 houses for DKBA families and people are still building them. When we finished one house, we had to carry on building another one. I worked there sometimes 2 or 3 days, sometimes 3 or 4 days. Altogether, it must have been over 10 days. I had only one week in a month to do my own work.
KNU doesn’t come to our village but they go near it. There was some fighting near our village between KNU and SLORC but not between KNU and DKBA. It happened at the end of last year. None of the villagers were wounded, and SLORC didn’t come to our village afterwards.
My village is about 3 days’ walk from Khaw Taw. It is near Papun. Before, when the DKBA was formed, all the villagers were ordered to move to Khaw Taw. Now they are not ordering us anymore. All the people who went to Khaw Taw came back to the village. Two or three families from our village had gone and all of them returned to the village about one month ago because they had only little rice to eat when they were staying there. Their children were dying and they were not allowed to eat meat. They wanted to eat meat, so they returned to the village. I was there in my village at the time when they came back. They were ordinary families, not DKBA. They asked permission from DKBA [to leave Khaw Taw] and they had no trouble. When DKBA was formed, they did not allow the villagers to go out [of Khaw Taw]. They started allowing them to go out at the end of last year.
We came here secretly. We didn’t let Ko Per Baw know that we were coming here. It was the day DBKA pay homage to the monk there and there was also a big Roman Catholic party. Two celebrations were going on when we left. My plan is to stay here. I dare not go back to my village.
NAME: "Saw Po Ghay" SEX: M AGE: 40
FAMILY: Widower, 3 children aged 3, 8, and 10
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Bu Tho township, Papun District INTERVIEWED: 9/6/96
DISCRIPTION: Karen Christian farmer
I arrived here about one month ago. The Burmese always used to come to our village. If they ordered us to do work, we only had to do it for a short time. They came together with DKBA, the DKBA soldiers go in front of them. It was #77 Battalion [of SLORC], but I don’t know if that is IB or LIB. I dare not look at them. I left my village because the Ko Per Baw ordered me to work, to carry rice for the Burmese. Often I had to carry the food for Burmese soldiers from Kaw Pu Toe to Kyauk Nyat. The Burmese ask the DKBA, then the DKBA order it. We had to carry rice for the Burmese and for DKBA. It took us two to three weeks each time. My wife is dead and I have my 3 young children with me. No one was looking after them. I also felt very sad for them. I had no time to work for myself. It was too difficult for me. I also did not have enough rice at home, because last year when DKBA was formed, I didn’t plant the paddy in my field. I planted the paddy on the hill and it was destroyed by insects. [He was afraid his usual field would be destroyed so he hacked out a new field high on the hills where he thought it would be safe.]
First they [DKBA] forced us to Khaw Taw. They forced us to move in March last year. They ordered that all villagers in every village must move to Khaw Taw. They threatened us: "If you don’t move, we will kill you like mushrooms". But I decided to stay. I decided that only if all the villagers moved to Khaw Taw, then I would move too. But even if only 3 houses were left in the village, I decided that I would stay. In my village there were 10 houses and 8 families moved to Khaw Taw. They were all Buddhists. Only my brother and I were left in the village. I refused to move because Buddhism is not my religion. But Ko Per Baw then ordered us to move to the new place. They came with guns and forced us to move. I took my belongings.
We had to go and stay at the new village. They call that place Ku Mu Per [’cool pleasant place’]. It is 3 hours’ walk away from my village. They didn’t want the villagers to stay separately in our own villages. There were 60 houses in the new village when I moved there. The 60 families came from different villages. They were Christians, Buddhists, Shan and Animists. But among these 60 families, some have now moved to Khaw Taw because they had to do a lot of work staying in Ku Mu Per. They said if they stay in Khaw Taw there would be no problem for them. They would not have to carry loads and they could get food rations for each month. But in Ku Mu Per, we had only 5 days in a month left to do our own work. The Burmese didn’t ask us, but they give orders to DKBA and DKBA orders us to do the work.
The new village is near a Burmese camp and also a DKBA camp. The DKBA and Burmese stay separately. There were about 30 soldiers in the DKBA camp, and they quite often come to the new village. In the new village, they never gave us rice. If we had food, we had to give some to them. We brought our own food to the new village. We can do farming there but if we do farming the wild bears and the wild pigs will destroy all our paddy. Before we used to kill the wild pigs and the wild bears but now DKBA doesn’t allow us to have a gun. So now even if you do farming, you can’t get any paddy because the bears and the wild pigs will destroy the paddy.
They don’t allow us to go to our village [to farm]. They only allow us to go and do farming near the new village. They are afraid [that we will run away]. We can say that they are afraid, and also that they force us to do their work. We have to go every day for their work. At least 1 or 2 people have to go. We have to carry their food, work on the road and we also have to dig holes for them. And we have to carry so many times. I haven’t noted it down but I had to go at least 10 times in one month. Sometimes for 1 or 2 days, sometimes 3 or 4 days and sometimes the whole month. We had to work on road construction, on bridge and dam projects and we had to do sentry duty on the roads. They were afraid that the KNU troops would put landmines around there. The other work is to carry loads for them. We were working on the Ma Htaw-Papun road, the old road used by the military. We had to build fences all along the way. At Papun, Koh Chit and Ma Htaw, only one group of us and we had to complete the whole fence. I had to clear the place and cut down trees vigorously. We also had to work in their camp. We had to build their houses, dig latrines and we had to build quarters for the wives and the children of the soldiers who died in battles.
Q: Do DKBA recruit soldiers in the new village?
A: No, it is up to the people themselves. If people are willing to join DKBA, they can join. Before they also got paid but now they give no salary [the salaries were provided by SLORC but have been cut off]. They receive food from SLORC. Now some people who joined DKBA before don’t want to continue doing it anymore. The DKBA officers were given 300 Kyats per month. Now they can no longer pay the soldiers. Some of them deserted. In the DKBA camp, three of them ran away but I don’t know their names. Their officers are doing errands for the SLORC and are still paid 300 Kyats per month.
[In the new village] there is a school and also a monastery. The teachers were chosen by them [DKBA]. They came from other villages and they graduated in Burma. Their names are Way Mu, Way Hsa and Ku Teh. They are Shans. Their villages are quite far away. They teach in Burmese and in English. They do not teach in Karen. We had to pay school fees. We had to pay 150 Kyats for each student. If they ask for rice, it is 3 pyis [5-6 kg. each time]. The price of books comes separately, and we parents have to give them that too. If we say that those teachers made money, we would be saying the truth. The school is up to 4th Standard but the teaching did not materialise last year. I put my child in the school there, in the kindergarten. But my child hardly attended the school for one year [it was never open] and all the schoolchildren disappeared. Those teachers disappeared at the end of the year. They are under SLORC orders or under DKBA orders. Once they received their pay, they went back to their villages.
Before, the military had their hospital near the riverbank, but they were afraid that the insurgents would attack them there, so they shifted that hospital to Hmat Hto and there was no doctor. If we are sick we have to go to the SLORC battalion headquarters.
Q: Did SLORC or DKBA tax or extract money from the villagers?
A: SLORC did not do that but the DKBA do. We had to pay a human tax, 10 Kyats for the children, 80 Kyats for those up to 40 years old, and above 40 they levy 25 Kyats. There is no tax on our farmland.
Now only 10 households are left there [at Ku Mu Per]. DKBA did not like the idea of the villagers moving out but the villagers insisted. We were never free of doing their work. When they ordered us to do it, we could not refuse. They forbade us to move. They said that if we move about, we would be hit by stray bullets when there is fighting [a veiled threat that they may be shot on sight if they leave]. They never told us that they would kill us. In Ku Mu Per they often fired off their guns at 6 p.m. They fired at random. They told us that there are ‘white’ people around us [the meaning is unclear, but it was clearly said simply to frighten them with the unknown].
Those who are unable to move are still living there. Those who have to stay and suffer, they want to come up here [to the refugee camp]. Many of them. I did not let them know that I would come here. I told them that I was sending my son to Papun. I travelled to Papun. In Papun, I heard that my younger brother was here, so I came to this place.
Sure it is easier for me here. I do not have to go here and there any longer. When I was there I had to worry all the time. It is not easy when your children are sick, and when you are among the Burmese there is a language barrier. I cannot speak Burmese very well. The DKBA do not give us any medical supplies. We have to go and ask them from the Burmese.
SLORC and DKBA troops are the same. All of them are evil. There are none that are good. I don’t think DKBA will get stronger. Some are leaving. I think that they will turn back to the other side. They also said to each other that they have to suffer greatly too. It is well for them - they ate the salt of the Burmese before they knew what the Burmese really are. Now when they really know the true colour of the Burmese they cannot bear the brunt of it.
NAME: "Naw Paw Htoo" SEX: F AGE: 31
FAMILY: Married, 5 children but 4 already died and only one left living
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Papun District INTERVIEWED: 4/6/96
DISCRIPTION: Karen Christian farmer
["Naw Paw Htoo" left her village and has been living in YYYY village for the last year.]
Q: How did your children die?
A: They were all sick and died. Two of them were twins and they also died, just one month before I left. They were over 2 years old. I left when people were starting to prepare their fields [at the beginning of May]. My older child died when he was only 10 days old and the youngest one was coughing and couldn’t breathe and then he died when he was 4 months old. When the twins died, I was staying in YYYY village. I had been there for one year and then this problem happened.
I am Karen. Before, I was Buddhist. Now I became Christian and my husband is Christian. I am from XXXX village. To go to YYYY from there, we women have to walk and sleep one night on the way, but men are able to walk in one day.
We arrived here [the refugee camp] one month ago. We left because my husband was not able to stay there. They ask for so many porters to carry for them. Now we are only 3 people in our family. Also my husband has one broken hand, and no money to pay someone to replace him. So we had to leave. He broke his hand because his brother-in-law cut him with a knife.
Q: Have you been to Khaw Taw?
A: I have never been there. My husband didn’t even allow me to go to my own village, XXXX. My mother is in XXXX village. It is near Ka Ma Maung, only one day’s walk. But my husband told me that the SLORC troops will kill me if something happens on the way to XXXX. He never allowed me to go right up until now. He also never went to Khaw Taw.
YYYY has about 100 houses. The SLORC camp is in Taw Thay Loh, not nearby. I have never been there but people told me that you have to walk from early morning until the afternoon. SLORC troops always come to the village and DKBA too. DKBA are the most angry. One thing we are not happy with is that in Theh Ko Ree Baw village, they said to the villagers: "You are Christian, you are Christian, and you ..." [pointing out the Christians in order to intimidate them.] So we are not happy with that. Sometimes they come together with SLORC, sometimes Ko Per Baw come on their own. Ko Per Baw come more often than SLORC troops. Sometimes they are followed by SLORC troops. If SLORC troops stop travelling in Pwee Taw Roh village, the Ko Per Baw come on their own to YYYY. Sometimes 2 or 3 Ko Per Baw come on their own to the village. They just come and visit the village, but when SLORC come they take or ask food from the villagers. When SLORC come they order us to go for labour and to do work for them. Sometimes they ask for pigs and goats and if we have any, we have to give them. If we don’t, then we must try our best to arrange everything for them by the fixed time. Because if the people can’t arrange it they come themselves, arrest people and catch the pigs and the animals and eat them. For labour, it is the same. If the people don’t go, they come and arrest people and take them as porters or for labour, whatever they want. If you have money you can pay, but people who stay there have no way to find money, they don’t even dare travel around villages.
Since we moved to YYYY, my husband has never had to be a porter. But this year SLORC ordered him once to guard the road for 3 days, all day and all night. He had to build a fence along the road. He couldn’t do anything [because of his broken hand], but he had to chop and split the bamboo for the fence. It is quite far [to the road labour], in the direction of Taw Thay Loh. For a man it is about 2 hours’ walk. It is on the road from Ka Ma Maung to Papun town. I don’t think cars can travel on it now because it has started raining. They use this road only in summer. They rebuild the road every year and change the place, but it is always near the old road.. When we were in YYYY, if my husband was able to go he went for the labour. Sometimes he couldn’t go, because he had a weakness in his body [so they had to hire someone to go].
No one was arrested by SLORC in YYYY village, but they arrested one person from Baw Thay Hta village. He was there visiting. SLORC suspected that he was a KNU soldier and tortured him a lot. But he was insane [actually mentally disabled]. The SLORC took him to Taw Thay Loh and the headman had to speak for him that he was mentally disabled and a civilian. His name is Pah Leh Wah, about 24 or 25 years old.
When DKBA was formed, they ordered us to move to Khaw Taw. They threatened us: "If you don’t move, the monk will burn the candle and all the people who didn’t move will decay like mushrooms". They also said that the Christians are very headstrong and never obey what they say. They said, "Baw Thay Hta village is hot chillie [meaning people in that village do not obey, so they may face a hot situation] but for the people who are staying in Pweh Nay Ko area the chillies aren’t hot, they are obeying us." This is because the people who were living in Pweh Nay Ko moved to Khaw Taw but the people from Baw Thay Hta and YYYY didn’t. Most of the villages like Pwee Taw Roh village and its neighbouring villages moved to Khaw Taw, but I can’t name them all, I only know some. Nothing happened to us because we had already told them boldly that we were not moving. We said, "If you want to kill all our villagers, you are welcome to kill us in the church and we will all die together." No one in our village joined DKBA.
People who don’t want to suffer SLORC anymore fled. Another family came along with us. Altogether 3 families from YYYY village moved to Thailand. It was not easy to come. We knew that both SLORC and DKBA would try to stop us, so we had to come secretly. If they knew they would kill us. We had to run when we crossed the car road, and we had to climb up and down the mountains. It took us 11 days.
My husband planned to find a job but unfortunately he got arrested by the Thai police about 2 weeks ago. Now he is staying in Mae Sariang jail. I don’t understand about this and I don’t know how long he will have to stay there. But he should come back here.
NAME: "Saw Ler Htoo" SEX: M AGE: 19
FAMILY: Single, 4 brothers and 4 sisters
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Papun District INTERVIEWED: 14/5/96
DISCRIPTION: Karen logging worker
["Saw Ler Htoo" works as a logging labourer and also as a soldier for the KNU.]
When they came into XXXX village 3 weeks ago they shot dead one villager and one soldier. As for the villager, I didn’t see it but later I saw the house - so many bullets had hit the house that part of the house was broken down. They hit Paw Lu with 3 bullets, and I think they shot Htein Nyunt Pa [the soldier] with more than 10 bullets - his intestines came out of his body. Paw Lu was about 30 and single, from Kyu Kee village. They were shot by Kyaw Oo. They told us they are IB 19. Their leader is Aung Thein Win, the Corporal is Thein Lwin and the Sergeant is Aung Kyi. There were 30 soldiers that came into the village, and 20 more on the hill to protect them. I don’t know what date it was, but it was a Tuesday in early summer [other sources confirm it was 23 April].
While they were in the village they ate 2 goats and 2 chickens that belonged to the villagers, and they looted people’s wine, clothing and money. They stayed 2 hours in the village and then they went away up the hill. They went to Kyu Kee, then on to Kaw Hta and Pa Hee Kyo [there is an army camp at Pa Hee Kyo]. The villagers went back to their houses and then dug holes to bury the two men, and by that time it was already dark.
Later they came back to the village. They came and ordered us, "Put up your hands", so we did, and they tied me up along with "Saw Wah" [not his real name]. He is also about 19 years old. They asked me something in Burmese but I didn’t say anything, and then they pointed a gun at me. I kept quiet but my friend started talking. They hit me twice with the gun. I started to speak, just one word, and the officer said to me, "You can speak Burmese, you must speak!"
They took us to carry their things and kept us for days. The first night they only tied my legs, but after that they kept me in stocks [mediaeval-style wooden leg stocks] at night, so I couldn’t sleep. They tortured me 20 times per day. They hung me up like an aeroplane, hanging by my hands and my feet couldn’t touch the ground, and punched my cheeks, and when I coughed blood came out of my mouth. The man who tortured me was Shan, but there was also another man who punched me twice when he was ordered to take me into the valley and kill me. He was Arakanese. But then the Captain said, "Don’t kill him, we haven’t got the order to kill him yet". Once the Captain came down to me and asked, "Do you dare to die?" I said, "No, I’m afraid to die", and he left. Then the Shan man came and tortured me again, and I told him, "Now I’m not afraid, I dare to die, you can kill me." He said, "We won’t kill you, we want to torture you, that’s all." Then he started beating me with a bamboo until the bamboo was broken.
They asked me so many things about ABSDF [All-Burma Students’ Democratic Front, the main Burmese students’ army] leaders’ names and KNU leaders’ names, but I didn’t say anything, I told him I just joined the [KNU] forestry department for 1 year and that was a very long time ago. I don’t know the leaders’ names. Now I’m just doing timber work, I don’t know about the Revolution. He threatened my friend ["Saw Wah"] and said he was lying, and he said to me, "I’ll bring your friend’s head to show you, and I’ll kill you later". Every day they told me, "We will kill you". "Saw Wah" cannot speak Burmese, so they mostly asked me and beat me. We ["Saw Wah" and himself] also had to go to Meh Kameh Hta to carry weapons for them. We ate breakfast in Pa Hee Kyo, then we had to carry the weapons to Meh Kameh Hta, where we met another group of soldiers and gave the weapons to them. Then they went back to their Pa Hee Kyo camp and our group went to Plaw Hta and slept there, then we left Plaw Hta at 5 a.m. and went to Pa Hee Kyo. They kept us there for a day, then they made us carry again. I had to carry about 20 viss [32 kg.]. "Saw Wah" had to carry a load even heavier than mine. We went to Meh Ka Hta, then the next day we went to Kyauk Nyat Kloh, where they shot 3 of the people’s goats and ate them. Then we went to Par Haik, and the next day we climbed the mountain and arrived in Pa Hee Kyo at around 6 p.m. After several days carrying they released me. Their leader Aung Kyi told me, "Tomorrow, of you and your friend I will release only one." The next day he came and released me. They gave me 2 punches when they released me. He made 5 soldiers take me down to the riverside, and I cut down two bamboos and used them to swim across the river. They just watched me go as I floated down the river. They sent a letter with me demanding 100 soldiers’ uniforms, shampoo, underwear and a watchstrap [from the KNU; rank-and-file SLORC soldiers never receive new uniforms] and said my friend wouldn’t be released until it was sent. [It is almost unheard of for SLORC troops not to execute prisoners they know to be KNU soldiers, and "Saw Ler Htoo" was caught with a gun and a radio; in this case, it is clear that the only reason he is still alive is that they are desperate for uniforms and other supplies and see this as the only way to get them.]
The soldiers used to be based in Papun. Their new base is in Kyauk Nyat [at the Salween River / Thai border, an area they captured from the KNU in early 1995], but they’re moving to Oo Thu Hta village where they’re doing timber work. They are IB 19, Company #2. They told me "We came as one division [10 Battalions] of soldiers". Their plan is to destroy all the ABSDF soldiers. They asked me all the places where people do farming and keep their rice supplies, and they asked me where the refugee camps are. They said their Operations Commander ordered them to check every village and arrest all the KNU soldiers. There was no one who joined KNU in our village. The Burmese just wanted to give trouble to the villagers. They said "We’ll burn all the rice supplies we find, but we won’t burn down the houses". They robbed blankets, and the Karen women’s long dresses. In the villages they take baths in people’s houses, they make the people carry the water for them. They take people’s drinking water containers. They take all the new clothes - there are no new clothes left in all the villages. In one house in the village there were 900 Kyats and 3 new pairs of clothes in the clothes box. They broke the box and took everything inside. They take the new plates and leave only the old plates. They shot dead goats and chickens of the villagers. When we were with them we didn’t want to eat the food they stole from the villagers, but we had to.