Karenni (Kayah) State: Update on Relocations

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Karenni (Kayah) State: Update on Relocations

Published date:
Wednesday, February 12, 1997

This report describes the orders for relocation of more than 183 villages in Karenni State by SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) to pre-designated sites. The displaced villages were forced to carry every that they could on foot. Conditions at the new sites are unsafe, with disease spreading easily. Many villagers instead chose to make the hazardous journey to 'Camp 2' on the Thai border. Camp 2 was attacked by the DKBA on the night of January 3rd 1997, killing at least 3 refugees.

Karenni (Kayah) State: Update on Relocations

Between April and July 1996, SLORC ordered at least 183 villages in Karenni State, with an estimated total population of 25-30,000 people, to move to various relocation sites. The primary intention of SLORC was to cut off all possibility of civilian support for the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP); SLORC had broken a ceasefire agreement to attack the KNPP in June 1995. The villages affected cover at least half the entire geographic area of Karenni. Some villages were marched at gunpoint to relocation sites without warning, but most were issued written orders to move within just 7 days or be 'considered as enemies', i.e. shot on sight without question. [For details see "Forced Relocation in Karenni", KHRG #96-24, 15/7/96.] Thousands of villagers went to the relocation sites as ordered; others, particularly those far from SLORC bases, fled into hiding in the forests surrounding their villages. Over 3,000 escaped to Karenni refugee camps in Thailand after a difficult and dangerous walk of days or weeks in rainy season. Some fled to parts of Karenni and southwestern Shan states controlled by the KNPLF (Karenni Nationalities People's Liberation Front) and SNPLO (Shan Nationalities People's Liberation Organisation), both of which currently have ceasefires with SLORC. Since the relocations, SLORC has still not allowed people to resettle in their home villages or provided them any assistance, and the situation throughout Karenni continues to grow increasingly critical.

Villagers could only manage to save as much as they could carry on their backs, and most of their food, livestock and belongings had to be left behind. In some cases even the sick, the elderly and the disabled had to be left behind to fend for themselves in the abandoned villages because they could not manage the walk through the mountains and their relatives could not carry them. Crippled villagers and sick children were later found by KNPP columns, hiding alone in villages already burned and destroyed by SLORC. In Daw Ei Hla village a 60-year-old blind woman was left alone in her house with a little food. Her decomposed remains were later found where she had fallen in her house and died slowly of starvation.

SLORC provided nothing whatsoever at the relocation sites, and villagers had been able to bring very little food with them, so in June at Shadaw and Ywathit SLORC allowed many villagers one last chance to return to their villages for 7 to 10 days and bring back some food. Many villagers used this as a chance to escape into the forest. Then about one month afterthe June deadline for relocation, SLORC troops launched an operation to tour the villages burning and destroying all that remained of them. Some villages were totally burnt down. In other villages they destroyed the best houses and the rice barns and killed all the villagers' livestock and cattle.Some villages were not destroyed but landmines were laid. In Baw Ghu Der township, some villagers, both women and men, were later killed by stepping on these mines.

Thousands of villagers are still living in hiding in groups of 2 or 3 families in the forest. Most had already planted their rice crop when the SLORC operation began (rice-growing season is between June and November), but then they had to spend most of their time hiding from the troops so their crops were largely destroyed by weeds and pests. They are now running completely out of rice with no prospect of planting a crop this year (normally they would now be clearing their fields in preparation for planting). In most villages all their livestock has been destroyed by SLORC, so they are reduced to surviving on jungle vegetables and roots. Many, especially children, are dying of malaria, diarrhea, dysentery, respiratory illnesses, and are also contracting worms and skin diseases.

Thousands of villagers are now living at SLORC-designated relocation sites including Shadaw, Ywathit, Baw La Keh, Daw Tama Gyi, Tee Po Kloh, Kay Lia, Nwa La Bo, Maw Chi, and Pah Saung. Bu Ko and Kwa Chi, initially reported by KHRG in July 1996 as a relocation site, was burned by SLORC and the villagers there ordered to move to Maw Chi relocation site.

When the people arrived in the relocation sites, nothing was prepared for them. They had to clear an area designated by the SLORC in order to build a house. In Shadaw site, after the villagers had cleared the site the troops decided that the area would be good for growing beans for the Army, and ordered the people to clear another place to settle. After a few months, most of the villagers had not been able to build a house since bamboo and roofing leaves were hard to get, especially during the rainy season, and were at a long distance or had to be bought. A lot of the villagers were unable to build houses, and even 6 months later they were still staying in precarious shelters.

On arrival at most of the relocation camps the villagers had to hand over whatever rice they had to SLORC, and then had rice rationed out to them at varying rates; for example, at Maw Chi they received 8 milktins per person per week (only 1/2 the amount required to feed an average adult). Even this distribution only lasted the first 1-2 months, after which there wasno rice left. In Shadaw, a Roman Catholic priest started distributing rice to the people but then SLORC ordered him to hand over the rice to them for distribution. He refused, as he knew the Army would simply take the rice, and had to stop. After there was no more rice, villagers could buy a pass from the soldiers costing between 2 and 5 Kyats allowing them to be away from morning until sunset, or in some cases for 2 days, just enough time to return to their village and bring some food. People found outside the relocation site without a pass or with expired passes are beaten. Even people with passes have been arrested, beaten and send back to the relocation sites.

In most of the relocation sites many people are dying of disease; in Shadaw an estimated 300 have died, and in Mawchi 100. The water supply is totally inadequate and usually dirty. Every day as many as 3 or 4 die, mostly children, mainly because of malaria, dysentery and respiratory diseases. The sites have no clinics. Even if there is a clinic nearby, no medicines are available unless people can go and buy them. In some sites Catholic priests were doing their best to treat sick people. The relocation sites have no schools.

In most sites the SLORC troops order the people to work for them. They have to cut bamboo and wooden posts to build barracks and fences. In Shadaw, Daw Tama Gyi and Tee Po Kloh sites, people are forced to do road construction work. They have also been forced to build fences around some of the relocation camps, to dig trenches and to do labour as sentries.

The sites are concentration camps and people need to get a pass at the sentry post in order to go in and out. Landmines have been laid around the camps. Military defences are especially prevalent at Shadaw, Maw Chi and Ywathit sites, where SLORC is more afraid of the KNPP. SLORC have built military posts inside the relocation sites and have arrested people staying there, usually charging them with suspicion of having had contact with opposition groups. In Tee Po Kloh site, one villager was arrested by the army, sent to Loikaw and detained in the overcrowded army camp jail for several months. He was severely beaten.

Many villagers who obtain passes and reach their villages go into hiding, building small shelters in the forest instead of returning. They collect food in their village or in the forest to survive. Most are almost out of rice and will face critical circumstances very soon. Hundreds of people fled Shadaw, a large relocation site holding several thousand people, to KNPLF territory near the Shan border and have been sheltered in various villages. Some have fled across the border of Shan State and have been staying in SNPLO area but they are now reportedly returning to their home areas. Some people fled the Shadaw relocation site to Loikaw (capital of Karenni), but SLORC didn't allow them to stay in the town and put them in Nwa La Bo concentration camp, along the car road north of Loikaw. About 700 people are presently in that site, and are reportedly receiving some rationed rice but there is no medicine and the clinic is closed.

During June and July 1996 about 3,000 people arrived in Karenni refugee camps in Thailand, mainly in 'Camp 2', and after the rainy season 1,300 more arrived in Camp 2, mainly from the relocation sites after a short stay hiding near their village. Families are still trickling in, though the trip is extremely difficult and dangerous. Some have died along the way.

At 2 a.m. on 3 January 1997, a force of between 20 and 50 men crossed into Thailand and attacked Camp 2, firing assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, M79 grenades, 60 mm. mortars and 2-inch mortars. Three refugees were killed, 2 men and one woman, and at least 9 refugees were wounded. The dead and wounded ranged in age from 14 to 60. A statement and uniform left behind after the attack indicated that it had been carried out by the Karenni National Democratic Army (KNDA), armed wing of the Karenni National Democratic Party (KNDP). This 'splinter' organisation was formed on 5 November 1996 and allied itself with

SLORC to fight against the KNPP. While it claims to be independent, many people believe it was initiated by SLORC to divide the KNPP and as a front for use in attacking Thailand, just as the Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army (DKBA) has been used to attack Karen refugee camps further south. Some refugees and KNPP officials believe that the attackers were actually SLORC soldiers using the name of KNDA and KNDP, which are based near Deemawso, far from the area of Camp 2.

Details, maps, interviews and photos regarding the situation in these areas will be available in an upcoming KHRG report and photo set.