This report concerns an area in southern Tenasserim Division, about 180 km. (110 mi.) north of Burma’s southernmost point which lies at Kawthaung (Victoria Point). Apart from the Andaman Sea coastline, the area inland is hilly, forested, and not so heavily populated as most parts of the country. The people are Burmans, Muslims, Mons, Karens and Thais - the Thais are not Tai Yai (Shan), they are of the same ethnicity as the Thais of southern Thailand. In this area the Karen are a minority, having only a handful of villages, but they are often singled out for heavier burdens of forced labour and other forms of persecution. Part of the reason for this is the existence of Karen National Union (KNU) and Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA 12th Battalion) in the area, headquartered at Kaw Thay Lu adjacent to the Thai border.
In October 1996, SLORC ordered all the Karen villages in the area to move to SLORC-controlled relocation sites around the Burman village of Le Nya, where they were to be used as forced labour rebuilding the Boke Pyin-Le Nya motor road. Then in mid-November 1996 troops from SLORC Light Infantry Battalion #358 went through the area and burned completely the Karen villages of Nan Ka Prao, Waw Pa Doh, Ler Pa Doh and Kyet Der. In December or January they also burned part of Meh Naw Roh village. All of these villages had been ordered to move. The Karen villages of Ze Daeng and Kaw Bawt were also ordered to move. In every case, SLORC told the villagers they would kill on sight anyone caught in the area after that, and some villagers have been executed as a result. By 23 November, Light Infantry Battalion #358 troops were already beginning to set up a base on the burned remains of Nan Ka Prao village. Part of the Battalion then began attacking the Mon Army to the north.
Some of the villagers moved to the relocation site as ordered and have subsequently been used as forced labour on the motor road. SLORC has provided them with nothing. Most of the villagers fled into the forests near their villages and are still there living in hiding. Several hundred fled to Karen-controlled territory near Kaw Thay Lu, where they were given help by the KNU. However, in February 1997 SLORC launched an offensive against KNLA 12th Battalion, and at the time these interviews were conducted 3 full SLORC Battalions (#262 and #342 based in Kawthaung and #432 from Boke Pyin) were poised to attack 12th Battalion headquarters at Kaw Thay Lu. Several hundred refugees fled across the border into Thai territory, but the Thai Army stopped them and pushed all the men and boys over age 10 back to Kaw Thay Lu telling them to fight along with the soldiers. Only 4 men (generally old men) per village were allowed to stay with the women and children, who were forced to stay just 1 km. from Kaw Thay Lu in a narrow, dark and malaria-infested gully, building tiny shelters in the middle of a streambed. The Thai soldiers then set up their positions behind the refugees, more with the idea of blocking the refugees from going further than protecting their border. This has proven to be the normal Thai strategy at refugee sites; should the SLORC Army cross the border, it also allows the Thai soldiers time to flee while the refugees are being killed. As of 18 February there were 282 refugees in the gully, all but a few of them women and children. The Thai authorities had promised them that should there be fighting in Kaw Thay Lu itself they would be allowed to move to a site a few kilometres further inside Thailand. At the time of printing of this report, the situation has not changed and Kaw Thay Lu is still awaiting an expected attack.
The names of those interviewed in this report have been changed and some details omitted to protect them; false names are enclosed in quotes.
Forced relocations (Interviews #1-6), burning of villages (#1-6), killings of villagers (#1), forced labour (#1-4), child forced labour (#1), extortion (#1,3), situation at relocation site (#4), male refugees forced back by Thai authorities (#2), refugee fears (#2,4,5), Nan Ka Prao village (#1-4), Ler Pa Doh village (#5), Meh Naw Ro village (#6), treatment of Burman and Thai villages in the area (#1-3).
NAME: "Saw Hsah Muh Lah" SEX: M AGE: 54 Karen Christian hill farmer
FAMILY: Married, 6 children aged 17-31
ADDRESS: Nan Ka Prao village INTERVIEWED: 18/2/97
["Saw Hsah Muh Lah" was a village elder in Nan Ka Prao village, and was one of the few men allowed to cross the border by the Thai authorities.]
Q: When you were in Nan Ka Prao village did the Burmese ever order you to work?
A: Yes, they made problems about building the road from Le Nya to Boke Pyin. So we couldn’t stay there, and we had to come up here. The road has all been built before, we build it, then when it’s finished the rains come and ruin it, then we have to build it again. So we have to go - if you can’t go you have to pay money, and if you can’t pay money then you have to go. If we can’t go we have to hire someone, sometimes it is 2 or 3 thousand [Kyats], sometimes 1 or 2 thousand. We had to go one time every month, one person from every house. There are over 40 houses in Nan Ka Prao village. If the adults can’t go then the children have to go, children around 12 and 13 years old. And old men over 50 or 60 years old often have to go on behalf of the young men. Each time it is for about 14 or 15 days. The Burmese don’t give anything, they [the labourers] have to take care of themselves and survive on their own food. Some of them get sick, and then we have to substitute another person for them.
Q: Did they order Nan Ka Prao village to move?
A: Yes, we already had to move over 2 months ago. The Burmese came to the village and ordered all the villagers to move to Le Nya, which is in their area. It is about 3 or 4 hours’ walk away [from Nan Ka Prao]. So some of the villagers moved there because they were afraid, but some of the villagers didn’t go there or come here, they just fled and stayed somewhere else. As for us, we fled up here. The Burmese killed 2 of the villagers who didn’t go to the relocation place, and they said they would kill all the villagers who disobeyed them and fled somewhere else if they saw them.
Q: Where did they kill the 2 villagers?
A: They killed the 2 villagers in the forest near Nan Ka Prao village. It was about a month ago. One was Kyi Lin, he was over 30 years old, he had a wife and 4 children. He was a Nan Ka Prao villager. The Burmese saw him when he was harvesting rice at his farm. They didn’t ask him anything, they just saw him and shot him dead. Because they said they would kill any villagers they saw who disobeyed and didn’t go to Le Nya.
Q: What about the other villager who was killed?
A: That happened the first time the Burmese came, over 2 months ago. Over 100 soldiers came from Battalion #358. They gathered all the male villagers and took them along with them. There was a young man among the villagers and the Burmese accused him of being a Kaw Thoo Lei [Karen army] soldier and then tortured him. Later on they realised he was not a Kaw Thoo Lei soldier, but they killed him anyway. They killed him along the way. Even his parents didn’t know, and no one dared to search for his body. His name was Saw Peter, he was a Nan Ka Prao villager about 22 years old.
Q: How many households moved to Le Nya [as ordered]?
A: I would guess that maybe over 40 households moved there [from other villages as well as Nan Ka Prao]. I don’t know how they stay there. Maybe they have to build the road. As for us, we didn’t go there, instead we came to the Karen area among Karen people. Many people are staying in the jungle. But we would starve if we stayed a long time in the jungle, that’s why we came up here. And up here is Karen revolution area, so I thought we’d have some hope of getting [or growing] some food.
Q: I heard that the Burmese burned your village.
A: Yes. They burned all the houses, they ate all our livestock and they cut down all the coconut trees and betelnut trees. None of the villagers were there, everyone had run.
Q: Why did they burn the village?
A: They say we help Kaw Thoo Lei [KNU/KNLA], and Kaw Thoo Lei is their enemy. They had ordered everyone to move, so they said if people didn’t move they were going to destroy everything and everything we had. When we came here, I could only bring 2 or 3 pieces of clothing. We came as a group of 2 or 3 families, 14 or 15 people altogether. It took us 4 nights along the way because of the children. There were no Burmese along the way.
Q: How many Karen villages are in Nan Ka Prao area?
A: There are 4 villages - Nan Ka Prao, Ler Pa Doh, Waw Pa Doh, and Kyet Der. All of them were burned by the Burmese, they did the same to all the villages.
Q: What about the Thai and Burman villages? Do the Burmese make problems for them?
A: Yes, they make problems in every village. They order them to move to Le Nya - the Burman villages which are far from their [Army] place. Some of them have moved, some of them have fled.
Q: When you got here how did you get food?
A: When we first arrived we got rice from the Karen revolution, because we were staying with them. Then when they didn’t have any more food for us the gawlewah [westerners] helped us with food. Now we’ve been in Thailand for 5 or 6 days, because we don’t dare stay in Kaw Thay Lu anymore. The Burmese are coming there to attack and destroy, so we fled here. There are about 70 households here now. Altogether over 200 people [actually 282]. There are people from Nan Ka Prao, Waw Pa Doh and Ler Pa Doh, and from Kaw Thay Lu village. As for the people from Ze Daeng, they couldn’t come up here even if they wanted to, because the Burmese are making many problems for them and blocking them.
Q: If the Burmese reach Kaw Thay Lu can you still stay here?
A: No, we wouldn’t dare stay here [only 1 km. away]. We’d have to flee again to another place.
NAME: "Naw Lah Lah Htoo" SEX: F AGE: 30 Karen Animist hill farmer
FAMILY: Married, 5 children aged 8 months to 11 years
ADDRESS: Nan Ka Prao village INTERVIEWED: 18/2/97
Q: How many houses are there in Nan Ka Prao village?
A: There are about 40 or 50 houses in Nan Ka Prao village.
Q: I heard that the Burmese ordered the village to move.
A: Yes. We got here over 2 months ago because the Burmese expelled us. They came up to Nan Ka Prao village, ordered the villagers to move and made problems. They burned all the houses. Some of the villagers came up here and some of them went down to the Burmese area. We just came here quietly, so the Burmese didn’t know it. The people who went down where they ordered are staying in Kyaw Mote. As for me, I would not move there. I fled when all the other villagers were running into the jungle. We were in the bush for about 3 weeks. Then I went and stayed at Boke Pyin for about a week, then I went back to my village again and it had already been burned by the Burmese. Then I couldn’t do anything, so I came to stay here in Kaw Thay Lu. I couldn’t bring along any sleeping-mats, I just brought along some rice and one blanket. Then we couldn’t stay in Kaw Thay Lu because the [Karen] leaders were worried that there would be troubles for us when the Burmese came. That’s why we came here [1 km. into Thai territory]. I came here with all my children. My husband is still staying on the mountaintop [the Thai authorities would not let him cross the border, even though he is just a villager and has never been a soldier].
Q: How many Karen villages are in Nan Ka Prao area?
A: There are many Karen villages, like Nan Ka Prao, Waw Pa Doh, Ler Pa Doh, Kyet Der, ... Waw Pa Doh has 12 houses, Ler Pa Doh has 30 houses. All these villages had to move. Now there are still some villagers living there, but they’ve run and are staying in the forest [around their villages]. They were ordered to move to Le Nya and Ma Kaw, which are among the Burmese and the Mon. The Burmese said they will kill all the villagers who are living in the jungle, they said that these are bad people. They say all the people who stay in the jungle or come to Thailand are bad people, that we all help Kaw Thoo Lei [KNU/KNLA], and that only the people who go to their [relocation] place are good.
Q: Are there Thai and Burman villages there too?
A: There are also Thai and Burmese villages there. The Burmese make difficulties for them too. All the villagers [Karen and others] who stay around Le Nya or go down to the places among the Burmese have to build the road and carry heavy things [as porters]. They’re building a road to Boke Pyin, and one to Le Nya Kee and Nan Ka Prao. The Burmese said they’ll build a camp in Nan Ka Prao.
Q: Are Burman and Thai villagers also fleeing?
A: Yes. Only a few of the Thai villagers are still staying there now. Some of them are moving to Thailand.
Q: Why hasn’t your husband come here?
A: He hasn’t come because the Thais won’t allow the men to come, so all the men have to stay in Kaw Thay Lu. The Thais only allowed 4 men to come and stay here among us. I don’t know why the Thais said that. My husband is not a soldier, he is just a villager. I don’t know how long I’ll have to stay here, but I’ve been here a week now.
Q: If the Burmese attack Kaw Thay Lu do you dare stay here?
A: No, I wouldn’t dare stay here.
Q: What is your situation here?
A: We just got rice and salt while we were fleeing [from the KNU]. Yesterday we were given some sardines and noodles too. My children are healthy but I am not well, I feel bad and have pain in my back.
NAME: "Naw Htoo Paw" SEX: F AGE: 21 Karen Christian hill farmer
FAMILY: Single, 7 brothers and sisters, lives with her parents
ADDRESS: Nan Ka Prao village INTERVIEWED: 18/2/97
I’m a hill rice farmer, but our farm has been left behind because we had to flee. The Burmese ordered us out starting in 1996, they ordered us to move to Le Nya. Some people moved there but as for us, we didn’t want to stay among the Burmese, so we came to the Karen revolution area. Before we stayed on the hill, but the Karen leaders told us we better come here [into Thailand] because the military situation was getting worse.
Q: Before they ordered you to move did you have to do any work for the SLORC?
A: Yes, people had to work building the road and carrying heavy things, and some people had to pay money when they couldn’t go there. The road goes from Boke Pyin to Le Nya, among the Burmese. In our village we just collected money and sent it to the Burmese.
There are over 40 houses in Nan Ka Prao village. Our village has been burned by the Burmese 2 times. They have already burned 3 of my houses. The first time was about 20 years ago, and the second time was in [November] 1996 when we were there. It was after they ordered us to move out. They burned many houses - all they left was the church. At that time, I was hiding in the jungle. We were in the jungle, trying to build a small shelter like this one [she was being interviewed in a tiny 4-foot by 5-foot shelter in the forest with a plastic sheet for the roof]. Later some Karen soldiers and villagers who had gone and seen it told us. The Burmese burned every house except the church.
Q: How did you get food in the jungle?
A: Before, we had hidden some rice, salt and fishpaste in the jungle, so that when things like this happen we could get it. Also, when these things happen we carry a little rice along with us, so we can survive for a short time. Then we fled out to here.
Q: Are there any other Karen villages in Nan Ka Prao area?
A: Yes, there are 3 others - there are Nan Ka Prao, and Kyet Der, Waw Pa Doh and Ler Pa Doh - 4 villages altogether, close to each other. They all have to move, and the Burmese burned all of them. Some of the people went to the Burmese [relocation place] and half of us came to the revolution area. Only a few households from Nan Ka Prao went to the Burmese place. Some others are just staying along the way there but not going all the way to the Burmese area. Those people are building small shelters and farming in the jungle. It is only really old men and old women who can’t walk, can’t do things or can’t see who are going to the Burmese place. From other villages a few are here, a few are hiding in the forest and a few went to the Burmese place.
We were staying in the jungle for 1 or 2 months, and the Burmese attacked the Karen once when we were there. We just kept moving around in the jungle and staying along the upper reaches of streams. If the Burmese saw us during that time it wouldn’t be easy - they would surely kill us. Then we came here. We spent 4 nights on the way to get here. We couldn’t bring anything except 2 sets of clothing, all our other things were taken by the Burmese. As for the food we brought, it was all finished on the way coming here. Then when we got here they [the KNU] gave us some rice and salt. At first they gave us 10 plates, 5 blankets and 1 pot because there are 10 people in our family. We arrived in Kaw Thay Lu in November, after we had fled.
Q: How many households from Nan Ka Prao village have arrived here?
A: There are 22 households here from Nan Ka Prao village. In the jungle there are more people than there are here. They would come if the situation was better, but for now they just have to hide in the jungle in the upper reaches of the streams.
Q: Do the Burmese make problems for the Thai and Burman villages too?
A: Yes, they also have to work. As for the Thai villagers, many of them have fled to their motherland.
NAME: "Naw Wah Mo" SEX: F AGE: 50 Karen Christian hill farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children
ADDRESS: Nan Ka Prao village INTERVIEWED: 18/2/97
When they came I was in the village, but we didn’t dare face them so we fled into the jungle. Later I saw the places they’d burned. There were no more houses, nothing was left. All the houses were burned except for the church.
Q: What about the Nan Ka Prao villagers who went to the relocation place, how are they staying?
A: Some of them have made rafts and are living on the water [in shelters built on bamboo rafts in the river] and others are living on the sand bank [the sandy riverbank]. I wasn’t there, but that was told to me by someone who saw it. I heard that the people who moved there are now building the motor road. The Burmese ordered all of the people to move there, but we didn’t go. I don’t know why the Burmese do things like this.
I’ve been staying in Kaw Thay Lu for 2 months now. Now we have come here [across the border to Thailand] because we are afraid of the Burmese. I don’t think we can go back to Nan Ka Prao. If the situation was good we could go, but not if it is bad. We’re really afraid right now.
NAME: "Saw Bleh" SEX: M AGE: 46 Karen Animist hill farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children aged 1-19, wife is about 7 months pregnant
ADDRESS: Ler Pa Doh village INTERVIEWED: 18/2/97
Q: What problems did the Burmese make in your village?
A: The Burmese came to the village and ordered us to move out, but we didn’t and we fled. It was about 3 months ago. They said that they would kill us if they caught us after that. There are about 30 houses in Ler Pa Doh village and 20 houses in Waw Pa Doh village. Waw Pa Doh is right across the river from Nan Ka Prao. Ler Pa Doh is 30 minutes’ walk from Nan Ka Prao.
Q: Were you there when the Burmese ordered the village to move?
A: Yes, I was there in my village. They came to the village and they burned all the houses. I was hiding in the bushes. I saw them burning the paddy in my rice barn, the paddy which I grew on my own hill farm. There were a lot of them. It was over 2 months ago, then they came again. They came and burned the houses 3 times, because the first and second times not all the houses were burned completely. After the third time all the houses were burnt. All 30 houses.
Q: What area did you flee to?
A: We just went and hid in areas upstream. Altogether 3 households from Ler Pa Doh arrived here. More households went to the Burmese place than came here. It took 3 days to come here. All our children came on foot with us. This one is 5 years old, and this one is 4.
Q: Why did you come into Thailand?
A: We dare not stay there [just across the border at Kaw Thay Lu] because the Burmese will attack, so we had to flee into Thailand. If the Burmese arrive there we won’t dare stay here either, we’ll have to move to another place.
Q: Could you go back and stay in your village again?
A: We can’t stay back in our village if the Burmese are there. If the Karen leaders tell us the Burmese are not there anymore then maybe we could go and stay there.
NAME: "Naw Lah Ghay" SEX: F AGE: 28 Karen Christian hill farmer
FAMILY: Married, 1 child aged 19 months
ADDRESS: Meh Naw Roh village INTERVIEWED: 18/2/97
I married a [Karen] soldier, and I stayed in Meh Naw Roh. Meh Naw Roh is a Karen village. It is a big village with about 100 houses. I stayed in the village, but my husband was living among the soldiers. Then we couldn’t stay in the village because the Burmese ordered us out, so I came to my husband [in Kaw Thay Lu]. Meh Naw Ro is about a week from here on foot, one day’s walk from Nan Ka Prao. Now there are no more villagers in the village because the Burmese wouldn’t let them stay. The Burmese said they would kill any villagers they saw. It was about a month ago. Some of the villagers went down to the place we were ordered to move at Le Nya, some fled upstream into the jungle, and some came to the Karen revolution area.
The Burmese came to the village, but there were also Karen soldiers staying at the village. There was fighting. All the villagers ran away, and the soldiers stayed in the village. Then after that the Burmese burned 7 of the biggest houses in the village.
My husband is a soldier so I was afraid [that SLORC would arrest her], and I fled the village and came up here. I came along with our child. We only brought a few things.