ATTACKS ON KAREN REFUGEE CAMPS

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ATTACKS ON KAREN REFUGEE CAMPS

Published date:
Tuesday, March 18, 1997

This report covers 4 of the main attacks on Karen refugee camps in Thailand which occurred in January 1997: the burning and destruction of Huay Kaloke and Huay Bone refugee camps on the night of 28 January, the armed attack on Beh Klaw refugee camp on the morning of 29 January, and the shelling of Sho Kloh refugee camp on 4 January. These attacks left several people dead and about 10,000 refugees homeless and completely destitute. 

This report covers 4 of the main attacks on Karen refugee camps in Thailand which occurred in January 1997: the burning and destruction of Huay Kaloke and Huay Bone refugee camps on the night of 28 January, the armed attack on Beh Klaw refugee camp on the morning of 29 January, and the shelling of Sho Kloh refugee camp on 4 January. These attacks left several people dead and about 10,000 refugees homeless and completely destitute. Even now, Huay Kaloke and Huay Bone remain nothing but open plains of dust and ash under the hot sun. No one feels safe to remain in these places, but the Thai authorities are forcing them to.Huay Bone's over 3,000 refugees have either fled to Beh Klaw or have been forced to move to Huay Kaloke, and the Thai authorities still have a plan to move Sho Kloh's over 6,000 refugees to Beh Klaw, which is unsafe and already overcrowded with over 25,000 people. Refugees in other camps are also living in fear; Maw Ker refugee camp 50 km. south of Mae Sot has been constantly threatened with destruction, as has Mae Khong Kha refugee camp much further north in Mae Sariang district. People in these camps often end up spending their nights in the forests or countryside surrounding their camps, not daring to sleep in their homes at night.

Since 1995 the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a Karen group allied with and supplied by SLORC, has been destroying and threatening to destroy refugee camps[see the related reports "SLORC's Northern Karen Offensive" (KHRG #95-10, 29/3/95), "New Attacks on Karen Refugee Camps" (KHRG #95-16, 5/5/95), "DKBA / SLORC Cross-Border Attacks" (KHRG #96-31, 1/8/96), and "Inside the DKBA" (KHRG #96-14, 31/3/96) ]. However, the DKBA primarily operates as small local groups loosely attached to SLORC Army units, and simply does not have the command structure to organise and coordinate large-scale attacks on several refugee camps such as the simultaneous attacks on Huay Kaloke, Huay Bone and Beh Klaw of 28-29 January. SLORC planning was clearly involved in these attacks, and refugees who were in the camps testify that SLORC soldiers formed a large part of the attacking forces. Thai forces did nothing whatsoever to defend Huay Kaloke and Huay Bone, and in fact the Thai security forces withdrew well before the attacks in both cases, indicating that they were probably informed in advance and deliberately colluded in these flagrant violations of Thai sovereignty.

DKBA's interest in attacking the camps is to try to terrorize the refugees into returning to Burma to form a civilian support base for them, while SLORC's interest is not only to terrorize the refugees but also to create an excuse for the Thai government to conduct forced repatriation "to protect Thai national security", thus removing the refugees as an international source of embarrassment to SLORC and simultaneously providing SLORC with a captive population for forced labour and extortion in the region. However, for the vast majority of refugees these attacks simply strengthen their determination not to be forced back to Burma until they can do so in safety and dignity and with basic guarantees of human rights.

This report consists of summaries of the 4 attacks and interviews with witnesses and victims who were there. The interviews were conducted by KHRG, and much of the other information was provided by independent contacts. The names of those interviewed have been changed and some details omitted in order to protect them, and false names have been enclosed in quotes.

Table of Contents


Huay Kaloke Camp ........................................................
Interview #1: Witness to the attack ....................................
Huay Bone Camp ..........................................................
Interview #2: Witness to the attack ....................................
Beh Klaw Camp ............................................................
Interview #3: Witness to the attack ....................................
Sho Kloh Camp ............................................................
Interview #4: Wife of refugee killed by the shelling .................
Interview #5: Refugee wounded by mortar shrapnel .................
Map ..........................................................................
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4
7
8
12
13
14
14
16
17

Huay Kaloke (Wan Kha) Camp

At about 10:15 p.m. on 28 January, a force estimated at 150-200 soldiers attacked Huay Kaloke refugee camp, which has a population of 6,576 (as of Feb. 1997) and is located 10 km. north of the Thai town of Mae Sot, on flat open land surrounded by ricefields and Thai villages. The force came on foot from Kawmoora, a former Karen National Union (KNU) position which was captured by SLORC in February 1995. Kawmoora is 3 km. to the west, on the opposite bank of the Moei River (the river is the border).

The attacking force entered the camp in 2 groups, one group of 30-40 troops through Section 7 of the camp into Section 5, and the other group of over 100 across the ricefields and into the market section of the camp (the market section on the north side of the camp is populated by refugees, but they do not receive relief supplies because they have shops). The group entering the market then split up, some of them heading for the main part of the camp and others going through the market, forcing their way into houses and shops and looting everything. The group that went to the main part of the camp went first to the clinic and demanded the microscope (in every attack on refugee camps, the troops are clearly under direct orders to 'get the microscope', presumably for the clinic at DKBA headquarters in Myaing Gyi Ngu. They always ask for it, and in some refugee camps when attacks are expected they remove all the medicines but leave a token microscope to appease the attackers). Getting one microscope, they smashed the other and then set the clinic on fire. Others went to the camp leader's house, the school, and other houses and set them all on fire.

The entire camp consists of bamboo huts with leaf or thatch roofing all packed close together, so the fires swept through the camp at high speed. People fled their houses in confusion, most of them just trying to get their children out and having no time to save any belongings whatsoever. Some refugees claim that when the attackers saw them pulling belongings out of their houses, they ordered them to put them back and let them burn. In the market, a woman shopkeeper who was fleeing was stopped by a DKBA soldier, who searched her and found gold hidden on her body and in her bag. Shouting the Karen equivalent of "I've hit the jackpot!" he fired his weapon into the air. Troops throughout the camp were firing into the air to terrorize the refugees. After they finished looting the market they set it on fire as well, but only half of it burned.

The attackers were all dressed in black or in camouflage. According to the refugees, many appeared to be high on 'yah ma' (also known as 'myin say', or 'horse medicine' - a strong opiate/amphetamine combination which comes in tablet form and is broken up and smoked, making the user highly aggressive, fearless and stupid for up to 24 hours). All had blackened faces so it was difficult for the refugees to identify their origins. According to some refugees, those in black appeared to be SLORC soldiers and were carrying G3 and G4 assault rifles, which are SLORC weapons (Karen soldiers almost never use these weapons even if they capture them, considering them unwieldy and unreliable), while those in camouflage may have been DKBA and were carrying an assortment of M16 and AK47 assault rifles and other weapons typical of Karen soldiers. Witnesses estimate that there were 20-40 Karens and the rest were all SLORC soldiers. Some attackers spoke to the refugees in Karen, while others spoke in Burmese. Generally, those speaking Karen requested that shopkeepers open their doors, while those speaking Burmese just smashed them down. Some soldiers speaking Karen called to people to "Run quickly!" while others speaking Burmese would call out, "Don't run or we'll shoot!" One DKBA soldier told some children fleeing toward the ricefields, "Don't go that way, the Burmese will shoot you". Traces such as bootmarks, etc. found in the following days suggest that a larger force of entirely SLORC soldiers was waiting in the surrounding fields for reinforcement.

The attackers moved around the camp with complete impunity for at least one or two hours. Bamboo burns very hot and very quickly, so by about midnight some of the fires were beginning to diminish and some people were starting to return to the ashes of their homes and belongings. 70 to 80 percent of the camp was completely destroyed, leaving just a hot open plain of dust and ashes. Contrary to propaganda reports in the Thai media, there was no assistance from Thai firefighters in Mae Sot. At about 11 p.m. refugees saw 2 large firefighting trucks and one smaller vehicle approach the camp with lights and sirens - according to one refugee, "Then I thought my house could be saved". However, the trucks stopped at the main entrance to the camp, probably to have photos and video taken for the Thai media, and a few minutes later returned to Mae Sot. (Note: performing for the cameras like this is a normal tactic of the Thai military, border patrol and other arms of authority.)

There was no attempt whatsoever by the Thai military to defend the camp, the surrounding Thai villages, or Thai sovereignty whatsoever. In fact, 9 hours before the attack at 1 p.m. the Thai Commando unit stationed at the main entrance of the camp had already evacuated themselves and all of their equipment, obviously with foreknowledge of the attack. Only one or two soldiers remained until later in the afternoon in order to continue extortingthe usual 10 Baht from each refugee who walks out of the camp, and presumably also so that the refugees would not notice that anything was amiss. These soldiers then left later in the afternoon, leaving the area undefended. Refugees who rushed to the post to notify the soldiers when the attack began found it abandoned. It remained abandoned for several days, during which one angry Thai villager wrote on it in Thai, "The Thai Army eats and sleeps well, but they are not worth the rice they eat." In Thai, this is considered quite a powerful insult.

Astoundingly, the only casualty was reportedly one woman who fell ill due to high blood pressure. However, almost everyone lost everything they had. Over a month later, they are still living in the dirt and the ashes. For a long time no one dared stay in the camp at night and camped out in thesurrounding fields. Everyone wants to move to a safer location, but the Thai authorities say they will not allow this, even though DKBA members in Kawmoora have already told some of their relatives in Huay Kaloke, "If anyone builds there we'll come again and burn it". The Thai Army returned after several days and immediately began extorting money from the refugees under various pretexts as usual, and began reallocating plots for new houses to be built - much smaller than before, only 8 x 12 metres per family, with one latrine for every 3 families. Despite this, the Thai authorities immediately increased the 'rent' which each refugee family has topay for the square of dirt their house is built on.


Interviews

 

INTERVIEW #1.

NAME: "Naw Tha Muh"          SEX: F          AGE: 19 Karen, no religion
FAMILY: Single
ADDRESS: Huay Kaloke refugee camp, Thailand      INTERVIEWED: 1/2/97

["Naw Tha Muh" was in Huay Kaloke refugee camp when it was attacked by a combined SLORC/DKBA force on 28 January 1997. Note that as a shopkeeper in the market, she is much better off than most refugees.]

On 28th January 1997, the DKBA came into the camp. I don't know the exact time because I had no watch. It must have been past 10 p.m. After I had watched television, I went to bed. My house was in the market [her house is also a shop selling mainly clothing]. I was sleeping when my mother woke me up, and the first thing I heard was jungle boots running ti...ti...ti... and chasing the people who were running here and there. They came across the football field. I didn't know what was happening. Just then, DKBA soldiers kicked the door strongly with their boots and said, "Open the door!". I didn't open it and went to the back of the house, but the DKBA soldiers were also at the back of the house. When I came face to face with them, they asked me, "Where are you going?" I didn't answer and went back to the front of the house. My mother was so worried for me. She said, "Don't run anywhere!" Then the DKBA soldiers turned their guns on us and said, "All of you! Go back to the front of the house." At that time there were some guests staying with us. We were 7 in the house, all females, and we didn't say anything, so the DKBA didn't do anything to us.

Seven soldiers came to my house. My mother had hidden one bag that they didn't find, and they didn't find the money we had hidden either. They only saw the box with a little money in it. They took all the money from the small box. They also opened my handbag and took the money there as well. Altogether, they took some coins, 2,000 Baht, and mostly clothes, also shoes, small knives and a flask. They put the clothes from the shop into bags. The plastic bags were from my shop too and they carried them out themselves [they didn't use porters].

My mother told a DKBA soldier who looked about 20 years old, "Child, take everything you want but please do not burn our house down!". But the soldier pointed his gun at her and said, "Do you want to die, old woman?" A girl who was in my house begged the soldier, "Please don't do anything to Grandmother! She is old!" They also took the tehku [sarong] and clothes off an old man in my house and searched for something they expected to find on him, like gold or money, but they didn't find anything. They took everything they wanted and then they moved to another house, my friend's house.

The DKBA came into the camp, group by group, house to house, simultaneously. I heard that the same was going on at the other houses too. 40 Baht was taken from my auntie's house. Her husband was kicked with boots too. They ordered everyone to get out of their houses without taking anything out and then they started burning the houses.

The DKBA went to the biggest shop and pointed their gun barrels at Uncle [an older man]. They questioned him about the key and the money. They took a lot of money from him, about 500,000 Kyats, plus the golden rings, chains, and bracelets which belonged to others that they had given as guarantees for borrowing money from Uncle. They also used his telephone.

They took everything they wanted such as clocks, watches, cassettes, radios, clothes, and they even searched for things in the brassieres of the girls andthe women. They expected to find things such as gold and money. They took off earrings, bracelets and chains from two girls. One was Karen and the other Chinese. Then the soldiers questioned a 50-year-old man who is insane, and hit his head with a rifle butt. He got a wound and the blood streamed down his head. The question was only: "Are you a soldier?" And the mad man only answered: "What?". Only for this!

I also heard that Nya Nya Say's father got kicked on his chest with their boots when DKBA demanded gold and money from him. Nya Nya Say is a student. I saw that they took two motorcycles from others but people said that 7 motorcycles were taken altogether. They left some motorcycles in the paddy fields because there is no road through the fields and they were unable to push them further. For some others, they didn't have the key to start the engine, so they just broke apart the dashboards and lights and destroyed the motorcycles on their way back to their camp. They also took the telephone.

After the soldiers went out, they started to set the houses on fire. I said to my mother: "Mother, the DKBA are burning the houses!" She thought they wouldn't burn them but then she saw the other shops burning.

I went down to my motorcycle to move it away from the fire and because I was afraid that DKBA would take it. They took the motorcycle from an Indian house, but I had kept the keys for ours inside and they hadn't seen itbecause it was kept at the back of the house. My mother helped me to pull it. Then they saw me pushing the motorcycle. Two DKBA soldiers came towards me to ask or do something to me. They said, "Where are you going?" I thought they would take the motorcycle, but another DKBA soldier helped me and called them. They turned back. They didn't have a chance to do anything to me. I don't know why. Maybe because we have been selling goods for a long time and they knew us. They didn't do anything to my mother either. When some soldiers pointed their guns at her, the others disagreed. Then they left her. I noticed they didn't speakrudely to her. They only asked: "Do you have money?" and didn't harm her. As for other people, they beat them when they demanded money.

I rode down to the Thai checkpoint. But I didn't see any Thai soldiers at thecheckpoint. No one was there. Then I went to the other Thai gate and tried to wake them up. Only one policeman awoke. I told him that the DKBA were burning the houses and looting things from the refugees. But he didn't seem to understand, and he asked me, "What is the DKBA?", "The DKBA means the Buddhist soldiers", I said. Then he understood but he didn't do anything or say anything. So I got angry and immediately rode to another police gate at Mae Pa [a larger Thai village very near the camp]. The police told me, "We already know and we have contacted the other posts." On my way to Mae Sot, we saw one or two cars with people in them between Mae Pa and Huay Kaloke. Maybe they were coming around to look at the fire. I didn't see any soldiers, just ordinary cars. I went to call my teacher in Mae Sot. When we arrived back at the camp, we saw that the people were all here and there in disorder and that the houses were burning with really huge flames.

My mother had taken as many things as she could and put them down into the well when the DKBA started burning the houses. My house was also burnt down by DKBA. My mother told me that they came inside the houses, searched for things to light the fire with, then set the fires from inside the houses. I didn't see that because I ran to the Thai checkpoint. Altogether I saw about 20 DKBA soldiers but other people said that there were over 100. They wore a full suit uniform of camouflage colour. They had soldiers' boots and long guns like the G3 and G4 which the SLORC uses. Others had black uniforms which the Burmese wear. They were shooting up and down, in the air, not at the people. Nobody died. Some of them spoke Karen but most spoke Burmese.

At the time when the camp was already on fire, a 20 year old man came to help us carry things out of our house and helped to save a patient in anotherhouse. Before he reached the house, he met a SLORC soldier who asked him, "Where are you going?" The man answered in Karen, "I am going to help a patient there", and the SLORC soldier replied, "I am not Karen. Don't talk to me in Karen. Just take off your watch from your wrist and give it to me now!" So the man gave it to him. I am sure he was a Burmese soldier. People said that the Karen DKBA soldiers had put soot on their faces but that the Burmese didn't. I couldn't recognise them because their faces were all the same. They all looked black in the dark night.

At last the DKBA returned to their own camp, because they saw the fire engines coming to the camp to extinguish the flames and they thought that these trucks were from the Thai Army.

When I came back to Huay Kaloke camp, I just saw the houses in flames, the people all disorganised and the Thai fire engines not doing anything to the burning houses. They just stayed still at a distance, and the Thai policemen were also staying still at a distance just looking around. Actually I am not sure, police or soldiers. They didn't have any guns. They wore brown uniforms like the Thai police. Maybe they were firemen. I also saw some people from Mae Pa standing on the road. The firemen extinguished the fire when everything was already burnt down. The houses were burning continuously for about 3 hours.

I don't feel angry with DKBA. I don't want to kill them. We can understand each other because we are Karen. I just hate the Burmese, SLORC. Only a few DKBA came and they did nothing to me. The Burmese soldiers tried to shoot my mother but the DKBA soldiers stopped them from killing her. They also stopped them from catching me when I was trying to push my motorcycle. The DKBA soldiers helped my escape by calling away the Burmese soldiers. [Note: At this stage of the events shewas not actually sure which soldiers were which.]

My mother has practically nothing left, just a few things. She has no gold. They already knew that we didn't have any gold. We only had some money. I remember that we invested about 50,000 Baht in this shop. Later on we increased it up to 70,000 Baht, maybe more, but less than 100,000 Baht. That included the shop and the clothing. All burnt down.

I don't miss anything in particular, because many times my house has been burnt down. This is the fourth time that my house has been burnt down during my lifetime. I only want a better life. There is only one thing that I regret most: my family album of photographs.

Even when my mother was expecting me, our house was burnt down in Old Wankha. But in my lifetime, the first time was when I was 5 or 6 years old and we were living in the new Wankha camp. At that time, my father was a trader. We also had a shop then and everything burnt down. I can remember my house being destroyed. It was set on fire during the fighting between the KNU and the Burmese. The second time was when we were living at Wankha on the Thai side and I was about 12 years old. We had a shop there too and it was burnt down by the Burmese soldiers, not even because of fighting. But that time we didn't lose the clothing because we took it all out ahead of time. The third time was at the new market in Huay Kaloke last year.. It was an accident: an Indian family's carelessness with their stove in their kitchen [most of Huay Kaloke market burnt down in March 1996 because of this accident].

Now we are staying in Mae Sot for a short time. We are renting a house. My mother will start a new shop when the situation is better in Huay Kaloke.

 

Huay Bone (Don Pa Kiang) Camp

Starting at about 10:15 p.m. on 28 January, a force estimated at over 100 soldiers attacked Huay Bone refugee camp, which has a population of 3,678 (as of Feb. 1997) and is located 20 km. north of the Thai town of Mae Sot, on sloping open land surrounded by miles of open ricefields. The force came on foot from the other side of the Moei River, which is the border and is only about 1 km. west of the camp.

The attackers surrounded the camp, which is much smaller than Huay Kaloke, at about 9:45 p.m. Then the refugees heard a single shot fired, and the soldiers stormed the camp in two groups. One group of about 30 DKBA headed for the clinic and the houses of the medics, demanded admittance to the clinic and searched it for the microscope. Witnesses say they appeared to be on drugs. Even though a medic offered them medicine, they said it was the microscope, not medicine, that they wanted. They finally found it, then set the clinic on fire and commenced burning the surrounding houses. A larger group headed for the market section of the camp and began looting. Upon realising what was happening, a Thai merchant who was spending the night in the camp ran to his truck, started it and tried to drive out of the camp. The soldiers blocked the truck and ordered him to stop, but he attempted to drive past them and they opened fire on him, shooting him dead.

The troops fired into the air and set much of the camp on fire. As in Huay Kaloke, the houses are bamboo huts with leaf rooves tightly packed together, so the fire spread on its own and about 95 percent of the camp was completely destroyed - only a couple of rows of houses were left behind the market section. As Huay Bone was burning, some refugees in the camp saw the glow in the sky coming from the burning of Huay Kaloke, 10 km. to the south, but they did not realise what it was.

Witnesses identified many of the attackers as SLORC soldiers. The DKBA soldiers in the camp spoke in Karen, while the Burmese soldiers kept quiet, though they were heard speaking in Burmese outside the camp. While the houses were burning, the troops were yelling at the refugees, "Don't run or we'll shoot you!" However, all the refugees fled the fire to the surroundingfields, carrying their children and nothing else whatsoever. Everything was destroyed. The attackers stayed in the camp for several hours until almost the entire camp was gone, then left and marched back to the border.

No Thai security was present. As at Huay Kaloke, the Thai soldiers who man the checkpoint at the camp had abandoned their post earlier in the day. According to the refugees, they always do this when they think an attack may be coming. For over a month after the attack, the refugees were living in makeshift shelters in the surrounding fields, or going into the ashes of the camp during the day but returning to the fields at night. Many families fled to Beh Klaw (Mae La) refugee camp 40 km. to the north, which had also been attacked but which they perceived as being relatively less dangerous. Even more of them fled to Beh Klaw when the Thai Army announced that in mid-March they would all be forcibly relocated to Huay Kaloke, which everyone knows is completely unsafe. Then between 10-12 March, Thai authorities forced overseas NGOs to hire trucks to transport the remaining refugees to Huay Kaloke, and decreed that any refugees henceforth found around Huay Bone would be arrested and deported. Three hundred families were transported to Huay Kaloke, where they were allocated only the plot of ground which used to be the Huay Kaloke football field on which to build their houses.


Interviews

INTERVIEW #2.

NAME: "Naw G'Mwee Paw"          SEX: F          AGE: 49 Karen Christian medic
FAMILY: Married, 6 children but 3 already died
ADDRESS: Huay Bone (Don Pa Kiang) refugee camp, Thailand      INTERVIEWED: 6/2/97

["Naw G'Mwee Paw", a medic at Huay Bone camp clinic, was there when it was attacked and burned on 28 January 1997.]

On 28th January 1997, they burnt our camp. At the time I was sleeping in a house, very close to my own house. I was not in my own house.

It was 9:45 p.m. Karen time [10:15 Thai time]. At first, we heard one gunshot, just one gunshot, and the people who were staying together with me in that house all ran away. But I came back to my own house to get my daughter, because my husband was staying there with my son and my daughter and he couldn't carry them both [her son is disabled and her daughter is 2 1/2 years old]. Within a few seconds, we heard a very strong voice near our house which said, "Catch them! Shoot them! Don't let them get out of the camp!" We saw a lot of men with guns running out of the bushes to Section 2, toward our house and directly toward the clinic. They entered the clinic looking for whatever they need. At first they didn't comefor me. But when they didn't find the things they needed, they came to my house, surrounded my house and then ordered the others to guard my house while some of them came into the house and pointed their guns at me. Ten of them came into my house. They all had guns. They didn't shoot at me but they touched me with their guns and said, "Don't run or we will shoot you!" They pointed their guns at me and asked me for the key of the clinic. I gave it to them. One of their leaders ordered them: "Look throughthis house and open all the things in it. After that he said, "Don't do anything. Don't touch this Auntie! Don't hurt her!" So the soldiers who were standing beside me stepped away from me. I took the key and my little daughter. I carried her with me to the hospital, and the soldiers were following me, and I looked for the microscope in the clinic [the DKBA are usually on orders to get microscopes when they raid refugee camps]. When I opened the cupboard, I didn't find the microscope. But these men who came to get the microscope, they didn't even know what a microscope is. He looked everywhere but couldn't find it. I gave him medicine to take back [to Burma] and use. At first they put the medicine in their bags, but afterwards he told me, "Auntie, I don't need these. In our place, we have a lot of medicine." He gave it back and I closed the cupboard and came back to my house. When they came out of the clinic, they talked to one of the leaders on the walkie-talkie - they said, "We haven't found the microscope. What do we do now?" One of the leaders told them on the walkie-talkie, "How is it that you can't find it? Today they were using it to do malaria tests". They were speaking very loudly so I could hear very clearly. They were speaking in Karen language over the walkie-talkie, not Burmese. The leader said to them over the walkie-talkie, "Threaten that woman and you will find it." The second time, they climbed into the clinic by themselves and didn't call me. They found it in the breastfeeding room. They took the microscope. We were staying under our house and we could listen to their voices. They were speaking very loudly. When they brought the microscope out of the clinic, the man with the walkie-talkie ordered, "Burn it down. Burn it down!"

I was under my house, I looked at the clinic and I saw the fire start toburn. Then my house and the camp office [next door] started to burn. They were about 30 soldiers there, and at other places maybe a lot more, but I just saw the ones who were near my house and the clinic. They were dressed in uniforms and all of them had guns, but I don't know which kind. One of the guns was very short and a lot of them had long ones. I could not see very well at nighttime. We could not shine our torchlights, and theywere shining their torchlights on us. Only some of them were DKBA. SLORC soldiers were also amongst them. As far as I know, the soldiers who came and talked to me were DKBA, but outside the clinic many of the soldiers were staying silently and they didn't speak. One woman told me that when they were outside the camp she heard them speaking Burmese to each other, but inside the camp they didn't speak at all.

Q: What about their faces?

A: I saw the face of the one who asked me for the keys but I didn't know him. But their eyes were very strange. Their eyes were red and they looked at us sternly, like they were crazy. I am sure they had taken some medicine. When they addressed me at first they were very aggressive, but afterward they became softer.

First, they surrounded the camp, then after the gunshot, some of them ran to the clinic and my house but another group went to the market. They shot one Thai [a merchant who sold things in the camp]. I didn't see that. Early the next morning I came back to the market and I saw a lot of blood on the ground, and the people told me, "Oh! Min Yen's husband was shot last night!" When he heard that the DKBA were close to us, he jumped into his car and tried to drive out of the camp. Then he saw one DKBA soldier in front of him who ordered him to stop the car, but he tried todrive through and they shot him dead. He was hit in his leg and his bladder, inside the car. I don't know his name. He was Thai. His wife is also Thai.They do business here. They have a shop in the market. He was staying alone in the camp that night[without his wife].

At the time they ordered us not to run away, "If you run away, we will shoot you!" So my husband told them, "You are burning our house and yet you don't let us run away." But we tried to escape and we ran to the field outside of the camp. We didn't run too far and we could see the whole camp burning. They stayed around for about 4 hours. When the fire was nearly finished, we could hear them shouting, "All burnt. Now we must go back." We could see them with their guns, we could even count them! We stayed very quietly just outside the camp. We couldn't go far because we had no shoes. So we tried to hide in the bushes, and we spent the whole night there in the fields outside of the camp. We couldn't save any of our belongings. We only had the clothes we were wearing. That night, I didn't wear a sweater, only a shirt and my sarong, so it was socold. I had left my jacket in my house. I had 764 Baht in it to give to someone in the camp. That day I couldn't find the person, so I had kept the money in my jacket to give to them the next day. I was keeping the money very carefully, but at that time I didn't remember about my jacket and it was burnt. I lost an electric keyboard [a portable battery-operated piano keyboard, which are used by many Karen churches] and my cupboard with all our clothes inside. Also my medical dictionary, I lost it all.

At that time, we didn't know that they were also burning down Huay Kaloke camp. We could see the light of the fire in the sky but we didn't know where it was from[Huay Kaloke is just 10 km. further south]. It was nearly at the same time that they set our camp on fire.

There was no Thai security in our camp and nobody was staying at the checkpoint. Usually they stayed in the day time, sometimes at night too. But if they hear that the news is not so good [i.e. that there may be an attack], they go away. It happened at night time, so they was no security for us. But the next morning, a lot of Thai soldiers came, checked the situation and asked many questions.

Afterwards we came back to the camp, but we had no more house and nothing to cook. A lot of people were without any pots, without anything. So the monk who was staying here announced to the people: "If you have nothing, you can come to the monastery. Especially for the babies, we will give rice for you." [The monastery was not burnt down.] The adults had to wait. A lot of people came and ate there. Some rice was left in the monastery. Some families who had rice came and gave it to the monks, and the monks gave food to the villagers.

I didn't hear of them looting anything in the market. Personally, I believe that their leaders only ordered them to do two things, to get the microscope and to burn down the camp. At the time I felt angry but also very sad. The people here felt so sad. A lot of them were crying because they had nothing left, not even clothes. Since then and even until now we have been sleeping outside of the camp. Only a few families have some blankets. The small children under 5 years old especially have been catching colds. We've also had a few cases of malaria and diarrhoea.

For the future, we can do nothing. I don't know. We are waiting to know what we should do, where we should go. A lot of people are waiting to hear what the leaders will say and they will follow. If they have to go backto Burma side, they refuse to go. But if we build our houses here again, they will surely come and burn them again.

[The following is from a previous interview with "Naw G'Mwee Paw" conducted on 10 September 1996, after an attack on the camp in August 1996.]

I was in the camp when DKBA attacked us. It was on 23/8/1996. As I was afraid, I was not in my house but in another one in the camp [there were already rumours in the camp of a possible attack because DKBA soldiers had been seen gathering just across the border]. They didn't send any messages beforehand.

First they entered Ka Na Su [an outlying section of the refugee camp]. The camp leader told me that it happened at about midnight. I didn't hear the shooting because it is about 3 kilometres away. They killed Major Tun Kyi there. The villagers said that about 10 of them [DKBA] crossed the river and came directly to Major Tun Kyi's house. His house is a bit distantfrom the other houses. They surrounded his house. His wife ran out of the house. Major Tun Kyi also tried to run out of the house but he only got down the steps when somebody shouted to him and shot him. They didn't ask anything. Major Tun Kyi asked, "Who is coming?". He got no answer and he was shot. He was hit by many bullets in his chest. He was in the KNU before. He was 70 years old and had retired. He had 4 children. That night, only Major Tun Kyi and his wife were staying in the house. Their children were not staying together with them because they attend school, one of his daughters is a school teacher in this camp [the main section - there is no school in Ka Na Su] and the eldest one is married. Hiswife thinks that if she hadn't manage to run out of the house, she would have been shot too. We think that maybe the SLORC told DKBA to go and find someone like a leader, a KNU leader or a camp leader, arrest him and kill him. We all know that they are controlled by the SLORC.

After they killed him they entered his house and took all the clothes and allhis money too, 70,000 Baht. Nothing was left in his house. I think that they came to catch him, but after they caught him they also wanted to get his money. In Ka Na Su they also went to Pu Kyi's house. They stayed there for a few minutes and pointed their guns at his family. They didn't ask or steal anything. They only frightened them. I just heard now that they also took the clothes in another house.

The same group came here. They entered the camp [main section] at nearly 2 a.m. They didn't take the path - they crossed the cornfield and came to the well in Section 7. One of the men saw them with their guns but he thought it was our own camp security. Only later he realised they were DKBA. They all had guns. My son also saw them, but it was nighttime and he doesn't know whether they were wearing uniforms or not. My son was not staying in our house. He was near the top of the road and he saw them passing by. Maybe they came in separate groups, because dogs were barking at various places - but then they must have joined together in the camp.

That night I was sleeping and I didn't notice anything. Only in the morning,my husband told me. When I went back to our house in the morning, my husband was complaining: "Last night I didn't sleep. I want to sleep now." So, I asked him, "What happened to you? Why didn't you sleep?" And he told me "DKBA came around our house, but they didn't ask or take anything in our house." He saw them. He knew it was DKBA because they had guns. In our camp nobody carries a gun, and we can recognise the Thai soldiers by their uniforms. Those that my husband saw didn't wear uniforms. He saw one man standing at the steps of the camp secretary's house[next door], two here and one or two there. The dogs were barking at them. They lighted their torches, and the dogs were barking a lot. We have 5 dogs, so if someone comes, there is so much noise. Afterwards they went to the hospital. Only one of the nurses and one patient were staying inthe IPD [in-patient's department]. They went in and shone their torches but didn't ask anything and didn't take anything.

They went and surrounded Aung Gyi's house [Aung Gyi had recently married an American teacher who had just left the camp the previous day]. They were standing there with an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade launcher], the neighbours saw them. Three men entered his house and looked inside the bedrooms, but they didn't find anyone. Only the headmistress was staying in the house. They said, "Where is the foreigner? We want to see the foreign woman and Padoh Captain [Aung Gyi's father, who is with the KNU]". But she didn't answer and pretended she was asleep. She felt so afraid. Three times the same night they surrounded his house, but only the last time they came and searched inside. But they didn'tfind them so they left. The only house they entered in this camp was Aung Gyi's house. They knew very well. They want a foreigner because they think that foreigners have a lot of money. And Saw Captain belongs to the Timber Department of the KNU and they want leaders like him.

They went to some shops and ordered, "Open the door. If you don't open it, we will do it ourselves." They took some bread and tins of sardines, andother things that they can eat. One shop was left nearly empty. They carried everything away themselves. They also arrested two people and asked them for money, 1,200 Baht. They couldn't give it, but the DKBA didn't do anything and left them. No one was taken away. They stayed in the camp for about 2 hours, then they left at 4 a.m.

We think they came here for some people, leaders that they wanted, but they didn't do anything because they didn't find them. Even the section leaders were in hiding[the refugee camp section leaders]. They didn't ask the refugees anything.

Everyone was afraid but they couldn't do anything. Most people here didn't even know what happened. Sections 1, 3, 4 and 5 knew but the other side of the camp didn't notice anything. They didn't shoot here. Only the next morning the other people heard the news and got frightened too.

On the 24th nothing happened, but on the night of the 25th they fired heavy weapons nearby again, across from the fields, on the Karen side [just across the border]. One or two fell on the Thai side near the river but didn't explode. I heard 5 shells. People woke up and ran away from the camp, some along the road and some to the corn fields. They didn't come back to the camp that night and stayed outside the camp under the trees. It was raining. Some people had a plastic sheet but some didn't. Some went to stay in the Thai [farmers'] field huts. My husband also went to stay in aThai hut. That night I stayed here but the next day I went to stay in Mae Sot with my children.

Now we are afraid. When they came we knew some of them [DKBA soldiers] and nothing happened. Maybe that was good for us. But yesterday we heard that some villagers outside the camp saw them again, and this time they didn't recognise any of them - so maybe the SLORC changed them because when they came they didn't do anything in the main camp. SLORC wants them to kill someone or burn the camp. Before they sometimes used to visit some villagers who know them, but without guns. This is the first time that they came with guns. Each of them had a gun. The villagers are so afraid. The camp leader will have a meeting with KRC [the Karen Refugee Committee]and the NGO's [the foreign Non-Governmental Organisations who supply the refugee camps] to see if we should move. It will not be easy to move so many families.

[After the attack on the camp on 24 August and the shelling of the area on 26 August, the refugees were living in extreme fear and no one was sleeping in the camp at night. They had moved their valuables out into the farm fields and went out there to sleep every night. By 10 September, most of them had returned to stay in the camp.]

 

Beh Klaw (Mae La) Camp

Beh Klaw refugee camp has a population of 25,596 (as of Feb. 1997) and is located 62 km. north of the Thai town of Mae Sot, sprawling over several kilometres of undulating land surrounded by forested hills, with the north-south Mae Sariang-Mae Sot highway passing along its eastern side. Many of the refugees here came after other camps such as Baw Noh were attacked and destroyed in 1995. At about 6:30 a.m. on 29 January, a force of at least 30-40 soldiers attacked the camp from the northwestern corner near the camp's Bible School. They were backed up by a larger force which remained outside the camp, between the camp and the border. The force came on foot from the other side of the border a few kilometres away and was supported by SLORC shelling from the Burma side of the border. At least 35 shells were fired into the camp, and the attackers themselves used assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and M79 grenade launchers. 15 to 20 rocket-propelled grenades were fired, and one of them killed an elderly woman trying to flee the attack: Naw Eh G'Lu Pi (a.k.a. Maw YwehMo, widow, aged 80). The same shell wounded 2 children who were with her. Another shell landed near the camp hospital, and one man who was running from the hospital collapsed and died. Two shells landed at the monastery, and others landed in Section 1 of the camp and at the Thai Forestry Department office beside the main highway.

As the attackers moved into the camp, firing into houses and then setting them on fire, they encountered camp security forces who fought back and were later joined by Thai troops. The attackers, most of whom were reportedly DKBA, were pinned down and then driven back, eventually being forced to retreat to the border leaving behind 2 or 3 dead and taking along with them an unknown number of wounded. They managed to burn down 15 houses in the course of the attack, some at the beginning and the rest as they retreated. The attack continued for about 90 minutes, from 6:30 a.m. until 8 a.m. Over the next several days, some of them remained in Thailand between the camp and the border until the security forces gradually harassed them back into Burma.

The refugees fled the camp, and for a long time no one dared sleep in the camp at night and many people lived in hiding in the surrounding hills and forests. The people of Beh Klaw considered themselves fortunate to have escaped the total destruction which Huay Kaloke and Huay Bone suffered, and after they got news of the destruction of these other camps they even took up collections of clothing and other supplies among themselves and sent them down to their fellow refugees who had lost everything. However, no one in Beh Klaw feels secure and most people feel it is essential to be moved to a safer location.

Interviews

INTERVIEW #3.

NAME: "Saw Hai Kaw"          SEX: M          AGE: 18 Karen Christian student
FAMILY: Single
ADDRESS: Beh Klaw (Mae La) refugee camp, Thailand      INTERVIEWED: 3/2/97

["Saw Hai Kaw" was in Beh Klaw refugee camp when it was attacked by a combined SLORC/DKBA force on 29 January 1997.]

The attack started at about 6:30 a.m. on 29th January. At that time I was staying in the Bible school dormitory. I was coming down from the dormitory to work early. The Bible School is in Section C1 and the DKBA came in from the hilltop of Section C1. They came from different parts in that section. Just when I just started working in the school compound, I heard a carbine gunshot. Then I heard heavy shelling. Some shells exploded but others didn't. They shelled heavy weapons to block off the gate. During the fighting, we Bible School students went to hide in a cave nearby. While I was running towards the back of the hill, one RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] shell dropped nearby, so I ran into the teak plantation. That shell fell in the bamboo and killed an old woman who was hiding there with some children. I don't know her name but we used to watch television together every night. She must be 80 years old. She died instantly. Two 4- or 5-year-old children were injured.

The DKBA came in at the time when the [security] soldiers were rotating their duty, so only 3 soldiers were left. That is why the DKBA was able to reach the foot of the hill of section C1. Some DKBA did not even have any weapons - they came into the camp just to set the houses on fire. Only a few of them had guns, like AR, AK47, RPG-7, and M79 mortars [the AR is a cut-down version of the M16 automatic assault rifle; AK47 is an automatic assault rifle; RPG-7 is a shoulder-launched rocket-propelled grenade; and M79 is a rifle-sized grenade launcher]. I saw some of them coming in and blowing a whistle. The whistle means "Start fighting!" Then others came in. So they started fighting in Section C1 because there was not enough security in that area to fight against them. The security soldiers didn't have enough guns. One of the villagers told me that at that timethree DKBA went shouting into the houses, "Is there anyone in this house?" Then they shot their guns into the houses and set them on fire. Afterwards I saw 6 burnt houses but other people said there were 15.

While I was hiding in the teak plantation, reinforcements of Beh Klaw security soldiers arrived. One of them who came from the other side of the camp was injured on his hand. He didn't feel his injury because he was concentrating on his duty. He only noticed it when he saw the blood seeping out of his wound. Another Bible school student and I cleaned his wound and dressed it.

When the reinforcements came I felt encouraged and went to look around near the fighting. I followed the soldiers but not too close to them. When the shells fell, I hid under the teak trees. The DKBA retreated up to the hilltop, from where they were still fighting. During that time, some DKBA were killed. People said to me that three of them died but I only saw one dead DKBA, under the banana trees. When this man fell down another DKBA came down to save him, but he got injured so he left his friend under the banana trees. Beside the dead body we found a gun, a backpack and a cassette player [stolen from one of the houses] which had been damaged by the gunshots. We opened his bag and we saw materials for mines and bombs and wires to hook them up to explode. I felt very sad for our Karen people. He also had an amulet to protect his life. These are the tricks of the Myaing Gyi Ngu monk [U Thuzana, chairman of DKBA]. Are the monks not holy? I don't understand.

About 30 soldiers came but I only saw the one who died. They wore uniforms, the same as the SLORC, but "Thawka Thu Po" was written on their badges. It means "the monk's soldiers". I think they came to loot things from the refugees.

They shelled about 35 artillery shells. Some exploded near people's houses. During the fighting the refugees ran out of the camp. Some of them ran to the foot of the hills. For 2 or 3 days afterwards there was no one in the camp. I didn't even see my family.

 

Sho Kloh Camp

Sho Kloh refugee camp has a population of 6,836 (as of Feb. 1997) and is located 110 km. north of the Thai town of Mae Sot, along the sides of an east-west river valley with the north-south Mae Sariang-Mae Sot highway passing just west of it. The Moei River, which is the border, lies just 1km. west of the camp. At about 4:30 p.m. on 4 January, the refugee camp was shelled with mortars fired from Baw Pa Hta, a former KNU trading gateway now occupied by SLORC and DKBA just across the Moei River. Five or six 2 1/2" mortar shells were fired into the middle of the camp, 4 ofwhich exploded. The leader of Section 3 of the camp (Saw Pay, age 33) was wounded in the neck and the body by shrapnel and died on 12 February in Mae Sot hospital of his wounds. At least two other refugees were wounded. The shells exploded in the market, at the monastery, at the church and in front of Saw Pay's house. The shelling lasted for 5 or 10 minutes, during which most refugees ran to foxholes or bunkers they dug by their houses after the previous shelling of the camp in June 1996.

As in the other camps, following this attack the refugees feel there is no security in Sho Kloh and they are living in fear, but they do not want to go back to Burma.


Interviews

INTERVIEW #4.

NAME: "Naw Lah Paw"          SEX: F          AGE: 30 Karen Buddhist
FAMILY: Married, 2 children aged 2 and 5
ADDRESS: Sho Kloh refugee camp, Thailand     INTERVIEWED: 5/3/97

["Naw Lah Paw" is the wife of the leader of Section 3 of Sho Kloh camp, who was hit in the shelling and died.]

I have been living in Sho Kloh for about 11 years. On 4th January, I was selling lottery tickets in the market. Then when I heard an explosion I was staying in my house. I started running towards the bunker [after Sho Kloh was shelled in June 1996, most families dug a small bunker near their house] and I looked for my children. It was about 4 p.m. Burmese time [4:30 Thai time]. I heard 3 or 4 shells and the last one landed right here [about 5 meters in front of her house]. I stayed in the bunker while the shells landed. I thought "What is happening?" because there was a lot of dust in the air, and I looked at my husband. I saw him falling down there[pointing at the footpath outside her house]. When the mortar landed, he was in front of the house shouting at the children to stay still and hide in the bunker. I called to him loudly that the children and I were already in the bunker. Just as I spoke the mortar landed there, as he was comingtowards us. It was too late for him to get into the bunker. His name was Saw Pay.

He was 33 years old, Sgaw Karen and Buddhist like me. He was the section 3 leader. I saw him lying down just like that. I thought that he was dead because he was so quiet and stayed still. I didn't see his injuries, but people saw him wounded and took him to the hospital about 30 minutes after the shelling.

The other people didn't want me to go, so I went back to the bunker again. My parents heard that he was wounded, so my father came up to me about 15 or 20 minutes later and I came out of the bunker again. But the others forced me back into the bunker because they were worried for me. At that time I also had my youngest child in my arms because I couldn't leave him lying in the bunker alone and there was no one to look after him. When it was already dark, I followed my mother walking and running to the hospital because I wanted to see my husband. People didn't let me see him because they were worried that I would be upset. When I saw him, his wounds were covered. He was injured by 4 pieces of shrapnel - in his neck, in his side, in his stomach and in his right leg. The people sent him to Mae Sot bycar along with his brother. I couldn't go to Mae Sot with the child and wentto stay in my mother's house in Section 2. The next day, I tried to go down to Mae Sot but I could only get to Beh Klaw [half way]. I went to see him about a week later. At that time he looked better. He had an oxygen pipe going into his throat and he couldn't speak. Two weeks later, he had become thin and couldn't eat well but he could speak a little. On the 12th of February he died. My brother-in-law told me. They burnt his body in the hospital. I didn't even know when he was buried.

One uncle [older man] also got injured while he was staying in the bunker. I was in his bunker and he was trying to get into my bunker. I was too afraid to stay in my bunker, so I had gone to his. He got injured on his thigh and it broke his bone. His house is just here and his children are staying with his son. His wife is already dead. The people carried him in a hammock to the [camp] hospital. I saw him there with bamboo slats on both sides of his leg, tied up with a bandage from the hip to the ankle. They sent him to Mae Sot together with my husband. He is still in Mae Sot hospital now.

Altogether the shelling lasted for about 5 or 10 minutes. I think it is DKBAwho fired the shells. They were coming from Baw Pa Hta area. I think they have bad feelings toward us, but we have done nothing to make them feel this way. I don't know why. The Thai soldiers in Sho Kloh did nothing. I didn't hear them firing back. They just stayed like that. About 5 or 10 minutes later, Thai soldiers from Mae Plu fired 3 or 4 shells back.

I dare not think about the future. I feel scared and sad. We have to stay alert. I don't want to go back to Burma. Only if there is peace would I like to go back. If the situation goes on like this, I don't want to goback.

If everybody moves to Beh Klaw I will go too, because it is not safe to stay separate from the other people. I will follow the others, though I believe that Beh Klaw is not safer than Sho Kloh. For now, I am staying in Section 2 with my parents.

 

INTERVIEW #5.

NAME: "Saw Win Hlaing"          SEX: M          AGE: 25 Karen Muslim shopkeeper
FAMILY: Single, 6 brothers and sisters
ADDRESS: Sho Kloh refugee camp, Thailand     INTERVIEWED: 6/3/97

["Saw Win Hlaing" was one of the 3 people wounded by the shelling.]

I have been living in Sho Kloh for the last 10 years. I live in the market of Section 4. It was about 5 p.m. when the DKBA shelled into Sho Kloh. As soon as we heard the shelling, we closed the shop. As I was closing the door a shell exploded about 7 or 8 yards away, in front of my shop and the video house. Actually the mortar came through the roof of the video house and exploded in the middle [no one was in there]. It damaged the walls of the video house, my house and my things in the shop. A piece of shrapnel hit me. I was the only one hurt by that mortar shell. I was wounded in the back of my shoulder [the top corner of his left shoulder]. My family was already in the bunker and I went to the back of the house to my family. I waited for about half an hour until the shelling was over. My whole shirt got soaked with blood. Then my younger brother carried me to the hospital. He is bigger and stronger than me. I arrived there first, before the other two wounded people. There were one or two medics but no patients, all of them had fled to the bunkers near the hospital. The medic washed the wound and applied first aid to it. Two other people were also wounded: Saw Pay, the section 3 leader, and one old man but I don't know his name. We had to wait for a couple of hours. We didn't dare go without any security guard. At about 7 p.m., a Thai Army car took us to Mae Sot hospital. There were 3 patients and two medics. In Mae Sot, the doctors took out the shrapnel and dressed my wounds that night and I came back here the next day. I only stayed one night at Mae Sot hospital. Now my shoulder is sometimes numb. If I work for more than 10 minutes it gives me cramps. It is still painful when I sleep on my left side.

Five shells landed in Sho Kloh [4 exploded and at least one or two did not]. They shelled from Baw Pa Hta. I didn't see them but I heard them, especially the one that hit me. One shell landed in front of my house, one at the monastery, one at the church and another one in front of the section 3 leader's house. That last one hit and wounded him. One leader dug up the tail of the shell and told me that it was a 2 1/2" mortar. I feel very angryand resentful about this, but since we are refugees we can't do anything. I believe this could happen again, and we will just run if we can escape. I don't want to move to Beh Klaw because of the difficulties for my family. Altogether we are 10 people in my family, 6 brothers and sisters, my parents, my sister-in-law and myself. Now we have no money to move there. If our leaders ask us to move we will move, and if they ask us to stay we will stay. That's all. Staying in Sho Kloh is better than staying in Burma, because there is a lot of fighting in Burma now. I used to live in Moe Nai village in Hlaing Bwe township. Sho Kloh is safer than my village. I want the organisations of the whole world to help the Karen refugees. There is no hope for improvement through the peace talks between SLORC and the ethnic groups. It can only be possible with the interference of the whole world and if SLORC transfers state power to Aung San Suu Kyi. I think the situation in Burma might be better if Aung San Suu Kyi comes to power.

Q: How do you think other countries can help?

A: By stopping trade with Burma.