[Note: Some details have been omitted or replaced by ‘xxxx’ for Internet distribution.]
In mid-February 1997, SLORC launched two new major offensives against the Karen National Union (KNU). Both were in areas formerly strongly controlled by the KNU: on 12 February they attacked Dooplaya District of central Karen State, known as KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army) 6th Brigade area and which also contained KNU Headquarters area, and on 8 February they began attacking KNU-held areas along the upper Tenasserim and Paw Kloh rivers in Tenasserim Division, also known as KNLA 4th Brigade area.
This report attempts to give an idea of the situation faced by villagers in the midst of these offensives through interviews with those who have fled their villages, both before and after the occupation by SLORC. It is important to note that if it was only fighting that these people wanted to avoid, they could easily have hidden in the forest during the usually brief period the fighting lasted, then returned after SLORC had occupied the village. The reason these people didn’t do so is clear from their testimonies: it is not fighting which most of them have fled, but the forced labour, arbitrary arrests, looting, extortion and other abuses which they know occur whenever SLORC occupies an area, particularly an area which has not been occupied before. For many of these people this offensive has brought SLORC to their villages for the first time in recent memory. These interviews are only with some of those who have fled their villages so far. While they do not constitute a full chronicle of the situation, they should help give some idea of what villagers are going through in these newly occupied areas. We hope to continue reporting on the situation in these areas as it develops and new information becomes available.
This report is divided into two main parts: the Dooplaya offensive and the Tenasserim offensive, each part consisting of a summary of some aspects of the offensive followed by interviews with some of the people who have fled their villages. All the names of those interviewed have been changed to protect them, and some other names and details have been omitted. All false names are shown in quotes.
SLORC = State Law & Order Restoration Council, military junta ruling Burma
KNU = Karen National Union, main Karen opposition group
KNLA = Karen National Liberation Army, army of the KNU
KNDO = Karen National Defence Organisation, militia/police wing of the KNU
DKBA = Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, Karen group allied with SLORC
IB = Infantry Battalion (SLORC), usually about 500 soldiers fighting strength
LIB = Light Infantry Battalion (SLORC), usually about 500 soldiers fighting strength
LID = Light Infantry Division (SLORC); one Division consists of 10 LIB battalions
Kaw Thoo Lei = The Karen homeland, also used to refer in general to KNU/KNLA/KNDO people
Kyat = Burmese currency; US$1=6 Kyat at official rate, 180 Kyat at current market rate
INTERVIEW TOPIC SUMMARY
(D = Dooplaya, T = Tenasserim)
Destruction/burning of villages (Interviews #D1,D17,D18,T3,T4), shelling of villages (#D4,T1, T3), destruction/looting of belongings and food (#D4,D8,D10,D15-22,D24,D26), looting/killing of livestock (#D1,D15-16,D18-19,D22,D26), calling people back to villages (#D2,D7,D10,D17, D26), capturing villagers and forcing them back to villages (#D4,D10,D15,D17,D22,T3,T4), shooting at villagers (#D4,D15,D23,D27,T1), life under SLORC occupation (#D11, D15-27), killings/executions of villagers (#D2,D10,D12-15,D22,T4,T6), torture/beatings of villagers (#D15-16,D18-25,D27), arrest/detention of villagers (#D4,D9-10,D18-22,D25), abuse of women (#D10,D15,D18), persecution of Muslims (#D11-14), ‘deportation’ of Muslims (#D11, D13-14), destruction of mosques (#D11-13), looting of a monastery (#D16), extortion (#D11, D27), movement restrictions (#D16,D19-20,D26), confiscation/rationing out of rice supplies (#D21-22,D24), SLORC soldiers on drugs (#D8,D17), beating of SLORC soldiers by officers (#D15), SLORC propaganda (#D16,D27), DKBA (#D16,D21,D27), looting/abuse by KNU forces (#D26-27), selection of new village heads (#D15,D20), forced relocation (#D21,T4,T6), death of villagers during flight (#D2,D4,D10,T4), civilian landmine casualties (#D2,D4), births during flight (#D3,D4,D10,T3), family members left behind (#D5,D21-22,T2,T4), Thai treatment of refugees (#D15,T3,T4), SLORC plans to attack Noh Po refugee camp (#D16,D18).
Forced labour: Porters (#D8,D10-11,D15-18,D20-23,D25-27), guides/human shields (#D18), Army camps (#D14-15,D19-22,D24,D26), hauling loot (D15-16,D18-19,D24-25), roads (#D15, D18), women porters (#D15), abuse/forced labour of children (#D15,D17,D27), of the elderly (#D15,D21).
The Dooplaya Offensive
The offensive against Dooplaya District was launched on 12 February, with over 20,000 SLORC troops from at least 6 different Light Infantry Divisions (#22, 44, 55, 77, 88 and 101; each Division contributed several, but not all, of its 10 Battalions) and other non-Divisional battalions moving in rapidly from several directions at once. One force consisting largely of troops from #88 and #101 Divisions sped down the Thai border from Thingan Nyi Naung/Myawaddy towards Kyo G’Lee and Sakanthit (Dta Law Thaw), with part of the force heading further east to KNU headquarters at Tee K’Pler. A second force came south from Kyone Doh/Kawkareik area and was joined by a third force from Kya In Seik Gyi in the west, and this combined force of #22 and #44 Divisions then swept southeastward through the fertile and heavily populated Han Thayaw river plain, taking Kyaikdon, Saw Hta (Azin), Kwih Kler, and pushing on to the Thai border at Lay Po Hta/Ber Kler. Another force, mainly #55 and #77 Divisions, headed up along the border from Three Pagodas Pass in the south. The clear objective was to race for the Thai border, take the border and then work back in, consolidating control over the civilians trapped inside.
The conquest of this entire region of several hundred square kilometres was done in little over a week. Karen forces were so grossly outnumbered that rather than make a stand they only fought delaying actions, constantly withdrawing and then regrouping into guerrilla units. Their situation was made worse by the surrender (apparently prearranged) of Tha Muh Heh, commander of KNLA #16 Battalion which operated in the central part of the District.
The civilian population of the newly-occupied region is at least 50,000. Most villagers in the northern and northwestern areas (Kawkareik and Kya In townships) could only stay in their villages or briefly flee to the forests as SLORC troops passed through with Karen forces already on the retreat; for these people there is almost nowhere to run to, as the Thai border is several days’ walk away. In the central parts of the district and in areas closer to the border, all of which had been quite strongly KNU-controlled, almost all of the villagers tried to flee to the forests and hills, but often they found their escape already cut off by SLORC troops because the advance was so fast. In many villages people only learned of the offensive when they heard shooting, or when SLORC troops arrived a half-hour’s walk from their village. Many farmers, surprised in their fields by a SLORC column, tried to run and were shot on sight. The troops opened fire on any villager seen running.
Over 10,000 villagers made it to the Thai border and crossed, often after spending a week or more in hiding in the forest and dodging SLORC columns. However, the vast majority were trapped in the newly-occupied areas, rounded up in their villages or in hiding at their remote farmfields or in the forest. Upon occupying their villages, the first action of the SLORC troops was to capture any villagers they could find in the area, round them up in the village and send some of them out with orders to bring back the others - sometimes holding their family members as a guarantee. The troops then arrested, tortured and in some cases executed any villagers they felt looked like KNU sympathisers, and any villagers who had been pointed out to them (usually by other villagers under torture) as having any knowledge of KNU activities in the area or the location of KNLA arms caches. In each village the troops then began systematically looting the houses, shooting the livestock for food and stripping the fruit and coconut trees. They said that anyone who had fled must be KNU, so they looted everything from any house which was abandoned. They took as much rice as they wanted, and if there was more they poured it in the streams or spread it on the ground and walked on it. They took valuables, clothing and other items to keep or to send to their families in the cities, and what they did not want they destroyed or threw away in the forest, even the cookpots and sleeping mats. They even stripped the houses of useful building materials to be sent to their camps. In many cases, the abandoned houses were then burned. Where the entire village was abandoned, such as in Meh Tharoh Kee, they burned every house in the village.
The troops then began forcing villagers who had remained or returned to stand by with their bullock carts to haul the loot to new SLORC camps, particularly the major new SLORC Army camp being built at Saw Hta (Azin). Villagers, usually men, are now taken as porters whenever needed by the troops. Thousands of people had already been rounded up in Moulmein and other coastal towns and brought as porters for the offensive, along with convicts trucked in from several prisons. At one point Moulmein market was surrounded and all able-bodied men were taken. Many had already died, then when the fighting was over many of the non-convicts were released to find their own way home, so now when the troops need people to carry their supplies or loot they often take the local villagers. The villagers are also being forced to do shifts of labour building barracks, bunkers, trenches and fences to establish new Army camps in the area. The principal village of Saw Hta (known by the Burmese as Azin) is being turned into a military base. The high school ground has been turned into a helicopter pad, and movement is restricted even within the village. Other key posts have been set up at Lay Po Hta and Sakanthit (known in Karen as Dta Law Thaw or Tee Hoh Kee), both adjacent to the Thai border, and at Kyun Chaung in the southern part of Dooplaya. Independent observers from Thailand have witnessed large groups of porters, including women, being herded at gunpoint as they haul loot from Lay Po Hta back to Kwih Kler and Saw Hta.
In most of the newly-occupied villages, everyone has been forced to hand over their entire rice supply to the local SLORC Army camp, then go once every few days to receive a small rice ration based on the number of people in their family. The amount given is not enough for what they would usually eat, and the Army units also dip into the villagers’ rice supply for their own consumption. Villagers needing to go to their farmfields must obtain a movement pass from the Army, valid for only 1 to 3 days. In many villages, people are allowed to go out in the morning but must return by sunset. If you must cross areas controlled by several Army units to reach your field, then you need a pass from each and every unit. As one villager says in this report, "To go work your field you need one pass, and to search for your cattle you need another pass. If we go to search for our cattle in #22 Division’s area [very close by] we have to go and get a pass from them as well, one from #44 and another from #22." The penalty for exceeding the limits of a pass or not having one is being shot on sight or arrested and beaten on return.
SLORC has also launched a campaign to drive Muslims out of the area, particularly out of Kyaikdon, which is a principal trading village on the Han Thayaw river. Upon occupying Kyaikdon the SLORC troops tore down the mosque, burned the Muslim school, then blew up and bulldozed the mosque (it was strongly built of concrete). They also tore up the copies of the Koran and scattered them in the village streets. Muslims attempting to return to the village were told to get out and "go back to your country", that they would not be allowed there anymore. One villager claims that a signpost has now been erected on the outskirts of Kyaikdon reading, "No Entry for Indians" (meaning Muslims). Most of their families have lived in the area for generations. Most speak Burmese as a first language but also speak Karen. Some even speak Karen as a first language, and some refer to themselves as "Black Karen". A large group of about 100 Muslims was "deported" from the Kyaikdon area on bullock carts to Kwin Kalay. On arrival at Kwin Kalay, they were robbed by SLORC troops and told they could not stay there either.
Prior to this offensive there was no notable presence of DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, a Karen group which allied itself to SLORC in 1995 and now operates essentially as a SLORC militia) in Dooplaya. SLORC brought some along with them on the offensive, but there are not enough of them to merit much notice and most villagers have seen no sign of them. The initial intention was partly to have them act as guides and to point out KNU people. SLORC has now posted some of them at newly-occupied locations right on the border, particularly Sakanthit and possibly Lay Po Hta as well. SLORC probably intends to use them to attack the new refugee camp at Noh Po in Thailand, where over 10,000 of the new Dooplaya refugees are staying. A similar approach has been used to destroy Karen refugee camps further north; this allows SLORC to deny responsibility, and the Thai authorities to claim that the attacks were conducted by "Karen rebels" and not SLORC forces. Some new refugees crossing into Thailand from Dooplaya claim that SLORC has already told them they will go to Thailand to burn Noh Po refugee camp. On 27 April 1997 a force already crossed the border and attacked Ta Per Poo, a camp somewhat further north for refugees from SLORC’s 1995 offensive in Dooplaya. The market was looted, about 20 houses were burned and one refugee was shot dead. Ta Per Poo is supposed to be moved to Noh Po shortly.
As soon as SLORC began occupying villages in mid-February, refugees began flooding across the border into Thailand. At least 8-10,000 crossed in the first 10 days, at Tee K’Pler, Sakanthit, Htee Sgaw Sghi, Lay Po Hta, Meh Tharoh Kee, Kwih Law Der/Lay Taw Ko, Tee Hta Baw, and many points between covering a stretch of border at least 100 km. long. Most of these first arrivals had managed to get out of their villages before SLORC arrived and fled either directly to the border or into the forest, gradually making their way to the border. Some died on the way, shot by SLORC patrols or stepping on Karen landmines which were lain in a futile attempt to slow the SLORC troops. Many arrived not knowing where their family members were due to the sudden flight. Some had left children or parents behind, while others had given birth in the forest on the way. Some newborns and others died on the difficult journey over the mountains.
On arrival these groups of people were treated in various ways by Thai authorities. At Tee K’Pler and Sakanthit, they were allowed to stay in Thailand but pushed back to sites within easy range of SLORC mortars and held there. Over 1,000 refugees from Sakanthit area were in straw lean-to’s in a farmfield with no decent water. The bulk of the refugees, who had crossed in the Lay Po Hta/Tee Sgaw Sghi area, were allowed to stay along the roadsides at Ka Hee Pa Leh, which is a safe distance from the border, but forced to stay on the ground in the dirt and gravel and in the raingutters right along the edges of a dusty heavily-travelled road for over a month. Over 1,000 Muslim refugees with this group were separated out and moved 1 km. up the road toward the border by Thai authorities who simply said, "Muslims are troublemakers". Fortunately, all of these refugees have now been allowed to build a new refugee camp at Noh Po, over 10 km. from the border. Twenty kilometres further south at Lay Taw Ko at least 1,500 Telekoo refugees crossed from Kwih Law Der area, but SLORC and DKBA units across the border issued a warning that they would burn down Lay Taw Ko and other Telekoo villages in Thailand if the refugees were not handed back [the Telekoo are a strict religious sect, believing in a second Buddha, practising quite differently from other Buddhists, and leading a religiously disciplined lifestyle. There are many Telekoo in Dooplaya District, particularly in Kwih Law Der area, and in Lay Taw Ko area of Thailand]. Some of the refugees returned, while others fled to Noh Po because local Thai authorities had made it clear that they would not defend Thai soil against attack. Further south at Tee Hta Baw (on the border 40-50 km. northeast of Three Pagodas Pass), several thousand refugees crossed but were forced back at gunpoint by the notorious Thai 9th Division, which controls this area and areas further south and has extensive business dealings with SLORC (the other Dooplaya refugees arrived in areas controlled by a different division of the Thai Army). A game of cat and mouse ensued for more than a month, as the Thai 9th Division kept forcing new refugees back only to have them come across again at a new place every time SLORC advanced further. Some of these refugees are now in Burma, some have finally been allowed to stay by the 9th Division due to considerable international pressure and have been moved south to a new refugee camp near Sangklaburi, while others have escaped and made the difficult journey northward to Noh Po.
Over 10,000 refugees are now at Noh Po refugee camp, and more continue to arrive. Most of the new arrivals had either stayed in their villages willingly or were captured and forced back to their villages by SLORC, and have now fled because of the forced labour, looting and other abuses by the occupation troops. At the same time, some of the refugees at Noh Po have gone back to Dooplaya for various reasons: they have heard that SLORC is taking all belongings and destroying the houses of those who have left, so they hope to save their land and belongings by returning; they believe that SLORC will attack and destroy the refugee camp; they believe that the Thai authorities plan to force them back to Burma and hope they’ll be treated better by SLORC if they go back willingly; and some hope that conditions will get better in their villages.
It appears unlikely that conditions will improve in Dooplaya. For the moment, SLORC has been minimizing some of its abuses, such as forced labour and extortion, in villages very close to the border in hopes that refugees will be drawn back. However, further from the border this is not the case. New refugees already report that SLORC has begun using villagers as forced labour to improve some of the roads in the area, such as the road between Saw Hta and Kwih Kler. Convicts are also being brought in for this forced labour from Rangoon and Moulmein. These prisoners have been seen on the road between Saw Hta and Paw Taw Mu, some in white uniform (longer sentences) and some in blue (shorter sentences). They are not shackled but are closely guarded. Every morning they have to sweep this stretch of road (for mines, in case any were planted overnight). On the road between Kyo G’Lee and Sakanthit, villagers are being forced to sweep regularly for mines.
It is easy to predict what is likely to happen in Dooplaya by looking at the pattern of SLORC activity in other areas it has newly occupied over the past 2 years, such as Papun District and northern Pa’an District, and areas where it is trying to consolidate its control, such as southern Pa’an District, Karenni and Shan states. SLORC’s first priority is likely to be the establishment of a road network into the area, and there are already indications of this - the advancing troops even brought a bulldozer to push a quick road from Kya In Seik Gyi eastward to Kyaikdon. Over the next two years, it is likely that all villagers in the region will be forced to work on an entire network of roads, including strategic roads from Kawkareik and Kyone Doh southward to Kyaikdon; Kya In Seik Gyi eastward to Kyaikdon or Saw Hta (Azin); Kyaikdon to Saw Hta, Kwih Kler and Lay Po Hta/Ber Kler; Saw Hta eastward to Sakanthit; Wah Lay southward to Sakanthit; possibly Sakanthit eastward to Tee K’Pler, and other roads throughout ‘the hump’ on the border which protrudes into Thailand; Lay Po Hta / Ber Kler southward along the border to Tee Hta Baw and joining with the Three Pagodas Pass - Thanbyuzayat road; and probably many other local roads as well. All such roads will be built with forced labour. They will wash out every rainy season and have to be rebuilt with forced labour every October to January. Their main purpose will be to extend military access and control through the region, and as a result new military camps will be set up all over the area. Villagers will have to provide all the materials to build these camps, do all the forced labour to build and maintain them, stand sentry and act as servants at them, and pay extortion money to each and every camp.
SLORC cannot continue to support the mass number of troops it has sent into the area for the offensive, so many of these are already being rotated out and replaced with lower numbers of new troops. As the situation stabilises, the villagers and the remaining KNLA units will get to know the movement patterns of these troops. This will make movement and flight easier for the villagers, but it will also probably result in the resumption of KNLA guerrilla-style attacks. SLORC will retaliate with the usual waves of arrests, torture and execution of villagers, and will also probably conduct a forced relocation campaign (this may happen even without KNLA activity, as it is SLORC’s favourite control tactic). There are already reports of SLORC telling villagers that their villages are to be moved to Saw Hta. At least 8 villages including Kyaik Hta, Wah Ko Law, Tee Nu Ko, Kway Nya Taw, Kway Toh Kay, Thay Hoh Kee, Pa Yeh Kee and Pa Yeh Hta were ordered to move to an area near Pa Yeh Hta on 16 February and had to pay 100,000 Kyat to SLORC Lt. Col. Tay Aung to cancel the order. All small villages and all villages not close to an Army camp will probably be ordered to move to large villages such as Saw Hta and Kyaikdon and sites along the roads, where the relocated villagers will be used constantly as forced labour and will have no way of providing food for themselves. While all of this is speculation, it is consistent with patterns in all other SLORC areas of operation, and we can expect to see a continuing flow of internally displaced people and new refugees fleeing these conditions.
The interviews below were conducted with 4 different groups of people: firstly, people who fled their villages during the SLORC advance and managed to make their way to Thailand, interviewed at the end of February; secondly, Muslim refugees who describe the particular persecution of Muslims; thirdly, refugees who stayed in their villages or were captured and lived under the SLORC occupation for a short time before fleeing in mid to late March; and finally, a group of refugees from the far south of Dooplaya District just north of the road from Three Pagodas Pass to Thanbyuzayat, whose villages were also occupied by SLORC troops and who fled to opposition-held areas further to the south.
Interviews with Initial Refugees
[This brief interview was conducted with a group of new refugees in a roadside shelter at Ka Hee Pa Leh, Thailand, on 26/2/97.]
Q: How many days have you been here?
A: We arrived here over a week ago. Our village is Tee Wah Klay. Close to Meh Tharoh Kee. The Burmese have already arrived there by now. The villagers are no longer there.
Q: What do you think the Burmese did when they arrived in your village?
A: I really can’t say. When they came we ran.
Q: If you were in your village when the Burmese arrived then what do you think they would do?
A: I can’t say - we don’t dare stay there!
2nd man: They’d kill us.
3rd man: They’d kill, and torture the men.
[The following interview was conducted with a group of women sitting on the roadside at Ka Hee Pa Leh with their few remaining belongings on 26/2/97.]
Q: Auntie, how many days did you say you’ve been in Thailand?
A: 4 days. Our village is Kyaw Kee.
Q: Do you think the Burmese have arrived in your village?
A: They’ve arrived. We didn’t see them. We were afraid and we ran into the forest.
Q: Afraid of what? What did you think they would do?
A: They’ll kill us! I thought they’d kill us so we had to run. We couldn’t bring anything! Only one bag, we couldn’t bring anything else.
Man in group: Our cattle and buffalos they ate all.
Q: How many days was your trip here?
A: 6 days’ trip. We slept in the forest ...
Man: At the top of the big mountain.
Q: Now where have you built your houses?
A: We haven’t built houses yet. I sleep over there ... People give us rice - and fishpaste - and salt. We can’t get any blankets.
Q: Oh! Isn’t it cold at night?
A: It’s cold all right! I don’t have to tell you, it’s so cold! [in February, nightly temperatures at Ka Hee Pa Leh drop to about 10° C]
Q: How soon do you think you can go back to your village?
A: I can’t say yet, but it will be a long time, I think 2 or 3 years anyway.
Q: We heard last night that a Thai general met with a Burmese general and the Burmese general said if people want to go back you can go.
A: We don’t dare go back!
[The following interview was conducted with a group of new refugees in a roadside shelter at Ka Hee Pa Leh on 26/2/97.]
Q: Where is your village?
Woman: Meh Tharoh Kee. [Note: Meh Tharoh Kee was completely burned by advancing SLORC troops.] It’s been over 10 days already since we arrived.
Q: Yesterday we arrived there and it was all burned. When they burned it were you there?
W: We weren’t there, we had run away already.
Man: The Burmese are there.
Q: Do you think you can dare go back and stay in Meh Tharoh Kee?
M: I can’t say - it’s all burned already, we can’t dare go and stay there. We don’t dare go back. If the Burmese are there how can we dare go back?
Q: When you fled to here could you bring along your things?
M: We could, just a little.
W: We couldn’t bring most of it. Our rice we couldn’t bring.
M: Our rice was left behind.
Q: Do you think you’ll have to be here long?
M: I don’t know. We don’t know anymore.
NAME: "Saw Wah" SEX: M AGE: 68 Sgaw Karen Christian hill rice farmer
FAMILY: Married, one son
ADDRESS: Meh K’Tee village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 26/2/97
["Saw Wah" was interviewed shortly after his arrival at Ka Hee Pa Leh in Thailand.]
Q: Here is a man who just arrived here 3 days ago. Which village are you from?
A: Meh K’Tee is my village. We came through Tee Yu Kee, up to Hto Kaw Kee, then to Meh Kwih Kloh, and from there we crossed the car road and reached Hto Kaw Kloh[river] at Hta Kaw, then we went down to Meh Kwih Lah Per. One of our friends died there because of a landmine. His leg was blown off and he died. So we didn’t dare continue and we slept there. He was about 20 years old. He was a villager but I don’t know the name of his village.
The next morning we climbed up the mountain. There were about 300 of us altogether including women and children, from various villages - some from Plaw Kee Pa, some from Meh K’Tee Hta, some from Htee Meh Wah ... Many people ran with their children on to Htee Sgaw Sgee. But I don’t know what happened there because we were behind the others. The Burmese didn’t see us because we came through at nighttime. In the daytime we stayed in hiding. It was 3 days to travel to here, but if I count from when we first ran from our village it took us 10 days, going step by step from place to place. We arrived here 3 days ago.
Q: What did the Burmese do when they arrived in the villages?
A: They chased us and tried to see us, and they ordered some villagers to go and call back those who were hiding. They said they would give written passes for those who went back, but they shot at those who ran away from them. People here have seen quite a few villagers killed just because they ran away from the Burmese. The Burmese shot them with no questions asked. It’s impossible for us to go back to our village as long as they are like this. If we went back they would divide us into 2 groups - those who have money and those who have no money. This is my understanding. [i.e. they would divide the villagers into those who could pay extortion and those who would have to do forced labour.]
Q: Do you think the villagers staying far from the border can come here?
A: The people staying farther inside have to flee around from place to place, because there’s no easy way for them to make it here.
NAME: "Saw Maw Lay" SEX: M AGE: 48 Sgaw Karen Christian hill rice farmer
FAMILY: Married, 7 children aged 1 year and up
ADDRESS: Meh T’Ler village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 26/2/97
[This family had just arrived out of the forest near Ka Hee Pa Leh on 26/2/97 and were picked up along the road by an NGO car because they were carrying a 2-day old baby.]
Q: Uncle, where did you say your village is?
A: Meh T’Ler.
Q: You came with how many people altogether?
A: 1 person ... 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 - 11 people. [The last he points to is the new baby.] We’ve just arrived now. The Burmese are in our village now. I saw them, when we were hiding in the jungle. I saw them arrive. None of the villagers were still in the village. When I saw them they didn’t do anything, but we dare not stay there because we are afraid of them.
Q: How many days ago did you flee your village?
A: Oh, we’ve been sleeping in the forest many nights already! 3 weeks - we slept in the bush, for sure. Since we started to flee. Some villagers go back - the men go back to get things. Me, I didn’t go back to the village. The Burmese came, I didn’t dare go back.
Q: If you were staying in your village now what do you think the Burmese would do?
A: Ah-ah! They’d order us to go and stay among them! I don’t dare go like that.
Q: Why didn’t you stay there with the Burmese?
A: Ah-Ah!! Why does he ask questions like that?! If we could dare to stay there, we certainly wouldn’t have come here!
Q: Wouldn’t you be happy among the Burmese?
A: We’d be very unhappy among them. Not one person is happy! If we were happy [among them] not a single person would have fled to here!
Q: Are there any villagers still in your village?
A: No one is left there, everyone is coming here. But many are still climbing over the mountains to come here. We had to climb a big mountain. We slept along the path 3 nights on the way coming here [note: they’ve been sleeping in the bush for 3 weeks, but fled the area of the village 3 nights ago]. There are over 60 households in Meh T’Ler, and some people are bringing along some cattle as well. People are fleeing from Meh T’Ler, Po Si Mu, Taw Ghaw Law, Kwih Kler, ... Some of them have arrived here, but many are still left in the jungle. I came with my children. I couldn’t bring anything except these clothes on my body. Some of my daughters and sons are in Kwih La Taw already. And this child here was born just 2 days ago, to my daughter-in-law. Along the way [he points to the mountain to the west]. 2 days ago. In the forest.
[The next questions were addressed to the mother, sitting on the ground holding her baby:]
Q: Is your child a girl or a boy?
A: A girl.
Q: Have you given her a name yet?
A: Her name? She was born in the wilderness, so her name is ‘Naw Wilderness’ [Naw Keh Klah].
Q: Are you well now?
Q: And is your baby strong and healthy?
A: She is very well now. [Note: The mother is the daughter-in-law of "Saw Maw Lay". Both of her parents are already dead.]
NAME: "Saw Eh G’Lu" SEX: M AGE: 50 Sgaw Karen Christian hill rice farmer
FAMILY: Married, 2 children
ADDRESS: Meh K’Tee village INTERVIEWED: 27/2/97
NAME: "Saw Htoo Po" SEX: M AGE: 69 Sgaw Karen Buddhist hill rice farmer
FAMILY: Married, 3 children
ADDRESS: Tee Yoh Kee village INTERVIEWED: 27/2/97
NAME: "Saw Lah Wah" SEX: M AGE: 32 Sgaw Karen hill rice farmer
FAMILY: Married, 2 children
ADDRESS: Meh K’Tee village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 27/2/97
[These people were part of a group that crossed the Thai border near Htee Sgaw Sghi, further east than Ka Hee Pa Leh, and were interviewed while camped in straw shelters in a ricefield.]
Q: Where have all the people here come from?
"Saw Eh G’Lu": We’ve come from Meh K’Tee, Lay Po Kee, Tee Meh Baw, Tee Yoh Kee, Tah T’Naw Kee, Kyaw Kee, ... I arrived here 3 days and 2 nights ago.
Q: When the Burmese arrived in your village where were you?
"Saw Eh G’Lu": I was in the hills. I saw them! They shot at us! We left everything behind, because the Burmese shot at us with their guns. They were shelling with big guns, and also shooting their small guns. We only heard they were coming when they were much less than an hour from us.
Q: Were they shooting in the air or at the people?
"Saw Eh G’Lu": They shot at us, at all of us. We had to run, all of us including the children, because we were afraid. So we have nothing with us, everything was left behind there. The Burmese really make trouble for us.
Q: Were there any Karen soldiers in the village?
"Saw Eh G’Lu": No, they just shot at the villagers. There were no Kaw Thoo Lei soldiers. The Karen soldiers are at the frontline, not in our village. The Burmese were just shooting at civilians. Ah!! The shells fell and fell among the villagers. No one was wounded, but if you were hit you would surely die. Now they are not fighting or shooting the Kaw Thoo Lei soldiers, they are just shooting at the civilians. The Karen soldiers fight them in the frontline area, but the Burmese just come behind and shoot at the civilians. That’s why the civilians have to flee. We can’t dare stay in our village.
Q: Are there still any villagers left around your village?
"Saw Eh G’Lu": Some of the villagers are still around there because they’re unable to come up here. They’re hiding in the jungle, and some of them have been seized by the Burmese. Quite a lot of them have been seized. The Burmese order them to return to stay in their homes. There must be over 200 people still hiding in the forest around our village. Over 60 people arrived here in our group.
Q: What do the Burmese do when they arrive in the villages?
"Saw Eh G’Lu": So far they haven’t burned anything, but they took all of our rice, paddy, pigs and chickens, they ate all of it. If they see male villagers they’ll order them to serve as porters. I heard that they also caught 2 people, tied them up and put them in the stocks. And they kill anyone who is well-known [i.e. involved with the KNU].
Q: What will you do now?
"Saw Eh G’Lu": We’ll stay here. We don’t have any food to eat now. I don’t have either mats or blankets - I only have these things here! [His clothes and little else] We’ll just stay here, and if someone helps us with food and allows us to stay we’ll go along with that.
Q: What did you do when it rained last night?
"Saw Eh G’Lu": We couldn’t do anything, we just had to cower down [they only had a rough leaf roof full of holes above their heads].
Q: I heard that SLORC said they won’t do anything to villagers if you go back to your own village.
"Saw Eh G’Lu": Ah!! We don’t dare go back! We’ll stay here our whole lives if they allow us. We can’t go back because we are afraid of SLORC. My village is in the hills. I’m a hill rice farmer, but now the Burmese have taken all my rice and my farm. We had to climb a really big and high mountain to get here. I had to sleep in the forest and on the mountains for about 11 days. We were afraid they would chase us, so we had to run in the nighttime. We didn’t dare move in the daytime. The adult men had to go ahead and watch along the side paths and at the [path] crossings. Then if they didn’t see any indication of the Burmese, they told the others to run quickly and pass through. At that time there were about 300 of us altogether. Sometimes there was no path, and we just pushed through the bushes and rushed through the jungle at night, in the darkness.
"Saw Htoo Po": Our way went straight through the bush. It was really painful on the heels of my feet, they still hurt now. I came together with them. My village is Tee Yoh Kee. I’m 69 years old - I’ll be 70 at the coming Water Festival.
"Saw Lah Wah": We came in a group of about 300 people, and there were 2 babies born during the 10 days we were in the forest. And at night while we were passing over the mountain, we couldn’t see the path and one stepped on a mine. I think it was a Karen mine. I don’t know what his name was - he was just a child. 16 years old. His village was in the mountains. I saw him. Nobody buried his body, they just covered it with leaves. We were coming along the way, and there was no chance to bury him because we were all running for our lives. We stopped there that night because we didn’t dare go on after the mine explosion, then we left in the morning.
Q: Are there many mines around there?
"Saw Lah Wah": Yes, there are many, to block the Burmese from coming through that way. But the Karen soldiers didn’t know we were coming that way, and we didn’t see them either.
"Saw Eh G’Lu": This SLORC makes so many problems and difficulties for us, they give us such intense trouble. I’m not so well myself now. I’m unable to walk anymore because of exhaustion. The SLORC [sic: Burma Army, before 1988] shot me once before, but then their gun jammed. It was over 10 years ago. I wasn’t a soldier, they were just chasing and shooting villagers. So I jumped down from my house as soon as I saw them, and they shot at me. The bullet hit me in the side. I had to go to the Kaw Thoo Lei hospital at Bo Roh Mu.
NAME: "Saw Tee Ku" SEX: M AGE: 31 Sgaw Karen farmer
FAMILY: Married, 3 children
ADDRESS: Maw Tha Ra village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 27/2/97
["Saw Tee Ku" was part of a group that crossed the Thai border near Htee Sgaw Sghi, further east than Ka Hee Pa Leh, and were interviewed while camped in straw shelters in a ricefield.]
My village is in Maw Tha Ra. It is one day’s walk. My wife was left behind among the Burmese. She was left there and we don’t dare go back again to bring her here. She will come if she sees any chance to come. If it’s impossible she will not come.
Q: What about your children?
A: We have 3 children. They are all left behind with my wife.
Q: But won’t you go back to look for your wife?
A: I can’t dare go back. I think a lot about her and remember her. We got married 12 years ago.
Q: And your children?
A: Our oldest is 10 years old. The next is 7 years old, and our youngest is 5.
Q: Did you bring along any belongings?
A: No, everything was left there. I couldn’t bring anything along with me. The Burmese were in Meh K’Tee and Pa Klaw Kee already, and I was running.
NAME: "Puh Tha Htoo" SEX: M AGE: 65 Sgaw Karen Buddhist hill rice farmer
FAMILY: Married, 8 children, also came with his grandchildren
ADDRESS: Maw Tha Ra village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 27/2/97
["Saw Tee Ku" was part of a group that crossed the Thai border near Htee Sgaw Sghi, further east than Ka Hee Pa Leh, and were interviewed while camped in straw shelters in a ricefield.]
Q: Grandfather, could you bring your belongings here with you?
A: Only some. Just one or two pieces of clothing, a rice pot and a spoon, that’s all.
Q: When did you run?
A: We ran ahead, before they could reach the village. We slept a night at Kwih Kler, then many nights in the forest. I came riding on a cart. I started running on the 10th of the English calendar [10 February].
NAME: "Saw Kler" SEX: M
NAME: "Saw Lah" SEX: M
ADDRESS: Saw Hta (Azin) village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 26/2/97
["Saw Kler" and "Saw Lah" are KNU officials who were based at Saw Hta before the SLORC offensive.]
Q: Did you see any people in the forest?
"Saw Kler": Yes, I saw some people in the jungle.
Q: If the Burmese saw them there what would they do?
"Saw Kler": The people are fleeing everywhere because they are afraid of the hardships SLORC will make for them. So I don’t think they’ll do anything too serious to them if they find them at first. I think they’ll only order them back to gather in their villages. No one dared to stay in the villages.
"Saw Lah": So far they haven’t done anything to the people they’ve found hiding in the forest, they’ve just called them back.
"Saw Kler": When the Burmese find people hiding in the forest, they call them back and give them a written summons. They order them to go and search out the other villagers and their friends and show them the summons. It says everyone has to come back to the village by the given time. If the people don’t go back to their villages by that time I don’t know what the Burmese will do.
Q: Is it easy for people to go to Ka Hee Pa Leh [in Thailand]?
"Saw Kler": It’s not at all easy to go along the main path. The only way is to climb over the mountains and then down through the valleys. Many villagers are doing this to arrive there.
[The following interview was conducted with a Karen soldier fighting in Dooplaya District on 25/2/97.]
I think their soldiers may be on some kind of medicine, because they are often moving forward in the open much too quickly and carelessly, and they open fire at anything very easily. It is very difficult to see how many porters they have because their troops have been completely surrounding their porters all the time. They have a lot of porters where they’ve set up their office at Lay Po Hta [Lay Po Hta was a Karen refugee camp on the Burma side of the border, captured by SLORC on about 20 February]. Many of their porters are Burmese from Moulmein. I saw one porter who had fled from the SLORC. He could not eat and he could not walk. He hadn’t been wounded by gunfire, but he had serious wounds and pain on his back - it was all cut to pulp, because he had to carry heavy loads of all the SLORC soldiers’ things. He couldn’t even eat anything that we tried to feed him. I tried to feed him some rice, but he couldn’t chew or swallow. He was in a terrible situation, he couldn’t carry their loads anymore and he couldn’t even walk. He was in Kwih Kler village, in a house there. We tried to take him with us when we saw him but we couldn’t, because just then the fighting started there [the SLORC began attacking Kwih Kler]. The enemy was following us and fighting started so we left, and we left him there. So he was just left alone in that house, because I couldn’t carry him through the fighting. I think he died there. It was on the 15th of February. He was Burmese, about 37 or 38 years old, and he was from Moulmein.
Q: We saw about 80 porters with the SLORC near Lay Po Hta carrying rice along the path to the west. Where were they carrying the rice to?
A: The enemy is camping at villages like Kwih Kler, Po Si Muh, Meh T’Ler, and K’Neh Paw Kyeh, so they are carrying the rice back to their soldiers there. They are taking it from the refugee rice storehouse - it was the rice for the refugees in Lay Po Hta. The refugees couldn’t save the rice from the storehouse because of the fighting, so the SLORC got it and they took it back to Kwih Kler.
Q: Are there any villagers still in Saw Hta [Azin]?
A: Only a few of them were caught and detained in the village. The Burmese won’t let them leave the village. They make people carry things.
[The following information was reported by a new refugee at Ka Hee Pa Leh on 26/2/97. There are many such reports.]
They arrested a man named Pa Kyet. His village is Ta Waw Law. He was among the mountains, and he went back to get his things in Ta Waw Law and the Burmese caught him. He went with his 2 friends, and his friends got away and came here, that’s how we heard. It happened 2 days ago. Pa Kyet is married but I’m not sure his age - about 19 years old, he’s not 20 yet. He got married in Ta Nay Pya. They have a child already. I don’t know where his wife has fled to. At first he and his wife came up here.
[The following information was given on 16 February by a villager from Kwih Ta Hoh village, Dooplaya District who had just fled the village]
4 people were arrested when SLORC troops came into the village:
- 1 man, Pa Kya Nwe, 50, shot dead
- 1 man, Saw Maw Leh Htoo, 30, arrested - not sure if dead or not
- 1 woman, Daw Hla Than, 25, wife of Saw Maw Leh Htoo, raped, still alive
- 1 girl, Naw Mu Naung, 14, raped and died
The following information was noted down by a human rights monitor from an interview with a villager who had fled Tee Wah Klu village (near Meh K’Tee), Dooplaya District:
On 11 February he, T---, 44, of Tee Wah Klu, and his pregnant wife M---, 40, ran to Pa Klaw Kee with 88 people when the SLORC arrived at Tee Wah Klu. On 16 February their baby daughter was born in the jungle at Pa Klaw Kee. On 24 February T--- went back to Tee Wah Klu village to see the situation. His village was empty. SLORC had taken 24 cattle and 140 tins of paddy. Unfortunately, he was caught in his house and taken as a porter to carry the villagers’ belongings [which the troops had looted]. Then he got permission to go for one day to see his family. On 25 February he went back and informed the villagers in the jungle about the situation. Pa Klaw Kee is only 4 hours’ walk upstream from Tee Wah Klu. But SLORC followed him to Pa Klaw Kee, so the villagers ran away again. Only his wife and the baby were left behind. On 26 February, SLORC soldiers told his wife M--- to call the villagers to come back. On 27 February the villagers left and crossed the border to Thailand. On the way, the newborn baby died.
Interviews with Muslim Refugees
NAME: "Thein Myint" SEX: M AGE: 34 Muslim shopkeeper
FAMILY: Married, 3 children
ADDRESS: Kyaikdon village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 24/3/97
Q: When did you arrive here?
A: 20 days ago. When I left Kyaikdon to come here, the enemy was already there.
Q: Did you return to Kyaikdon or not?
A: I am going to tell you everything. When I first left Kyaikdon [just before the SLORC arrived], I stayed in the forest behind Taw Ya Kyaung monastery nearby the village for 3 or 4 days. My children became sick, so I went back to the village and the soldiers told us to go away. I went back to the village with others in 3 bullock carts. When we arrived in the village we went to fetch water at the mosque, and the soldiers saw us and drove us out with their guns by telling us: "You, Muslims, you cannot stay here!" We could not even go back to retrieve our possessions. The soldiers had destroyed the mosque, they burnt the [Muslim] school down and they tore up all the Korans. I myself saw what the SLORC had done. I saw all the religious books they destroyed, all scattered around, and I saw how they had damaged our mosque. I dared not look at it too long, because the soldiers were standing very close to me and wouldn’t allow me to look at it. So I bowed down my head and fetched the water. I saw a big gun in the compound of the mosque. The mosque was collapsed and scattered. They cursed us as Muslims, they said "Nga lo ma kala!"["Fuck the mothers of all Muslims!"] They also asked me, "What are you doing here in the village? Would you like to rebuild your mosque again? If you want to you can!" I didn’t say anything, I just left the village with the bullock cart at about 12:30 because they forced us to leave the village. We can’t destroy each other’s religion and faith. I felt so sorry about that, so we went and slept in another village.
Then we went towards Sar Pa Daw village, and we spent a night in Sar Pa Daw. We met the soldiers again. At the time, many people were there and 23 bullock carts. At Kaw Tha Nu, another 7 bullock carts, so altogether 30 bullock carts. When we were staying there, 3 soldiers came and asked for money, to collect 3,000 Kyats amongst us to buy pork. The soldiers said, "All of you, you cannot eat our food!" That is why we had to buy one pig for the soldiers. [This was done as a humiliating insult, because Islam forbids the eating of pork.] They ordered us to buy it. If not, we would be beaten. Then we combined with the 7 bullock carts at Kaw Tha Nu village and we spent 2 nights at Kaw Tha Nu. Then they demanded 500 Kyats for each cart. Altogether we had to pay them over 15,000 Kyats. Then the soldiers asked, "Where are all of you going to?" We replied: "To Than Ma Ya." When we arrived at Than Ma Ya, the soldiers told us, "You cannot stay here. You have to go back to your village!"
At that time, the passenger boat to Seik Gyi arrived. My family is big. Altogether we are 8 people. I took the boat and went back to Kaw Tha Nu village. When I got there, the villagers asked me where were our wives and children. I explained to them that they were all at Than Ma Ya village and that I was the first one to arrive back at Kaw Tha Nu. I told the villagers there what happened to us.
To destroy our religion and our mosque - these are the cruel things they did to us. The soldiers did that because they were ordered by the Army officers. They are from #22 [Light Infantry] Division, #202 Battalion and #44 Division. When I saw the mosque they had already destroyed it with their hands, but after that they blew it up with mines and razed it with a bulldozer. Even though they didn’t torture us, they destroyed our mosque and that’s what we can’t bear. They cursed us and forced us to leave. Now the Buddhist people who come to the camp here say that at Kyaikdon gate near the village the soldiers have hung a signboard that says, "No entry for Indians" [meaning Muslims]. Muslims are strictly prohibited to enter Kyaikdon, but Buddhist people can stay there.
When there was fighting some Muslims ran to Ber Kler [southeast along the plains to the Thai border] and others ran to the mountains. It took them at least 8 days’ journey and they had to climb several mountains, but they didn’t meet the enemy. The people who ran to Ber Kler met the enemy, but now they’ve all arrived at the[refugee] camp. Some fled to other villages, but many came here.
I met many people along the way who had to go as porters, from places like Moulmein, Thaton and Maw Tama. They arrived at Kyaikdon, but then they all were sent back to their places. After the SLORC settled at Kyaikdon they released the porters. I met some of them at Seik Gyi. They were ordinary villagers. We were talking about the SLORC setting fire to our mosque, and they were talking about how the porters had to carry big guns and bullets for the SLORC. I heard what they were talking about because they were sitting close to me, but I didn’t dare ask them anything. I heard them say that it took a week to serve as porters, and that those who couldn’t carry their loads were beaten. They were not only Muslims, but everybody. I saw about 50 of them who were going back.
Q: Are the SLORC already building or repairing roads around Kyaikdon?
A: They are now constructing a road from Kyaikdon to Seik Gyi. Trucks can go already. The soldiers did it with a bulldozer.
Q: How did you manage to come here?
A: I lived in Kyaikdon for a long time, we were all like a family. We were all close to each other like relatives. I wanted to stay there because I had lived there so long. I could not be happy at Kawkareik, which is my native place, and I can never forgive them for what happened to our mosque, that is why I came to stay here. My shop [in Kyaikdon] was full of things but I left it all, I carried nothing with me here, though some other shopkeepers carried all their things here.
NAME: "Nurul Islam" SEX: M AGE: about 40 Muslim merchant
ADDRESS: Kyaikdon village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 27/2/97
[This interview was conducted in the "Muslim section" of Ka Hee Pa Leh in Thailand. "Nurul Islam" and his family had just fled to Thailand.]
Q: What did the Burmese do when they arrived in Kyaikdon?
A: They destroyed the mosque. They took all the wooden boards from the mosque, from the floor, the walls and the roof, and burned them. They also burned some villagers’ houses around there. They also killed 2 people from Meh Ka Htee Hta. People who came here later saw it all. The brothers and family of one of the men killed are all staying here - that is his niece there. Her husband was staying with her uncle, and he just arrived here yesterday. The Burmese killed her uncle 3 days ago, because he was ill and unable to run. He was just a villager, but he couldn’t run because of illness when the Burmese came. There were 3 of them left in the village. All 3 were killed, and 2 of them were Muslim. They were staying between Tee Tha Blut and Pa Klaw Kee villages. Their names were Pa Mot, Maw Mot Kya, and Hu Sein. All of them were men. Hu Sein was not so old, though Maw Mot Kya was older, his hair was white - about 50 years old.
Q: Are there any villagers still in Kyaikdon village?
A: There are many villagers still there, even my sisters and brothers. But not in the village, they are scattered here and there in the jungle and on the mountainsides. Maybe some have gone down to the towns like Moulmein, I don’t know. We ran and came here.
NAME: "Nyi Nyi Sein" SEX: F AGE: 20+ Muslim merchant
FAMILY: Married, no children
ADDRESS: Na Kree Hta village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 27/2/97
[This interview was conducted in the "Muslim section" of Ka Hee Pa Leh in Thailand. "Nyi Nyi Sein"’s uncle was killed by SLORC troops.]
Q: So did they kill 3 people in Pa Klaw Kee?
A: Yes. When they were looking for their cattle, the SLORC saw them and killed them. They broke their legs and arms, and they took out their eyes. People saw my uncle after he was dead and they told me. It happened 4 days ago.
Q: What was your uncle’s name?
A: Pa Mot. He was over 60. His wife is dead, and his children and son-in-law are in the refugee camp. He lived in Pa Klaw Nee, and he fled to Pa Klaw Kee, and the SLORC saw him there so they killed him.
Q: What about the other 2 men who were killed?
A: Their names were San Bo and Soe Tin [a.k.a. Hu Sein and Maw Mot Kya; villagers are often known by more than one name]. Soe Tin was over 30, and so was San Bo. They also had wives and children. Their families are in the jungle. They couldn’t run. The SLORC blocked the way. Two of the men were Muslim and Soe Tin was Karen Buddhist.
Q: Do you think there are still many people hiding in the forest?
A: Yes, most of the people are still hiding there. They cannot run. They try very hard to come here but they cannot. The SLORC blocks the way.
Q: Are there still any people in the villages?
A: Some of the Buddhists return again to their villages, but the Muslims cannot return. If the Muslims enter the village, the SLORC beat or kill them, and take their things. They want to stay in their villages but the SLORC says they cannot stay there. Only for Muslims - if Buddhists and others want to stay there they can. In Kyaikdon the SLORC didn’t burn the houses but they broke apart the mosque, and they also burned the Muslim school.
Q: What about the other villages around Kyaikdon?
A: In other villages they didn’t burn anything, but if they see any Muslim people they catch them. Yesterday many Muslim people arrived here from Pa Klaw Kee area, over 200 people. I have been here for 10 days. When the SLORC came into Pa Klaw Kee area they asked "Where are all the Muslims?" Some of the Karen people lied to them and said, "We don’t know, they all ran away".
NAME: "Maung Thet Lwin" SEX: M AGE: 29 Muslim day labourer
FAMILY: Married, no children
ADDRESS: Meh K’Tee village (formerly from Bilin Township) INTERVIEWED: 27/2/97
Q: When did you arrive here?
A: I just arrived here yesterday. I stayed along the way for 8 days. I didn’t see the SLORC, but I saw the places where they had dug the ground [for trenches and bunkers]. I came together with about 50 men, 30 women and about 150 children, all from different villages. From Kyaikdon, Pa Klaw Ni, Meh Ka Tee Hta, ...
Q: Are there still any people left in those villages?
A: There are no Muslims there because the SLORC won’t allow us to stay there. They confiscated all of the villagers’ belongings, and then they evacuated all the Muslims out of the village. They shot in the air behind the Muslims as we ran away until we were all out of the village. They said they would send all the Muslims back to India. As for the Burmese, Mon, and Karen people, they gave them passes to stay in the village. But they drove the Muslims out to Kwin Kalay. They sent about 100 people together with their 28 bullock carts. Then when they got to Kwin Kalay, they took all the belongings of those Muslims and left them with only the clothes on their bodies. Some of the husbands fled and arrived here with nothing, and their wives are still left there. Two of those people already arrived here. They said some of the others were arrested by the SLORC and killed, that 4 of the people were already killed by SLORC.
Q: Do you know if the SLORC is taking anyone as porters in the area?
A: The SLORC order the villagers to send 60 people for a week at a time to build their Army camp. They must do that every week - it’s the same as going for portering. They order the people to build their camp from Kyaikdon, Meh Naw Ah, ... They are doing that now.
Interviews with Later Refugees
NAME: "Saw Ku Htoo" SEX: M AGE: 20-30 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 2 children
ADDRESS: Htee Mu Ku village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 25/3/97
Q: Were you in the village when the SLORC arrived?
A: When the Burmese came I was in K’Ma Kler village. By that time the Burmese had gone ahead of me, so I couldn’t go back to my village and I had to flee together with the villagers of K’Ma Kler to Pa Klaw Kee village. At Pa Klaw Kee, the Burmese arrested men, women and children, I think over 30 villagers altogether. They ordered the men, women and children who ran away to come back to their villages. They ordered the men to go and look for others and carry things for them. We had to carry 81 [81 mm. mortar] shells. I had to carry rations and it was not so heavy, but my friend had to carry 81 mm. shells - each of them carried 10 shells. [Each 81 mm. shell weighs about 3 kg./7 lb. The usual load of these is 6 at a time for men and 4 for women and children, so 10 is an extremely heavy burden.] It was #44 Division who arrested me. We went to Pa Klaw Kee, Saw Hta, Kwih Kler and then to Hter Gha and to Kyer Ya Wa.
Q: How many porters did they take?
A: I can’t tell you exactly, because there were so many people. The Burmese divided them up and sent some to other groups. In my group there were many porters so I can’t guess - maybe 200 porters, because there were many Burmese soldiers. There were about 300 or 400 Burmese soldiers in each group. They went through the jungle and whenever they saw people hiding in the forest they arrested them, collected all their belongings, put them in a pile and searched them, and if they saw any watches, gold necklaces, or money they took it all. I saw them take about 200,000 Kyats from the villagers. I would like to tell you about all the rice that was hidden by the villagers who fled [so they could come back later], but when the Burmese found it they said that it was Kaw Thoo Lei’s rice and then they took it, ate it and destroyed it. They said it was Kaw Thoo Lei’s rice but it wasn’t, it was the villagers’ rice.
Q: Where were most of the porters from?
A: The porters spoke Karen, Burmese, Pwo Karen... Some of the porters said that they had gone to work in Thailand, but the Thais arrested them and sent them back to Myawaddy and then they were taken as porters. Some porters were brought from the jails. I saw some who had already been with the troops for 3 or 4 weeks. If they couldn’t carry things they were beaten till they died. Some were also arrested in the forest. There was one old man who was arrested at Maw, near Meh Tha Raw Hta. He was 70 years old. His name is Thaung Kyi. There were so many young porters, about 20 and above, and over 10 porters were teenagers about 15 years old. Two of them were women.
We couldn’t go freely. At noon when we rested they ordered us to carry water, and they also tied us up for the night. They tied the women also. I couldn’t tell for sure, but I think they called the women away in the night. The two women were very beautiful and tall. In the daytime they didn’t ask the women to work, but they tied the women and three or four of them walked along behind the women, and the women’s faces were very sad.
They beat me, but if you run they’ll capture you and beat you immediately until you’re dead. If you run, run until you get to safety, otherwise you will be killed. I saw two porters die. It was because they were too tired to carry things. They died along the way in the forest. They were young men. I also saw 2 other porters beaten with my own eyes. They beat two porters because they couldn’t carry things anymore. They beat the porters with a rattan as thick as your toe. [Rattan is flexible and would have the effect of a whipping cane.] When they beat the porters like that we dared not look at them. They didn’t allow to go and look, even if the porters were going to die. If we went and looked then they would beat us too. I just glanced once at it.
One of the Majors that I saw had a steel stick. It was very white. I didn’t see him beat the villagers with it, but I saw him beat 2 soldiers who had made a mistake. He beat them three times each. After the beating the soldiers came away and looked at their wounds, and they were bleeding.
When I was with them they fought once with the KNU. They captured a place called Si Plaw Po. There were not many Karen soldiers there, just over 10 Karen soldiers whom they shot at but none were wounded. There were many more Burmese soldiers than Karen, so they controlled the porters and none of us could escape. There were two huts in the field there and two big rice barns near the field. They burned down everything. When there was fighting a farmer ran with a small baby. The women were running without sarongs [their sarongs fell while they ran] and the Burmese shot at the women and the children but no one was wounded. They nearly hit them but it was too far. Then they hacked apart all their pots and destroyed their bicycle. They captured one of the farmers and nobody saw him after that, so maybe they killed him. I don’t know his name, but he was Telekoo and came from Kyat Ka Wa.
They gave me food two times a day, rice and curry. They took the villagers’ livestock and ate it - sometimes they gave some to the porters and sometimes they didn’t. They ordered the porters to pick the coconuts. Even if you pick a hundred or two hundred it’s not enough for all of them, so you have to pick at least 500 coconuts. Only the soldiers got coconuts, but the beef and pork they weighed out to the porters with a scale. If we found a stream or river we could drink, but to carry water along was too heavy. At Kwih Kler they made all the porters sleep inside the cinema hall at night like cattle [cinema halls are cramped places with bamboo benches and floors of packed dirt], and they tied us up. At night they tied us together by the hands, 8 or 9 people on the same rope. If one person moved the others couldn’t sleep.
I carried for five days and then ran away. When I ran away I went back step by step, and on the way I saw the places where the Burmese had fed their horses with rice[some of the SLORC units had mules to carry ammunition] and scattered in the forest all the mats and everything that were taken from the villagers. When I arrived at Ka Yeh Theh the Burmese had arrested all the men in that village [to be porters]. Only women and small children were left, and they told me not to stay long because of the Burmese. I had to make a long journey back until I reached my village. When I arrived at my house, I saw that the Burmese had destroyed all my paddy and the leaf [roofing] shingles that I had made and scattered all my things. I did not see my wife and children. Then I saw the Burmese in the other part of the village, so I had to leave my village and go to Lay Taw Ko. As for my children, I heard that the Thais had taken them to send them to the Burmese. All the Htee Mu Ku villagers were arrested by Thai soldiers to be sent back to Burma after they fled [to Thailand].
The Burmese are building their place at Saw Hta. We had to go there because we had to take a letter there for them, and five of our bullock carts had to stand by to carry things there every day. They ordered the 5 bullock carts to carry bamboo, wood and thatch for building their places. They made the villagers carry everything that they had taken from the villages. At Saw Hta, they liked the wood on some of the villagers’ houses so they ripped off the planks and sent them to the city. They came with trucks and soldiers to take them. They made fences around their camp and then they made the porters clear a place to make a helicopter field. It was in Saw Hta village at the high school ground. When helicopters came, porters and even Lance Corporals of the Army were not allowed to go near. We had to watch it from afar.
The Major said they came to organise the people. They order everyone to stay in their own villages. In all the rivers that have lots of fish we are forbidden to catch fish so that the soldiers can use dynamite to catch fish. They ordered the porters to pick out all the big fish for them [after they dropped a grenade in the river]and left all the small fish - that was in the Han Thayaw river at Kwih Kler village. Everything that they can eat they eat, and anything that they can use they take for themselves. Some they just throw away. They sell one tin of milk [stolen from the villages] for about 10 Baht [Thai money; 1 Baht = about 7 Kyat at current market rate]. The normal price was 18 Baht, so they sell it cheaper. I saw that they also gathered steel wire and sent it to the city for their families. At Saw Hta I saw them coming every day in trucks to take away things. I didn’t see the Burmese building roads with my own eyes, but people said that down from Ta Ku Kee to Pa Wah Kloh, to Noh Taw Klah, Po Chaung, Daw Ka Kloh and from there to Kyaikdon they are building roads.
Q: Who chooses the headmen now?
A: They are not chosen by anyone, because the man who speaks Burmese fluently and deals with the Burmese automatically becomes the headman. The headman told us villagers secretly that these people [SLORC] said they came to organise the people, but now they eat up all our cattle as well as our chickens and the fish in the ponds and rivers. There will be nothing left at all for our next generation.
Q: What happened to your wife and children?
A: My wife and children were at Htee Mu Ku village. They followed the others when they fled. It looked like they might be forced over to the Burmese by the Thais. When my relatives arrived at Lay Taw Ko the Thais said to my family, "Don’t any of you leave tonight. Tomorrow we are going to send you to Meh Tharoh Kee." [Lay Taw Ko is in Thailand, where at least 1,500 refugees arrived; Meh Tharoh Kee is in Burma, a few hours’ walk up the border.] The Burmese were waiting at Meh Tharoh Kee, and they were at Htee Mu Ku, Lay Taw Ko and Lay Taw Ka all the time. But my family fled in the night [before the Thais could force them back from Lay Taw Ko] and arrived here before me. As for me, I came back alone step by step. I arrived here and had a chance to meet with my family and friends here, and I felt better and relieved. I arrived here two weeks ago. The Burmese captured me on the 15th of February, and I escaped on the 20th.
NAME: "Saw Muh Lah" SEX: M AGE: 45 Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY: Married, 10 children
ADDRESS: Tee Meh Baw village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 24/3/97
Q: Do you remember when the SLORC arrived at your village?
A: I can’t remember exactly. Maybe on the 20th of February the SLORC arrived in the village. I left my village about the 25th of February, then I went back to the village two times. I slept one night in the village the first time I went, but the second time I went back I couldn’t reach my village. I thought I would try to go back and get one pair of bullocks because I had nothing when I arrived here. If I could get my cattle I would sell them to get some money to buy vegetables and things. But I couldn’t get them because the Burmese were very close to the village.
When I went back the first time I saw some villagers but not the SLORC. As many people had left, the SLORC had taken and eaten our coconuts, and as for our rice they had poured it down on the ground to be trodden upon. They had also eaten our pigs. I asked the villagers the news, and they said the SLORC ordered them to make ready 2 bullock carts with two people to go for 2 days and carry things like ammunition for them from Saw Hta to Kyaw Kee. They said the soldiers also take all the villagers’ things that they need. Everything that they need us to do we have to do for them. Regularly the villagers have to send 2 bullock carts and 2 people for them, and if they need porters the villagers have to go. They haven’t much time to work for their own survival. If the people from Tee Meh Baw want to travel anywhere they have to get a pass from #44 Division, but the people from Meh K’Tee have to get their passes from #22 Division. To go work your field you need one pass, and to search for your cattle you need another pass. If we go to search for our cattle in #22 Division’s area [very close by] we have to go and get a pass from them as well, one from #44 and another from #22. You don’t need to pay for the pass. Each village has to prepare two bullock carts and stand by at Meh K’Tee. Tee Meh Baw village has to stand by at Kyaw Kee. Now #44 Division has taken over responsibility for Meh Kwih Kloh area, and they are in Kyaw Kee. The SLORC’s headquarters is in Saw Hta. Once or twice a week they order the villagers to go and have a meeting there. When I was there I saw helicopters come one or two times.
The soldiers take clothing from the villagers and then sell it to other villagers. They sell for a cheap price, so some people buy it from them. Even the paddy they’ve taken from the villagers, they order the villagers to mill it. Then they sell it back to the villagers, for 500 Kyat per basket. If they need something they go and take it. Even though the villagers tell them it belongs to them, the Burmese just say, "No, these are the Indian people’s things" and they just take it.
Q: Are there Muslims in the village?
A: No, but some of the Indian people hide their things there.
Q: How many households are there in your village?
A: There are 37 households. Only 7 houses came to this camp. The other 30 households were hiding in the forest, but they went back to the village because they heard that the Burmese were going to fire mortars into the forest. The people stay in their houses and don’t trouble each other, but the Burmese beat 3 people on the head with a stick. Maung Kyaw, Maung Than Nu, and Saw Kloh. They were wounded a little bit. One of them went and came back and said something to his friend, then another told something to his friend, and then the SLORC said, "Mind your own business!" and beat them on the head. They were all beaten at the same time. With a bamboo stick, not very big.
When I went back to the village I saw a letter with names written on it - Pado Maung Myint, Puh Dta Er, and Tha Muh Heh. It said, "These three have surrendered and now they cooperate and work together with us". The letter is still with the headman. After I came here the Burmese chose a new headman, his name is Saw Lwin. He showed me that letter. It was a typed letter. They distributed it. It was true that one person had surrendered to them [Tha Muh Heh], but the other two had not.
Two monks’ helpers went to Meh K’Tee monastery and saw nothing there. The Burmese had taken everything that was kept in the monastery. None of the spoons were even left. All the [Buddha] images were taken, and all the floor mats. Then when the monks came back and there were no sleeping mats in the monastery, the Burmese made an offering to them of one mat. It was one of the same mats they had stolen from the monastery. The monks recognised it.
Q: What about Ko Per Baw [DKBA]?
A: I don’t know about them.
Q: How do you feel about being here?
A: I dare not think about going back! Some people contacted me and they tell me that the Burmese say I have 2 guns, but I have no guns. They say if I go and take them 2 guns, they will accept me. I dare not go back because I don’t have any guns at all. If I go back, I would have to buy guns and give them to the Burmese. I’m happy to stay here because I don’t have to be too afraid of anything. Everything is in conflict in the village so I don’t dare go back. I’ll stay here.
Q: Do you think the SLORC will make any problem for the refugee camp?
A: When I went back, the villagers said that the Burmese plan to come to this camp. The Burmese said that they’ll wait until after our houses are all built, and then they’ll come and capture all the people they want.
[The following account was given on 25/3/97 by a Karen relief worker who had to flee Dooplaya District because of the SLORC offensive.]
I used to live in Kwee Ta Hoh village, not far from Kyo G’Lee. When SLORC arrived, I ran to the jungle with the other villagers. When they arrived in Sakanthit, SLORC left Kyo G’Lee and Baw Bo Hta. On 14 February I went back to Kyo G’Lee and saw that 14 houses had been burnt down, including 4 wooden houses [the other 10 were bamboo]. I think the whole village has about 60 houses. Four rice barns were also burnt down, as well as the nurses’ quarters for the hospital [run by Dr. Cynthia’s clinic]. The church, the school and the clinic itself were still in good condition but the books, the blackboards and the toys were all torn apart. In the other houses, the rice was destroyed and thrown on the ground, as well as the pots, plates and belongings of the villagers. When SLORC went away, the villagers came back to carry their rice and things to the jungle [when SLORC first came the villagers of Kyo G’Lee only had ½ hour’s warning, so they’d had no time to take away any of their belongings]. I saw the body of a dead [SLORC] soldier in the village. The villagers pulled it out and buried it outside the village because the children were afraid. There was an empty medicine bottle near the dead body. I heard that the KNU fought SLORC between Baw Bo Hta and Kyo G’Lee.
Some villagers told me that they saw the troops with many porters. I saw 3 porters in Kyo G’Lee village, two from Paya Gyi road in Bago [Pegu] and one from Thakita in Rangoon. Their shoulders were bruised. They had escaped. I could not help them but I told them to go to Wah Lay, Mae Sot and Myawaddy. I gave them a little rice and one pot to go back with.
The same day I went back to Kwee Ta Hoh. Nothing had happened there. Also in Maw Ger Nu Kee village, nothing had happened. All the villagers had fled to the jungle. Actually, in Kwee Ta Hoh they took 1,000 kilograms of jaggery [boiled and crystallized brown sugar] and 6 sacks of betel nut.
Then I went back to the jungle with the villagers. I heard that the troops came back to Kyo G’Lee on 16 February and based themselves there: one group went to stay at Maw La Ai mountain and the other group in Kyo G’Lee. The troops at Maw La Ai mountain arrested 11 villagers of Kyo G’Lee because they had come back without knowing that the SLORC troops were there. They were all tied with a long rope and taken to Maw La Ai mountain, including a 10 year old girl.
On 17 February three villagers came back to Kyo G’Lee village with some troops, who then ordered the 3 villagers to go and call those in the jungle to come back. If they were not back by 2 p.m., the troops threatened to go and get them. Some villagers were afraid and came back to the village. Others moved to other places. I was among them. We fled deeper into the jungle. Later I went to Thailand.
Now, in Noh Po camp, some villagers from Kwee Ta Hoh and Kyo G’Lee came back to the refugee camp to call the villagers to go back. All except 6 families went back. But in the rainy season surely they will have more problems, because there is no road there.
NAME: "Naw G’Mwee Paw" SEX: F AGE: 30 Karen Christian
FAMILY: Married, 2 children aged 5 and 6
ADDRESS: Meh K’Tee village INTERVIEWED: 23/3/97
["Naw G’Mwee Paw" says she is a ‘housewife, and I also plant and sell betel-chewing leaf’.]
Q: What is the situation in your village?
A: The Burmese came and we ran. We dared not stay and we ran. I can’t remember exactly when because I was so frightened. Maybe the 22nd of February. Two days before the Burmese arrived at Meh K’Tee, we left our village.
Q: After the SLORC arrived, did you go back to your village?
A: Yes, only once. After I saw what was happening in my village, I dared not go back again. It was just a week ago, on Friday. I came back here on Tuesday.
Q: Can you tell what was happening in your village?
A: Yes, I can tell something. The Burmese asked the villagers to show them around. If they couldn’t show them [what they wanted], they kicked them, beat them and persecuted them. The Burmese arrested one woman who had a one-month old baby and her husband when they were running and staying in the forest. They beat the woman who had the baby. They accused them of being Kaw Thoo Lei and they tortured the wife as well as the husband. They beat them very seriously. They tied them, beat them, kicked them. They were accused of receiving visits from Kaw Thoo Lei [Karen soldiers]. I know her. Her name is Naw Blu and people called her husband Maung Kyaw. She is over 30 years old and her husband is maybe 38 or 39. I didn’t ask them their ages. I didn’t see the beatings but I saw the bruises on her face. I was only there for a short time and she told me about that. I saw her face black and bruised. They kicked her, slapped her face and insulted her. One side of her face was very swollen. She can see. It is a little better now. She tried to treat herself. Her husband, they beat him and kicked him. They tortured him so seriously that he couldn’t eat. They arrested them for one day and in the morning they released them. But because they’d tortured him so much, he didn’t even know anymore whether he’d been kicked or punched or stomped on. They kept asking things without giving them time to answer, just kick and ask and kick again. They didn’t even know how their faces had become so bruised. They didn’t do anything to the baby. Just the woman and the man.
Q: Did the SLORC ask them many questions?
A: They asked so many things and the couple explained everything. They told about the man who had a hunting gun. So the soldiers went to that man and beat him badly. His body was very seriously swollen, and his face was so swollen that he was nearly dead. Only because of that hunting gun. He gave the hunting gun to them but they were still beating him. He ran to the forest and came back again, and they tortured him again. When I arrived at the village, they’d already released him.
They tortured the man and the woman, the man with the hunting gun and another two. Of the other two, one man was very afraid and couldn’t answer any questions, so they beat him once. The other one, I don’t know how or why but they accused him of having relatives in Kaw Thoo Lei. They beat him twice. That happened three days before I arrived in the village.
Q: How many houses are there in the village?
A: More than 60, but now there are only 6 houses with people in them. The other villagers went to stay in other villages, in Saw Hta [Azin] and in this camp. Because they were afraid, they went to stay where there are a lot of people. The Burmese didn’t allow them to stay in Saw Hta and ordered them to stay in Meh K’Tee. But the villagers dared not stay in Meh K’Tee because there were only a few people there.
Q: What else happened when the SLORC came?
A: They destroyed some betelnut trees and coconut plantations. They cut them down and ate them all. They just cut them down to destroy them. There were a lot of coconuts in Meh K’Tee but now there are none left. I don’t know what they did with all the coconuts, but they took the betelnut to sell. They carried so much betelnut away with them. They shot some cattle for food. They ate all the chickens. They destroyed all the paddy and rice - they took it to the stream and poured it down. The people who stayed hadn’t had to give their rice yet, but all the rice of the people who fled they destroyed. I saw one of the pastors’ rice thrown away. Maybe they thought that something might be hidden in the rice. They threw it away in the river and along the road. They took some rice for themselves, some to sell, and the rest they threw away. [The purpose is to destroy food supplies so the villagers will be destitute and unable to feed Karen soldiers; unlike in the Tenasserim Division offensive, where SLORC soldiers are desperate for rice, in Dooplaya District their supply lines are better so they can simply destroy it.]
Now the villagers are afraid of the soldiers and they dare not go back. The soldiers move here and there all the time. They stay at Nat Zin Gone, on the way to Th’Waw Thaw [Sakanthit]. Some others stay at Htee Yu Kee sometimes, but when there are no villagers there they leave and go to Taw Th’Naw Kee, because villagers are staying there. The soldiers have no bunkers, just shelters and small holes for protection. Then they came to stay at Pa Klaw Kee. That is permanent, but they don’t build. Instead they stay in the villagers’ houses.
They don’t do anything to the houses where the owner still stays. But if the people have run away and the soldiers see their houses in good condition, they accuse the owners of being Kaw Thoo Lei. They [the soldiers] try to sell these houses, but nobody dares to buy them!
Q: Do the villagers have to work for the soldiers?
A: Yes. They have to work. They demand 2 villagers and one bullock cart each day. They use these to carry away so many things belonging to the villagers, like jerrycans, oil tins and bamboo baskets [everything left behind by those who have fled]. The people from Meh K’Tee have to go to Saw Hta [Azin] to work. The people from Nat Zin Gone have to show the way to the soldiers [do labour as guides/human shields].
Q: Do they have to be porters?
A: Yes. They have to carry food and other things. As for ammunition, I don’t know. Along the way the soldiers even take the hats off the villagers’ heads, then when they forget it in someone’s house they order the porters to go and get it back for them. The villagers have to carry to Saw Hta. If they are going further, other villagers have to carry the loads from there. In Meh K’Tee we don’t have to build the road, but in Kwih Kler the villagers have to do that.
Q: Why did you go back?
A: I went to see my house, and whether my possessions were still there or not. In my house there were only 2 or 3 pots. The rest had disappeared. Plates, spoons and food had disappeared. They destroyed part of my house, but not all of it. It was a wooden house. They destroyed all my betel-leaves. At Meh K’Tee Hta they burnt down completely the school, the church, and all the houses in the area around the junction of the roads. Not even one was left.
Q: Was it easy to go and come back between here and your village?
A: It is a very long way. We went on foot and had to climb hills up and down - about one day’s travel. But for the women and those with children, it takes about 3 days. We had to ask permission first from the Burmese. When we asked, they asked us detailed questions like, "Where are you going?" "What are you going to do?" Then they allowed us. It is hard on both sides [of the border]. We are afraid. On my way back some Burmese soldiers told me to call the refugees back. They said, "You know about Huay Kaloke and the other camps [burned and destroyed in January]. If you don’t come back, as soon as your houses are built the same will happen to this [Noh Po] camp." They frightened us that they would make trouble for the refugees. The conditions are not good on the Burmese side. There I was afraid all the time. Here too. I don’t know where to go. We are afraid all the time. Everywhere it is all the same!!
NAME: "Pa Noh" SEX: M AGE: 37 Karen Animist farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children
ADDRESS: H--- village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 24/3/97
Q: How long ago did the Burmese arrive in your village?
A: It’s over a month now. They took all the pots, pans, and other things. They ate up the villagers’ pigs, chickens, and bullocks, and they destroyed all the paddy and [husked] rice they saw. They took it out of the storage barns and poured it down on the ground to be trodden upon.
Q: What happened to K--- [a villager in H--- who was tortured]?
A: He is 22 years old. He is married and has his family staying there in the village. He is a farmer, and also a village guard [KNDO]. They punched him and they poured water in his nose, because somebody sent them information that he had a gun. They held him for 2 or 3 days. He was tied to the betelnut tree near his house. I didn’t see how they tied him but I could hear his crying and shouting. I dared not go to look. He was beaten for one night. He had to suffer seriously, his body was all swollen up and bruised. He had to give them the gun, which belongs to M---. That happened on the 17th or 18th of March.
At first I stayed in the village, but when I saw that he was beaten by the Burmese like that I ran away from the village. I saw him after he was beaten. I saw his wife gave him a hot formulation using medicated leaves.
After that they also tortured Tee Kay Pah - he is 30 years old. Also Saw Pu, Saw Aw Gaw, and Saw Bleh Doh [these were all men the SLORC captured and tortured for having fled the village]. They tortured Saw Aw Kaw first. Then they tortured Tee Kay Pah because he ran away and then came back to check the situation in the village, and they captured him and beat him up. Saw Bleh Doh, they captured him, punched him, then carried him down and tortured him for one whole night. He is 30 also. He is[normally] unhealthy and pale. After the torture he was swollen and bruised. He had a lot of pain, especially inside his body. He can’t eat much because of the pain.
At present, we in the village can’t do anything for ourselves because we always have to work for them. The villagers have to carry betelnut for them. The Burmese also take the planks from the houses of Indian people [Muslims] and then order the villagers’ bullock carts to haul them. When I was still in the village I saw them going and taking the paddy from the houses where the villagers had left and ordering the other villagers to carry it with their bullock carts. I think that they will take all that paddy and rice. They order the villagers to take all those things to Azin. Where they send it from there I don’t know, but when I was there the villagers had to carry the paddy to the rice mill to grind it for them. I don’t know what they will do with all that rice. They also take a lot of our chickens and other animals.
Q: Does the SLORC still stay in your village?
A: When I left the village they were there, but after that they went back and now they just come and check in the village sometimes. Yesterday when I was on my way here they were at Meh K’Tee, and after they tortured two or three people there they moved on to H--- village so I didn’t dare stay and I left. There’s one group who stay on the mountain and are always there. Every day 3 people have to go and carry water for the Burmese at Shwe Nyaung Bin, which is close to Meh Kwih Kee. The SLORC are building their camp on the hill and settling in Nat Zin Gone near Meh K’Tee.
Q: Was it difficult for you to come here?
A: It wasn’t easy to come here - I had to sleep in the forest for 2 days, and I had to climb the mountains. I was afraid and running alone, but my family stayed behind in the village. I think about going back to take my family but I am afraid - I dare not go and stay in my village because they beat people like that. They also destroyed our paddy and some of it they took for themselves. So far they haven’t done anything to the houses. There are 30 families and over a hundred people, but more people have come here than have stayed behind in the village. Just about 20 people or more have stayed in the village, from not more than 10 households. Now I heard that the Burmese force people to move to Toh Naw. I am not sure whether it is true or not, I only know that without their permission nobody can go anywhere freely. To come here we have to run out secretly.
Q: Do you think it is better here?
A: Yes, here we can talk to others and meet with others freely. There we dare not speak or talk to others because we are afraid we might be beaten by the SLORC.
NAME: "Saw Eh Kaw" SEX: M AGE: 36 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Single, 11 brothers and sisters
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 25/3/97
I fled to the forest, then I went back and stayed about two weeks in the village. I was staying in my village, then I got a pass because I had to go and work in the hills for three days [at his farm]. When I came back three or four soldiers came and arrested me at xxxx’s house in xxxx village. It was 7 o’clock in the evening. They tortured 2 of us while we were sitting in the house, then they let us go. They pointed a gun at me. He [the leader] was a First Sergeant Major and he carried a Chinese gun. I’ve heard people call him Ba Gyi. They are from #22 Division.
Then at midnight [the same night] two soldiers called me down from my house. I heard one of their names was Saw Mu Tha. They tortured me and asked me about a gun, and I said that I have no gun. They tied me up and punched me, and they covered my face with ordinary plastic and poured water over the plastic on my face. I couldn’t breathe. They covered my face and then asked me, covered my face and then asked me, they did it like that many times. I answered that I hadn’t seen any gun and I don’t have a gun, so that night they tied me up and made me sleep in the betelnut plantation.
The next day they kept asking me about guns. I said that I knew where they [KNLA or KNDO] used to keep the gun, but I didn’t know whether they’d taken it away or when they’d come and got it. [The SLORC were looking for a gun or arms cache which they knew was in or around the village. Like all the villagers, "Saw Eh Kaw" had a vague idea of where it had been at one point but didn’t really know about it.] I took them and showed them the place where the gun had been and they searched all around and saw nothing, so we went back. In the evening I told them that I would like to go for a bath, and then I ran away to the forest and came here by the old way. That was 1 or 2 weeks ago. My nose was bleeding and my mouth was split. I still have the scabs, and my lips still hurt because they’re not totally healed yet. After I came up here, I heard that many more villagers were tortured and beaten by the Burmese.
I was back there alone. When the SLORC arrived in the village my family and I fled to the forest and stayed at our farm near the village. At first all the villagers were staying in the forest. Then I went back to the village, got the pass and stayed with them for 3 days on the mountain. I went back because I wanted to get our belongings. My family was left alone at the farm for more than one week while I was at the village. After they arrested me and I ran away, my family and I moved here.
Q: What did you see when you were back in the village?
A: There were over 30 households in our village, but now only 12 households have gone back and are staying there. The Burmese chose a new headman by themselves, not our old headman. They usually do that, they choose someone who can speak Burmese. I heard the new headman say they were going to check the number of villagers [in order to assign forced labour and extortion quotas]. The SLORC destroyed our paddy and took the villagers’ clothes for themselves. They took the good things, like handwoven tehku and nee [men’s and women’s sarongs] and good cloth. If they get new clothing such as Karen dresses and sarongs they keep it for themselves. They keep our clothes for their families, but when they send it to them I don’t know if they’ll sell it or not. As for our rice, they keep as much as they can for themselves, and if they can’t take it they destroy it. Everything that they see out in the forest they destroy.
The Burmese make the villagers carry water and rice for them for three days at a time. They made us carry things from Tee Yoh Kee to Maw Hta, to Meh K’Tee or Nat Zin Gone with our bullock carts. It is 2 hours’ journey by bullock cart. Each person has to do that for three days, then come back and other people have to take his place. For those three days we have to carry all the time. Sometimes we have to carry on foot and sometimes with the bullock cart.
Q: Was it easy to come here?
A: It was easy because I knew the way. Most of the villagers have fled to the forest or to here.
Interviews Refugees from Far Southern Dooplaya
The following interviews are with Karen refugees who have fled the furthest south area of Dooplaya District, not far north of the Three Pagodas Pass-Thanbyuzayat road. Over 200 families managed to escape southward to another area. They testify that in Kyun Chaung village and the surrounding area, the SLORC registered all the villagers’ names and ordered them to go and bring back Karen soldiers to them, took all the villagers’ paddy and then rationed it back out to them, and forced the people to work building an Army camp which SLORC wants to establish in Kyun Chaung village, which used to be a KNU trading gate. Seven layers of fences are to be built around the camp, and the villagers have already built 3 of them. The villagers have to work day and night on this camp, and must also cut and haul big logs to build the camp bunkers. The work is being supervised by Capt. Aung Kyaw from LID #44.
NAME: "Saw Kloh Wah" SEX: M AGE: about 35 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children
ADDRESS: Kyun Chaung village, southern Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 2/4/97
["Saw Kloh Wah"’s village was in KNU-controlled territory, and was just occupied by SLORC in the current offensive.]
I have been here for 3 days. I came along with others and it took 3 days to get here. The situation in Kyun Chaung was so bad that I decided to leave. I am only a farmer. I always work in my field. Since the SLORC soldiers came to my village, we have had to work for them and serve them. They have been in our village for more than one month. At first they said, "Don’t flee from this village!" So we did not run away. Then they called all the villagers and listed down all the villagers’ names. Whatever they asked we had to give them, like chickens, food, etc. We had to supply bullock carts too. One day the commander came and asked me, "Where did you hide the weapons and the walkie-talkies?" Since then, my situation has become more dangerous. It was not true, of course, but they went to ask the village elders whether I was involved in those kind of activities or not. The village elders also told them "No". But in that situation, I didn’t dare stay any more in my village. So I left.
All the bullock carts had to be on standby for them. They collected one person from each house of the village and we had to go and get bamboo for their fences and their camp buildings.
Q: Where did people have to work?
A: At Chaung Wa [at the mouth of the stream]. It [the Army camp] is not finished yet. It was still going on when I left. At the beginning around 20 villages were working there. Now, when I left, there were less than before. We cannot work for them any more. Even if you don’t want to work for them they force you to do it, and not only in our village. They also collected workers from other villages. [These villagers were in KNU controlled area before the offensive and were not used to doing all this forced labour.] I didn’t work there myself because I was so busy with my family problems. The health of some of my family members was not so good. But I have brothers and I sent them to work there instead of my family [if your house cannot send someone, you have to send a substitute]. I never worked there so they thought that I didn’t obey their orders, and they became suspicious of me.
Q: How did the villagers have to work in their camp?
A: They had to go early every morning after their meal. Some of them took a lunch packet along with them. They could only come back in the evening. We had to go almost every day. When they started building we only needed to go two or three times a week, but now we have to go every day, the whole week.
The villagers were also ordered to bring all our paddy and food to a specific place. Then we had to go and get our food [rationed out] back from that place. All the villagers had to gather at that place and they redistribute some food, but it was not enough. All the villagers were facing food problems. Every family received only around two milk tins of rice [per day; only enough for 1 person]. We had to solve our food problems ourselves. When no food was left, we went and asked food from the soldiers. Sometimes they gave, but not always. And they also collected food for themselves from the villagers.
The situation of our paddy fields is also not good. Last year we got 120-150 baskets of paddy per acre. This year we only got 50. I had to buy more paddy for the coming rainy season. I have a large family. I have to try to get more.
Q: Did they take porters in your village?
A: Yes. When they go on operation to search for insurgents, two or three villagers have to go along with them and they have not been released yet.
Q: Do you know the battalion number? Did you see their badges?
A: I saw the number "4", a tiger’s head and the bandoola sign [Bandoola was a famous Burmese general who fought the British during the colonisation of Burma], and above that, 3 and 4. People told me that some troops who surrendered to the SLORC came along with them [possibly soldiers from KNLA Battalion 16 who surrendered]. I don’t know whether this is true or not.
I cannot estimate exactly how many soldiers came to our village, maybe 500 or 600. There was no fighting between them and KNU. There was one KNU gate in Kyun Chaung area. A few KNU soldiers were there, around 5 or 6. When SLORC entered the village, all of them ran away. Then when the villagers came back from their farms, they met SLORC soldiers. They were about to run away but the SLORC soldiers shouted: "Don’t run away! Don’t be afraid! We will not harm you, people!" They ordered the villagers to stand in a row and registered all the villagers’ names. At the beginning our situation was not so bad, but later they became cruel and it became worse and worse, day by day. So we left. At the beginning they didn’t force us to do anything, but later on they collected one person from each family to do jobs for them. Some people from our village moved to the plains but others didn’t know how and where to go. These villagers are remaining in the village and they are suffering. They are still working in their camp. If we move to the plains, they allow it but we are not supposed to move up here.
In our village, whenever they suspect someone they arrest him. Two or three villagers were arrested and beaten. I never did their building work, so the man in charge of the camp construction became suspicious of me. My situation became worse and worse. So I left my family and my village. We came here by ourselves through the jungle. I came with 3 friends but without my family. On the way, we met SLORC soldiers once but we ran away. My family will be coming. One of my babies was sick. Their situation is also very bad. All of them are in fear. After I left the soldiers warned and threatened my family. They told them, "We are going to burn down your house and seize all your paddy and belongings!" There is no more head in my household, so they are helpless and they also have to come here. My wife is coming with our 4 children. I don’t know where they are now. They are coming by a different way and I don’t know what will happen to them. I cannot say what will happen in the future.
Q: Did other villages have to move?
A: Yes, like Min Ski, above Kyun Chaung. There were 80 houses in Min Ski. Some people from Min Ski have already moved to other places to work for their living. There were two villages above Min Ski Chaung. Min Ski is big. The other one has around 40 houses. The villagers were divided into two: Buddhists and Christians. They had to move to Ya Gyi. The SLORC ordered that all the villagers had to move within one week along with all of their property, but the villagers could not organise everything within that amount of time. I don’t know what will happen to them.
Every village now has SLORC troops. Min Ski, too. And Meh T’Kreh as well. People there have to work for them [SLORC]. Also in Kyone Done. Wherever the SLORC is posted, people have to build their camps. I heard they are building camps in Kyun Chaung, Min Ski, Meh T’Kreh, and Kyone Done. Their main camp is in Kyun Chaung. Most of them came from Meh T’Kreh and are posted in this area. They have to go and get their supplies from Meh T’Kreh. It takes them 8 days’ return trip to get their rations. But their main base camp is in Kyun Chaung.
When the SLORC arrived in Kyun Chaung, there were around 200 porters with them. Maybe 1 or 2 for each soldier. Some porters had to carry ammunition. The man who came along with me [to the refugee site - see below], he had to carry ammunition boxes. Some porters had to carry rice, one big tin. It was very difficult to climb up and down the mountains with the loads. They had to carry very heavy loads. He was arrested to be a porter and put in the lock up in Kyun Chaung. When the troops went on operation, he had to be a porter along with others. He couldn’t carry any more and then he was beaten. They abandoned him as dead and he escaped. So now out of 3 villagers, two are still remaining in the lockup in Kyun Chaung.
Q: Any troubles with DKBA in your area?
A: No. It is very difficult to find them! They didn’t arrive. Well, I heard that 4 local people were with the SLORC soldiers but I don’t know much about that.
["Saw Kloh Wah" gave the following account of the escaped porter with whom he fled the area:]
His name is "Saw Bway". He is Karen. He lives in Naw Ta Thaw, in Kya In township. He is single and about 20 years old. When I met him I asked him, "What happened to your shoulders?" [his shoulders and his back had bad scars] and he explained everything to me. It was because of the heavy load. So he fled. He was arrested when he was catching fish above Kyun Chaung area, 2 miles away from his village. He didn’t tell me which battalion. They took him to Kyun Chaung along with 3 other people and put them in the lockup. He was there for 12 days. There, they fed him only rice and fishpaste. Sometimes salt. The other villagers in the lockup got the same food as him. Then he had to go collect bullock carts for them. They kept these villagers tied with a rope, then after 2 or 3 days they put them in the lockup in Kyun Chaung again. Whenever they need them for anything they take them out again.
The soldiers took him along into the jungle when they were looking for insurgents and forced him to carry ammunition boxes, 2 boxes [extremely heavy]. Other porters had to carry rice and also mortar launchers. He told me that an old man aged about 60 years old was also carrying. He said that the old man was going to die. When he was climbing the mountain, all the limbs of his body were shaking. He couldn’t carry anymore. "Saw Bway" was a porter for two days, then he escaped from the soldiers and went back the same way they came from. He dropped his load and hid for some time. I met him after two days and he hadn’t eaten anything for these 2 days. I offered him some food. I brought him here. He doesn’t dare go back.
NAME: "Saw Po Htoo" SEX: M AGE: 67 Karen Christian church elder
FAMILY: Widower, 2 children
ADDRESS: Kyone Yaw village, Kya In township INTERVIEWED: 2/4/97
Q: When did you arrive here?
A: I arrived 5 days ago.
Q: Why did you leave your village?
A: We left because we could not live and we could not eat. Because our rice was all taken and we had to go and ask for our rice back, weighed out on a scale little by little. We had to climb high mountains with heavy loads. So we couldn’t stay, we didn’t dare stay anymore and we left.
Q: Who collected your rice?
A: The Burmese soldiers. They came one month and 6 days ago. They made us collect all of our rice. They caught the chickens and the pigs to eat and they destroyed our belongings and animals. They surrounded our village, gathered us together in one place, and then they took all of our animals to eat and destroy. They hurt us also - even the Pastor couldn’t stay at home, he had to run out and hide himself in the forest. They used us to do hard work and carry heavy loads until we couldn’t do it any more, so we left.
They hurt some people. I saw it. They beat us on our faces, punched us and made us do hard work like cattle or buffalos. Whatever they ordered we had to do. We had to clear a yard for them, dig holes, and climb the mountain to look for Karen soldiers. If we couldn’t find any, they told us that we were telling them lies and hurt us. They didn’t do anything to the women, but they were very dangerous for the men. I don’t know what they would have done to the women if there were no men in the village.
Q: How many people were beaten?
A: A lot of people who were caught. They caught me and bound me for a while, and while I was there I saw what they did so I felt afraid and escaped later before they beat me. They tied our necks with rope, so I didn’t dare to stay. I didn’t see everybody, but with my own eyes I saw them beat 20 people. With their feet they kicked, with their hands they beat people’s faces and with their guns they beat us. They also beat us with bamboo and wood, and they took the stairs from our houses and beat us with them. [Karen houses are built above-ground with a ladder-like stairway of wood or bamboo up to them.] If we couldn’t find Karen soldiers they hurt us. If we couldn’t climb high mountains with heavy loads they hurt us. They also killed some people. Two people were killed. I didn’t see it with my own eyes, but the escaped porter told me that they were killed on the mountain among the rocks. I don’t know their names. They were villagers in Kya In township. They felt so tired until they couldn’t climb the mountain with their heavy loads any more. They fell down, so the Burmese soldiers kicked them and made them stand up again. Eventually they couldn’t stand up again, so the Burmese soldiers killed them in the end. They shot them dead and continued their journey. That happened 3 days after the Burmese arrived at my village.
Q: Is that the first time SLORC has arrived in your village?
A: The very first time for my village. They were from 44 Division. Our village covers a wide area but there were about 40 houses in it. They ordered us to build a place [camp] for them, build shelters and dig toilets for them, dig holes for cover, clear a yard, and make 4 or 5 concentric rings of fences surrounding their place. We had to go and dig every day, from when they first came until now. It’s still not finished. It’s a very wide place. They kept us all together a little apart from their place. We had to work every day for them, and we had to bring our own rice to eat for many days because they never gave us any food, and they never care about our hunger. There’s no time left for us to do our own work. They caught every man to do the work. They didn’t catch women because there were still many men in the village, but I can’t say what will happen when all the men escape from the place.
We had to work early in the morning until late in the evening with no rest. When we were too slow they didn’t beat us, but they shouted at us to hurry up. At night some people could sleep and others had to work. They called us by turns. The people on night duty had to live in their camp until we rotated. I had to work in the night for 3 nights. I had to stay until someone came to replace me. We had to work for them every night and day. It was hard work. Now my cart is left there with the Army. I’ll never go back to get my cart and belongings any more. There are about 500 soldiers there now, I guess.
Q: How did they collect your rice for the first time?
A: They collected all of our paddy on the first day they arrived. They ordered us to bring our paddy to them and to build a building for our own paddy. They ordered us to bring all of our paddy to their camp together because they said they didn’t want us to feed Karen soldiers. They said if we keep our paddy in our own homes, the Karen soldiers will come and eat and it would give strength to Karen soldiers. So we have to beg our rice back from them, weighed by scale little by little. We must buy it back from them, our own paddy. They would never give it back to us for free. We had to pay 10 Kyats for 8 milktins of paddy, or 160 Kyats for 2 big tins. They keep it in their camp, and they only give you 1 big tin [about 15 kg.] each time. When it is gone we must go to them again.
They wrote down the villagers’ names and also the names of the people who brought their paddy to them. They went around finding out how many people are in each family and writing it down. Many villagers ran away and hid in the forest, but the soldiers tried to look for them and catch them. Some people escaped, but only men. They left their children and wives, ran to the forest with their rice and hid there, and they felt great trouble. [The men flee to avoid torture and forced labour, while the women and children hope to be treated better and stay behind to try to protect their home, land and belongings.]
Some families fled to other places, and some came here. Some families here are from my village, and some are from Lay Wah Ploh - it is very close to my village. We didn’t come the same way because we didn’t dare to wait for each other. We feared that the soldiers would see us. They would catch us if they saw us.
Q: Why did you choose this place to come and stay?
A: Because we knew this place and thought we could get food here. We walked one day to get here. We travelled at night, and we ran quickly when we crossed the[Thanbyuzayat-Three Pagodas Pass] road. We worried that if we went to other places we would have no food to eat. We had never gone to Thailand before so we dared not go there, and also we didn’t know how to go there. We heard that in this place our white younger brothers and sisters take care of the people, so we came [in Karen legend, the caucasian is the younger sibling of the Karen people]. If they didn’t take care of us, we would die. So I came to cry unto them for help. Please have mercy upon us.
Q: Now that you are here do you want to go back again?
A: We think we will stay here and not go back any more. If we can’t stay here we will continue our travels but never go back. Everybody is afraid in our village.
Q: What do you hope for the future?
A: We hope to stay here.
NAME: "Saw Nee Taw Thaw" SEX: M AGE: 18 Karen Christian farmer
ADDRESS: Kyone Yaw village, southern Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 2/4/97
Q: When did you leave your village?
A: One week ago. I’m from Kyone Yaw. I came here because I was afraid of the SLORC. They captured me as a porter and I had to carry things for them and climb the mountains. When I couldn’t carry things for them they beat me, so when we reached the mountain I ran away.
Q: Did they beat you hard?
A: Yes, they beat me very hard. I was in pain. They beat me with their hands while they pointed their guns at me. I just had to bear that, so later I ran away. When I was with them I didn’t see anyone killed by them, but I saw them beat other people very hard with a stick. After beating them, they ordered the people to carry. We had to carry very far and climb the mountains, and if we couldn’t climb we were beaten by the soldiers. They wouldn’t put any medicine on my wound, or on the wounds of other porters. They would kill us if we couldn’t carry their ammunition and food. There were about 30 porters and 100 soldiers. They were from #44 [Light Infantry] Division.
Q: Did they see you when you were escaping?
A: Yes, they saw me along the path and they shot at me 2 or 3 times. I didn’t go home, I ran straightaway to here. It took me 4 days.
Q: What do you think about the future? Will you stay here or go back?
A: I’ll stay here. I don’t want to go back. If the situation is good I’ll go back, but if the enemy doesn’t leave I won’t go back to the village.
Q: Where are your parents?
A: In Kyone Yaw. My mother is old. I think they can’t leave. [Note: his parents have no way of knowing where he is, or even whether he is still alive.]
NAME: "Moo Nay" SEX: M AGE: 40 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 7 children
ADDRESS: Lay Wah Ploh village, Kya In township INTERVIEWED: 2/4/97
Q: When did you arrive here?
A: 3 days ago. The Burmese soldiers forced us to do hard work for them and hurt us. We were afraid of them so we ran away.
Q: When did the Burmese soldiers arrive at your village?
A: One month and six days ago. They came around our village and took my rice and animals to eat. After that they called us together and forced us to work hard for them, doing things like fencing the place where they will settle down, digging holes for them to protect themselves, and clearing all the bushes from their place. We also had to cut a lot of bamboo and carry it to them. It wasn’t in my village - we had to go and do all these things in Kyone Yaw every day. Other villagers also. Every village must do it. I had to work in the hot sun all day for them carrying heavy things. It was hard work, but they allowed no period to rest. They didn’t beat me, but they shouted at me. I worked there for 3 days. They gathered us together, wrote down our names, and then 20 people had to go and work for them each day, for 3 days at a time.
Lay Wah Ploh village has 53 houses. They divided our 20 people into two groups. One group had to cut and carry the bamboo and the other group had to work in their camp digging the holes, cleaning the camp, etc. They didn’t call porters, but they ordered us to bring our carts to them and they used our carts as well as our bullocks.
Q: Did they hurt any people in your village?
A: Yes - they hurt this man here [see following interview]. He had to guard the carts. They didn’t tie him but they beat him.
Q: Did they also collect the villagers’ rice?
A: For now they didn’t collect our paddy, but they forced us to build a building to hold our paddy in our headman’s garden. They ordered that one week ago. As for me, I didn’t do that but ran away to escape.
Q: Did your family come together with you?
A: Yes, we went out together at night time. All night and all the next day we were walking from our place to here. When we were walking we hoped to get to a safe place. We thought that this place would be a safe place for us, so we came here.
Q: What do you hope for the future of you and your family?
A: If we can stay here we will stay. If we can’t stay here we will go forward, but we will never go back to our village. I’m not sure if this place is safe, I don’t know, but if we have to move again we will. That is my decision.
NAME: "Saw Kenyaw" SEX: M AGE: 56 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 5 children
ADDRESS: Lay Wah Ploh village, Kya In township INTERVIEWED: 2/4/97
I arrived here 3 days ago, with my family. There were a few families still in the village, but most have left the village. They left after the SLORC arrived. The soldiers captured me, I was the first one captured. Then we had to stay in Lay Wah Ploh village for 3 days, with one cart. After that they called me to Kyone Yaw village. They were joking with me. They asked me, "Are you a Ringworm? You are a big Ringworm. You are the Great Eagle of the Ringworms!" ["Ringworm" (nga pway) is a derogatory SLORC name for Karen soldiers.] I told them, "Go ahead and cut my throat." So they said, "We will kill you within the next 3 hours." After 3 hours he came and said he was just joking, he wouldn’t kill me. He said, "The ringworm, when they see us they just smile and we don’t realise, and then they kill us. The one who smiles like you is the one who can kill us." ["Saw Kenyaw" smiles and jokes a lot.]
Then he didn’t tie me up, but he kept me held in a house with 5 other captives. All 5 of us had been captured at the same time. There was no floor, we had to stay on the ground. One room was for the bullock-cart driver and the other room was for us. [The bullock-cart driver was probably the cart owner being forced to do labour with his cart, while the other 5 were suspected ‘ringworms’.] They asked many questions but I don’t remember all of it. They kept saying and accusing that we were ‘ringworms’. They tried to threaten us and claim that we are their enemies, which is not true.
Q: Did they threaten you when they were asking the questions?
A: Yes, one aimed his gun at me while the other questioned me. They took a knife and shaved my scalp 3 times [shaving his hair off] and they sawed the knife back and forth across my throat. They beat me three times on my head and three times on my leg. When they shaved my head it bled. It was very painful, but I just had to bear it.
I don’t know how many hours it was, but at 2 p.m. we had to go. After beating me it was time to leave. Then we had to take them to Meh T’Pret village to get their rations - rice, milk, and sugar. We had to send them and carry it all with the bullock cart. It took 8 days to go there.
Q: Why did you flee your village?
A: I left because I was afraid that they would catch me and force me to work for them again. I left separately from the other villagers, but we met on the way.
NAME: "Saw Tamla Htoo" SEX: M AGE: 60 Karen Christian hill farmer
FAMILY: Married, 7 children
ADDRESS: Meh T’Li village, southern Dooplaya District INTERVIEWED: 2/4/97
I’ve been here for 3 weeks now. The reason that I left my village is because everything was all mixed up. We were living in a little group here and another group there and our houses were in their path. The SLORC Army came and the Karen Army came and passed through our village. When they crossed paths there was fighting, and we feared the crossfire would hit us so we had to flee our village. Before there was no fighting, only starting last year and this year the fighting came. There was fighting last month in March, and there was also fighting in December and January in our village. Meh T’Li is about 6 miles from Kyun Chaung - it is 2 hours’ walk.
Our village was KNU area because there was a gate there. SLORC often came to the village even when the KNU stayed there. When the SLORC came last month they occupied the village, but when they were leaving the Karen soldiers came back, and when the Karen soldiers attacked with great force SLORC ran away. The villagers ran and dived and took shelter under the houses and trees and beside the stream. The Burmese didn’t like it when the villagers ran away far from them. They said to us not to run away, just to stay close to them [as a shield, and not to go and tell the KNLA where the SLORC were positioned].
Now the SLORC is in the village. When they came they called all the villagers who were staying at their hill farms, up the streams and hiding in the bush to come back and stay in the village. They said to the villagers, "If you are good people come and live in the village and we won’t do anything to you", so the villagers came back and stayed in the village. But the KNDO Karen told us not to go back. Now that the SLORC has occupied the village, the KNDO ran away to other places. When there was no more fighting, some villagers went back and stayed near the road. The SLORC said that if any fighting starts they won’t differentiate between the civilians and the soldiers, they will shoot everyone.
We were there and waited to see what the SLORC would do. Then the SLORC started taking all the property and valuables from the villagers and burning their houses, and they ate all the chickens and pigs that they found. Even the cattle, they shot them dead and ate them. While I was there they took all the clothes and threw them around all over the place. We didn’t dare say anything to them. From my house they took all the clothing that was good and all the rice that they found. They took 8 big tins of rice [about 125 kg./250 lb.] and all the chickens. My house was close to the road so they took everything. They took everything from all the people whose houses were close to the road.
Q: Did they take all the rice and put it into one place?
A: No, they did not do that.
Q: How many houses are there in your village?
A: There are three areas in the village. Before we had to flee there were more than 100 houses in Meh T’Li village, but now some of the villagers hide up the streams and some stay in Lay Mine Hta, some stay in Htee Kay Kee and some of them stay in Meh T’Li Kee, they are all scattered. Now there are only 20 families on the northern side and 6 families where I live. The others have all fled up the stream or down the stream, or they’ve run away to other villages like Lay Mine Hta, Meh T’Li Kee and Htee Kay Kee.
Q: Since the SLORC occupied the village have they asked the villagers to do anything?
A: The SLORC orders them to dig trenches, build their barracks, fence their base, carry water and cut wood. The SLORC asked them to build the post in Ah Grime - that is between Meh T’Li and Ah Ploh. Three people from my village have to go, and others from Ah Ploh, Lay Po and Ler Say villages. My son had to go for 3 days. They had to take their own food. He had to take his own tools. He had to fence the barracks. There were about 20 or 30 villagers there. There are more than 100 soldiers staying there. The villagers had to cut and carry the materials to build the fence. For example, if they have 10 villagers from Ah Ploh then 5 of them have to cut three big bamboo each and the other 5 have to stay with the soldiers in their post [building the fence]. For three days 3 villagers had to go from our village, then another 3 villagers had to replace them for the next 3 days. All of those who went were men.
Q: Did they demand any porters?
A: Yes, they called for porters when they came, but the people who stay near the road they didn’t even call, they just arrested them all and took them. Then they beat and kicked them.
Q: When the SLORC came to occupy the village did they come with porters from other places?
A: Yes, the porters came with them, the porters ran to escape and came to eat rice at my house.
Q: Since the SLORC occupation can the villagers move around freely?
A: No, if they want to go to other villages they have to ask permission from the military authorities for a 3-day pass. Their names are noted down, and after 3 days they have to report back personally.
Q: Has there been any fighting since the SLORC occupation?
A: Yes, there was fighting a week ago outside the village between the SLORC and the KNU. Sometimes when the KNDO comes to the village and then SLORC comes too there is fighting, and none of them are wounded but the villagers die instead of them, so we left the village. The KNDO said, "Because you are living with the enemy this means you sympathise with them, so when there is fighting we must shoot you also. We told you to get out of the village, so if something happens to you it is your own fault." [Note: this goes against KNU policy. It shows a bad KNDO officer, possibly made worse by the frustration the current SLORC offensive has created in much of the Karen military.]
Q: Did you have any difficulties coming here?
A: It was very difficult to come here, we couldn’t follow the main route. We came the Meh T’Li Kee way, and we had to climb many mountains. KNDO was along the main route and the SLORC were also going along that route, so we were afraid that if there was fighting between them we would be caught in the crossfire and wouldn’t know which way to run. So we took a roundabout route which was further but safer. We came here because the SLORC are all over our area and we hadn’t heard of the SLORC attacking here, and because we heard that we could get food here through people’s mercy. I couldn’t bring any blankets, just one cooking pot and only 3 of our children. All our clothes and belongings were taken by the SLORC, we had nothing left there and no way to make our living, so whatever the problems will be here I left my village and came to stay here. If I am allowed to stay here I will stay, and if not I will go on to some other place, but if there is peace I would like to go back to my own village because I still have my land there. SLORC can take our belongings and burn down our houses, but even they cannot take and carry our land away.
NAME: "Naw May Oo Paw" SEX: F AGE: 21 Karen Buddhist
FAMILY: Married, no children
ADDRESS: Kaw Za village, Kyaik Maraw township (near Mudon) INTERVIEWED: 3/4/97
["Naw May Oo Paw" arrived at the Thai border on 2 April 1997. Her village is not directly in the path of the offensive, but it has still been affected.]
I left Kaw Za village about 10 days ago. The Burmese Army are collecting taxes in the village. We are forced to pay, otherwise they threaten us. Even the village elders have to follow their orders. SLORC collects rice and other food from the villagers and we have to send 4 or 5 bullock carts loaded with food for them. We also have to send porters through a lottery system. Children also have to do that. In my village, there are about 300 to 400 houses. Sometimes they demand 10 porters, sometimes 6. Our village head doesn’t want to send people, so he needs to pay bribes to the soldiers. He collected the money, 10,000 Kyats from each household[possibly for the whole year]. The Karen soldiers also demanded porters. We have to send 2 villagers twice a week according to the draw system. If someone doesn’t want to go, he has to pay some money. Occasionally, SLORC soldiers came and asked for paddy, 5 tins [about 15 kg. per tin] from each house.
Q: And during the current offensive against 6th Brigade [Dooplaya District]?
A: Same as before. The KNLA also collects soldiers, the same as before. It is the same as usual. During the offensive, the Karen soldiers came and asked for food. The headman didn’t give it to them so they looted it from the villagers.
SLORC also came, took food and collected some porters. When they entered the village, all the men had to flee and hide. Then they arrested even the children. Even if we had already given money for porter fees, they still came to collect people.
Both of them [SLORC and KNLA] always come to our village. Sometimes they meet. So the village elders have to go and request SLORC as well as KNLA not to fight in our village. SLORC does not have complete control over our village. They said, "If we see Karen soldiers in the village, we are going to burn it down and make it like an ashtray". The Karen soldiers are afraid of SLORC burning down the village, and they allow the villagers to leave for a short time when the SLORC arrives.
On xx March when I was coming back from Moulmein hospital, along the road I saw two truckloads of soldiers, two truckloads of porters, one truckload of dogs [possibly to search for landmines] and one truck loaded with mules for carrying things.
Then after I got back, I met two porters near a rubber plantation in Lakasai village. One of them had been injured in his cheeks by a knife. He could not speak at all. The other one was injured on his nose. He could speak. He said to me, "Please help us!" I was afraid of them. It was night time. I asked them, "How can I help you? Where have you come from?" He said, "We were arrested in Moulmein." I didn’t ask them their names. Both of them were from Moulmein. They were Burman. I didn’t ask their ages, but maybe around 30. He said he was arrested in Moulmein market when his wife was selling things. "I was arrested when I went to give a lunch box to my wife", he told me. The other one [who could not speak] was also arrested in the market. All of them were arrested, tied with a rope and then they had to work on the road construction near Kyone Done. They took them by truck to the construction site near Kyone Done. Some of them fell sick and some died. They got nothing to eat. The SLORC soldiers only fed them some banana stems. This one man was stabbed in his cheeks and fell down in the valley. Another man who remained at the top of the hill had his throat cut.
Q: Why were they tortured like that?
A: They had no food to give to the labourers, so they wanted them to die. The villagers became a burden for them. I think these 2 men complained to the soldiers that they had no food to eat so a cruel soldier stabbed one of them in his cheeks so that he could not eat, and cut the other on his nose.
I offered them some food. After the meal, he said that they wanted to go to the hospital. He had no money. His family was arrested too. He had no money to pay for the treatment. So I gave them 2,000 Kyats and took them to the hospital. First I brought the men to Lakasai. When we arrived at the car road, we went to the hospital by passenger truck. I requested the nurse to arrange care for them and to write a letter to their parents. One of them needed blood. Then I went back home. I didn’t ask how long they were taken for [as porters]. I didn’t ask any other questions because my duty was just to get them to hospital.
After that, when I went to Kyauk Kweh I met another porter who had escaped from the SLORC soldiers. He had lost his way near Kyauk Kweh. I didn’t see any injury on his body. He said that he was tortured, so he fled. He said, "I didn’t have enough food and no water to drink. I had to drink my own urine." I asked him, "Where are you going back to?" He said to xxxx. He was a porter and the Burmese soldiers tortured him. That’s why he ran away. He was an old man. He said he had some children.
The Ya Wa Ta [Village LORC] authorities ordered that all the people who possess a television and video set must show two video tapes [generally, the only people who own such equipment are those who run public cinema houses]. If they don’t show these video tapes, the authorities will seize the video equipment. My mother told me to go and see these video tapes. One tape shows Karen soldiers and Burmese soldiers killing each other with many casualties on both sides [this is to promote the new SLORC line calling everyone to "exchange arms for peace", i.e. surrender, as shown on TV Myanmar and in the New Light of Myanmar]. The second one was the surrendering ceremony of Karen soldiers [Tha Muh Heh and some troops from KNLA #16 Battalion, when Tha Muh Heh went on his knees before SLORC General Maung Aye and Maung Aye walked on the Karen flag]. I don’t know the name of the commander. In that tape, I saw a lot of weapons surrendered. There was one Karen Buddhist monk shown in Kyaikdon, and it said that when somebody wants to surrender to the SLORC, he will inform the SLORC for them.
Q: Is Kaw Za village a Karen village?
A: Yes, mainly Karen. Mostly Buddhist. Only 10 Burmese households are living there. Nobody surrendered to the SLORC in my village.
Q: Is DKBA in your village?
A: Usually it is the SLORC Army that comes to our village - sometimes even a SLORC Intelligence man, disguised as a blanket-seller. Those with the yellow headband[DKBA] usually come and ask for money, chicken and food. The headman cannot collect everything for them so he gives the things himself [from his own possessions, not from the villagers].
Q: What is the feeling in your village?
A: At night time we have to hide and sleep in other places. We do not sleep in our own houses. Sometimes the SLORC troops and the Karen soldiers are shooting at each other, and sometimes they rob our village.
Q: When you fled, did you see many soldiers along the way?
A: I saw many Burmese soldiers along the Thanbyuzayat-Three Pagodas Pass road but I didn’t see any Karen soldiers. The Burmese soldiers collected 1,000 Kyats from each [passenger] truck. They also shot a passenger truck. I saw two burnt cars and one bullock cart along the road, on the way to Thanbyuzayat near xxxx. In my truck there were 4 soldiers but in all the others there were many more soldiers. So I asked a soldier, "Oh Uncle! Why are those cars all burnt?" "We shot them", he replied. Then I asked: "Why did you shoot?" "We shot at the Karen soldiers. Unfortunately some civilians were also wounded. We couldn’t give them treatment so we shot them", he explained to me. Then I spoke to an old man: "Oh Uncle! How many were killed?" He said, "An old woman was shot in the back of her head and died on the spot. Some of her relatives also died."
The Tenasserim Offensive
Just before launching its offensive in Dooplaya District, the SLORC launched a similar mass offensive in Tenasserim Division of southern Burma, hoping to capture strongly KNU-controlled territory along the Tenasserim and Paw Kloh valleys, and the entire strip of territory between the Tenasserim River and the Thai border. In early February, SLORC troops were already conducting mass roundups of civilians all along the Andaman seaboard, from Moulmein (capital of Mon State) southward to Ye, Tavoy and beyond. Troops surrounded Moulmein town market and other markets and captured all adult men, rounded up men on their way out of video halls and other gathering places, and even set up checkpoints along the main north-south road between Ye and Tavoy to stop passenger vehicles and capture all able-bodied men. The attack force, much of it from #55 LID, set out from Tavoy area and moved eastward, capturing Myitta at the junction of the Tenasserim and Paw Kloh rivers on 8 February 1997. The force then split into three groups, one pushing southward up the Paw Kloh River, one to the northeast toward Tho Ka at the Thai border (just south of the planned gas pipeline route), and the third and largest force continuing eastward and then southward down the Tenasserim River. The first force captured the entire Paw Kloh valley before the end of February, but the force trying to head down the Tenasserim River encountered stiff resistance and sustained very high casualties. The terrain in Tenasserim is much more rugged, forested and sparsely populated than most of the offensive areas in Dooplaya District, giving the Karen forces an advantage.
The attack force in the Tenasserim valley split into two groups, one sweeping southward along the Thai border and a second force taking a parallel route southward along the Tenasserim River and adjacent valleys. As in Dooplaya District, SLORC clearly wanted the border sealed against the escape of refugees. KNLA 4th Brigade headquarters at Minthamee Hta and Minthamee Kee fell on 25 and 26 February respectively. The SLORC forces then headed further south, sometimes using Thai territory, while another force came eastward from Mergui to take positions further south on the Tenasserim River. Fighting is still going on several hours’ journey to the south of the former 4th Brigade headquarters.
The situation in the Paw Kloh valley was similar to Dooplaya - some refugees managed to escape across the hills to the east to reach the Tenasserim River valley, but the Paw Kloh fell so quickly that many people were trapped there. The strong resistance put up against the SLORC force heading down the Tenasserim River valley allowed most of the villagers in the upper Tenasserim valley to flee to Thailand, but many were then forced back by the Thai Army into vulnerable areas of Burma just slightly further south. South of the 4th Brigade headquarters the offensive bogged down, with strong resistance and most of the troops’ supply lines overextended and cut off. However, the force following the border then moved 10 km. further south through Thai territory to attack the KNLA from behind, and shortly thereafter the force following the river managed to move undetected through terrain just west of the river and suddenly appeared a long way further south, in the area of Tee Neh Paw and Way Toh Ray. Thousands of displaced people were still in this area and suddenly had to flee for their lives for the Thai border, including many refugees who had previously been forcibly repatriated by the Thai 9th Division. This flight was so sudden that there were even instances of children, the elderly and the sick being left behind to the mercy of the SLORC troops.
Due to heavy fighting, difficulty of terrain and difficulty of access, there is as yet relatively little information available as to the behaviour of SLORC troops on entering villages. Most information indicates that upon capturing each village, if there was any resistance encountered then the troops burn all or part of the village and torture or execute some of the villagers. For example, there are reports from several sources that when they reached Kaneh Khoh village in the Paw Kloh valley, SLORC troops captured 12 women and took them to Ler Muh village. After there was fighting in Ler Muh village, the 12 women were all raped and killed as a retaliation, including Naw Kri May, 25, who was raped in front of her husband and family by 3 soldiers and then executed with a knife. If there is no resistance encountered on entering a village, the troops are reportedly under orders not to destroy the village but they often do anyway. Villagers who are caught outside villages face possible execution or at least conscription as porters, while villagers found in their villages must depend on luck - their treatment depends on the mood of the troops. Women porters have been sighted with SLORC troops at Amla, Minthamee Kee and other locations. It is important to emphasise that these troops are somewhat desperate due to the fact that their supply lines are not functioning; many of them are no longer receiving any rations or supplies, and they are hungry. SLORC units have crossed into Thailand and demanded rice and porters from the Thai Army 9th Division. While not supplying them any porters, the 9th Division is now supplying some of the attack force with rice.
Those fleeing to Thailand have faced abuse and humiliation by the Thai Army 9th Division. When the first floods of refugees flooded across the border at Bong Ti, on 26 February the 9th Division sent back all boys and men aged 10 and above directly into a combat zone, telling them to "fight or surrender". Then over 800 others, mainly the women and children who remained, were told they would be taken to a safer place in Thailand and put on trucks, which then drove them southward to the Thai village of Na Hay where they were summarily pushed back across the border to Hta Ma Pyo Kee by Thai troops. The 9th Division has conducted similar repatriations further north at Tho Ka and Tee Lai Pa (with Dooplaya refugees from Tee Hta Baw). Fortunately, international pressure appears to have put a temporary stop to such actions. However, those fleeing across the border are still facing great insecurity, as Thai authorities continue to insist they are going to be repatriated and the Thai 9th Division is actively spreading disinformation in the camps (which are closed to most outside access) that the fighting is over and the SLORC troops have withdrawn from the refugees’ home villages. The refugees are not allowed to build any semi-permanent structure, and many have been living in the dirt under a plastic sheet in unshaded farmfields for over a month, during a time when the weather varied between daily rains and blazing sun.
Many of the villagers are still trapped in the villages and forests between constantly moving SLORC patrols, and their future is uncertain as the rainy season approaches. Many of these people were already internally displaced by SLORC’s forced relocation campaign which began in September 1996. Between September and January, relocation orders were given to almost every village between the Tavoy-Mergui-Kawthaung car road in the west and the Tenasserim River in the east, from Palauk in the north to Tenasserim town in the south - an area measuring about 120 km. north-south and 30 km. east-west, containing at least 35-40 villages ranging in size from 20-150 households [see "Free-Fire Zones in Southern Tenasserim", a KHRG report to be released shortly]. This region lies just west and south of the main offensive areas. The villages there had already been declared as free-fire zones before the offensive began; most villagers were living in hiding, while several hundred had fled eastward to the Tenasserim valley, where they were staying in villages which have now been overrun by SLORC as part of the offensive. Many of these people have been on the run non-stop for 9 months already, with no end yet in sight. Their home areas remain free-fire zones. Though these areas were not included in the offensive, it is likely that once SLORC secures the Tenasserim valley it will sweep these areas for villagers as well.
Consolidating its control over this region will be much harder for SLORC than it will be in Dooplaya District, because of the difficulties of terrain, supply, and lower civilian population. There are no good roads to Burmese coastal towns, and this part of the Tenasserim River is fast, dangerous and only navigable by small motorized canoes. Part of the reason for the offensive is the SLORC/Thai plan to build an all-season trading road from Tavoy eastward along the Tenasserim River valley, crossing the Thai border at Bong Ti. To this end, bulldozers came just behind the main attacking force to start work on the road as quickly as possible. However, much of the area SLORC is taking will still remain inaccessible to easy transport, and they will probably not be able to maintain a heavy troop presence there. Any villagers still in the area will probably be used as porters to carry all supplies for the troops in the area, and will also be forced to build their camps and act as servants and sentries. Extortion and looting will be conducted as per routine by any troops in the area.
As the rains come in June, many of the attack troops may soon be rotated out or withdrawn and those still in the area may concentrate on setting up secure positions. If this happens, movement will become easier for both villagers and KNLA troops, and there will probably be extensive guerrilla activity in the area. This will likely result in the usual retaliations, arrests, torture and executions against villages. It is possible that forced relocation campaigns may be initiated against some of the remaining villages in the Paw Kloh and Tenasserim valleys, and villages between the Tenasserim River and the Thai border. However, as yet it is still difficult to predict the future of this area, as the situation is not at all stable or resolved.
The interviews below were conducted in late March and early April with refugees who had just fled the Way Toh Ray area when the SLORC troops arrived.
Interviews with Initial Refugees
NAME: "Saw Ber Kaw" SEX: M AGE: 42 Karen farmer
ADDRESS: Ta Pi Lay Ko village, Ler Mu Lah township INTERVIEWED: 3/4/97
[When interviewed "Saw Ber Kaw" had just arrived at the Thai border with a group of 500 new refugees. A large SLORC force had moved southward undetected through valleys parallel to the Tenasserim valley and had suddenly appeared in villages like Ta Pi Lay Ko, which had been far from the frontline, with little or no warning.]
I’m from Ta Pi Lay Ko. 1,000 refugees had gathered there [from villages further up the Tenasserim River closer to the frontline]. On 25 March we started to leave Ta Pi Lay Ko and flee up the Ka Kyu stream. When we arrived at Haw Thu area we heard Burmese gunshots, and the refugees divided into 2 groups. One group of about 500 people fled [upstream, east toward the border] to Ta Pi Kee and the other group went back [westward] to Ta Pi Lay Ko. The people who ran to Ta Pi Kee hid there, 500 of them. The people who went back to Ta Pi Lay Ko then ran down the [Tenasserim] river to Si Praw Hta.
At Ka Kyu Hta [upriver from Ta Pi Lay Ko] there was not a single Karen soldier. In Haw Thu area there were no Karen soldiers. When the Burmese fired on the villagers around Haw Thu, our group of 500 villagers fled to Ta Pi Lay Ko, and then down the river to Si Praw Hta. The Burmese ran after us place to place and then when they arrived at Si Praw Hta they fired their big guns on us. In Si Praw Hta the Burmese shelled with 30 big shells. At that time there weren’t any soldiers there. Everyone was villagers. There were only one or two Karen soldiers.
Q: Where did you run to?
A: Me, I was with the group at Si Praw Hta. One was wounded. A man, over 20 years old. He is from Ta Pi Lay Ko. When the shells landed we ran, we ran up the streams, place to place until we arrived at the border on the 28th [of March].
Q: Now where are the refugees?
A: Along the way near Si Praw Hta there are still 80 to 100 people, because they are sick, they can’t walk or they have small babies. Halfway along the way there’s another group of about 300 [a long distance upstream from Si Praw Hta, towards the border]. At the border at Lay Per Ko there is a group of 50. Near the border at Huay Ba Klai there are 80 or 100 refugees back there. Some others are in Thailand now. About another 400 refugees are coming to Naw La Daw and will arrive at 10 a.m. tomorrow [to cross the border].
NAME: "Tha Doh Htoo" SEX: M AGE: 45 Karen Mo Lu Pa La (animist) hill farmer
FAMILY: Married, 2 children
ADDRESS: A’May village, Ler Mu Lah township INTERVIEWED: 31/3/97
["Tha Doh Htoo"’s elder sister is blind and was left behind in the village during the rush to flee from the approaching SLORC Army.]
At first I lived in Kyi May, but now I live in A’May village. There are 18 households in A’May village. All of them came here. I arrived 4 days ago. I spent 3 days coming here from my village.
Q: I heard that one old woman stayed behind near the village.
A: She was left behind at Kleh Pa Taw because we could not carry her, she couldn’t walk and she is blind. She couldn’t walk. She is more than 50 years old. Her name is Naw Nweh. Once a long time ago she had a husband but no children, now she no longer has a husband and she is alone now.
Q: Where is she now? In the forest?
A: Yes, she is in the forest. She is outside the village. She has nothing to eat.
Q: If the Burmese arrive what will they do?
A: I can’t think about it. We couldn’t do anything, we just left her. We dare not go back, we are afraid, but I think about her. She is my older sister.
Q: When you fled your village were the Burmese arriving?
A: When I heard that the Burmese Army was coming I ran out of the village, but the Burmese had already arrived at Klih Thu. Klih Thu is not far from A’May, just about 1 hours’ walk. I heard gunshots from Klih Thu and I came running straight away to here. It took me 3 days from A’May to here. On the way here we didn’t hear anything.
Q: How do you think your sister will survive?
A: I don’t know how my sister will get food. I don’t know if she is still alive or not.
NAME: "Saw Muh Taw" SEX: M AGE: 39 Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY: Married, 2 children
NAME: "Puh Wah Ko" SEX: M AGE: 62 Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY: Married, 8 children
NAME: "Naw Lah K’Paw" SEX: F AGE: 27 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children
NAME: "Mugha Paw Say" SEX: F AGE: 46 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children
ADDRESS: Tee Neh Paw village, Ler Mu Lah township INTERVIEWED: 31/3/97
[These four were part of a big group that fled together from Tee Neh Paw village.]
Q: Did you all come from Tee Neh Paw village?
A: Yes, we all come from Tee Neh Paw.
"Mugha Paw Say": Oh, just here, there are a lot of us!
Q: When did you leave your village?
"Saw Muh Taw": We started from our village one month ago already. Some of the villagers are still staying in the jungle. Since we arrived no families have come. We’ve just arrived here now, and we heard that the people who were caught behind in the village, the Burmese arrested them all. They were in the middle and the Burmese surrounded the village and captured them all. There are more than 20 households left behind in the village. There are more than 50 houses in Tee Neh Paw but just over 20 households arrived here. Many are still staying upstream [in the hills]. We don’t dare go back. 29 households already arrived here.
Q: If they stay among the Burmese what will happen to them?
"Naw Lah K’Paw": If the Burmese capture them, they will use them as slaves, rape them and beat them until they are dead, because that is what the Burmese Army usually does. They kill the children, they make the husband work, they rape the wives and daughters. Some of us know the names of people who have had to face that. Before we came to stay here, whenever we went from place to place if they captured us they used to do like that. Now we have all left our village, we don’t know what will happen to the people who are left behind in the village.
Q: So do you think there’s no one left in the village now?
"Saw Muh Taw": There aren’t any more. They are among the mountains. Some of them were captured by the Burmese, but some they couldn’t capture. We fled with nothing at all. We left all our things. We fled just carrying our children and things that would fit in a bag.
Q: And your livestock?
"Naw Lah K’Paw": It’s all still there. We couldn’t carry anything, just each mother with her children and some belongings. We ran first, but the people who fled after us had to flee in the night. They had nothing. We had some things but we fled and along the way we hid some of our things here, some of them there, and by the time we got here we had nothing left. But the people who fled in the night, they couldn’t even carry any of their things because the Burmese were already arriving. Myself, I gave birth to my baby along the way. She is now 1 month old.
Q: When you gave birth was your husband with you?
"Naw Lah K’Paw": He was there.
Q: Where was the baby born?
"Naw Lah K’Paw": We all slept on the ground, and they made a place for me to lay down there. A nurse from among our Karen people helped me. Now I have 4 children. They had to walk on foot. This one, this one, ... the oldest one is 5, this one is 4, this one is 2. They all had to walk themselves, but this small one [the baby] I had to carry. They cried. Walking and crying, walking and crying along the path.
Q: Did you also come with all of your children?
"Mugha Paw Say": Yes, all of us. When we came along the way we had to carry rice and water, and when we saw a stream we just drank from it, but nothing happened to us [sickness]. We also carried medicine with us and used it. God helped us also. Other people were getting sick, but we gave them medicine and no one died.
Q: Did you hear of the Burmese arresting anyone or burning houses in Tee Neh Paw area?
"Saw Muh Taw": I hadn’t fled yet when they burned my house, I was still in the village. After they burned my house and they left, then I left the village.
"Puh Wah Ko": I ran out of my village in the middle of the night when the Burmese Army entered my village. They shelled everywhere with their big gun before they entered the village. The Karen soldiers weren’t staying in the village, but they worried that the Karen soldiers might be there so they shelled with their big guns. When the Burmese shelled with their big guns we already were fleeing upstream, so no one was wounded. I couldn’t carry anything with me when I ran away, only one pot and some rice. We just arrived here, and we have nothing.
Q: Do you think the Tee Neh Paw villagers will stay here, or can you go back to your village?
"Mugha Paw Say": We’re just waiting to hear what the people here say. If people say we can go back we will go back. If they say we can’t go back we will stay here. We can’t think of what to do now, because our place is full of the Burmese.
"Saw Muh Taw": If there’s peace we would like to go back. If there is no peace we don’t dare go back. We’d like to go back and stay in our village.
Q: The Burmese say that if the Karen villagers go back they will make peace.
A: [Everybody laughs.]
"Naw Lah K’Paw": Even if the Burmese make peace, if the Karen don’t then how can we go back? If the Karen and Burmese aren’t fighting, then we can go back.
"Saw Muh Taw": If the Karen fight strongly and the Burmese fight strongly, we can never dare to go back.
Q: Here do the Thai Army make any problems?
"Saw Muh Taw": Nothing yet. We’re afraid that they’ll do something to us, but we can’t think about that.
NAME: "Saw Ku Hser" SEX: M AGE: 30 Karen Christian hill farmer
FAMILY: Widower, 2 children aged 3 and 5
ADDRESS: Way Toh Ray village, Ler Mu Lah township INTERVIEWED: 3/4/97
Q: When did the Burmese arrive in Way Toh Ray village?
A: They arrived on the 25th [of March], in the afternoon at about 1 o’clock. They came through the hills, but at Meh Ngaw there’s a car road so they came along the car road. I arrived here 4 days ago. It took me one day along the way. One of the men in our group had only one child with him. She was 13 years old, and she died along the way. When we were fleeing along the path it was raining, and his child got malaria and died because we had to sleep in the rain. When we were coming, people said that a group of Burmese Army was crossing in front of us. We had to hurry up and go in the middle of the night in the rain. So the man whose child had died had no time even to look after [bury] his dead child’s body. He had no time.
Q: Did all the villagers run?
A: All the villagers ran away, but some of them are still staying not far away from the village. If the Burmese capture them they will arrest them, make trouble for them and only some of them will have any chance to survive. I’ve heard much bad news from the village since I’ve arrived here. We can’t do anything. When I was coming along the way I heard that the enemy came behind us and burned down houses in Way To Ray and Si Pyet. I would like to go back and see what is happening in my village, but it’s not easy to travel there. I don’t dare go back just like this, but if I had a gun maybe I could go back to my village.
Q: What did you bring along with you?
A: I came along with just what you can see here, Thra! [Thra=‘teacher’, respectful form of address; he pointed to a small mosquito net, a couple of shirts, and a small bag of rice.] The villagers carry their things, but when they hear bad news they have to throw away their things along the path. I only brought some of my things - I have 2 pots, 3 plates, and a big spoon for my family. I have two children - the oldest is 5 years old. The other daughter stayed behind, where she is staying is not far from the enemy right now. She is 3 years old. My wife died 3 years ago and left me with 2 children - one stays with my mother, and one with my mother-in-law. [He fled with his mother and oldest child.] My parents stay with me here, but I don’t know where are my mother-in-law and my youngest.
Q: Do you have problems here now?
A: We have problems for all the people, for all the future.
Q: Now the Burmese say they will make peace for Karen people. Do you dare go back?
A: I dare to go, but I don’t dare go back and stay among the Burmese. I dare to go back if I have a gun in my hand and go with the Karen Army, then I dare to go back and fight them because I’ve done that before.
Q: The Burmese call all the Karen refugees to come back in peace and help build car roads.
A: Our enemy calls us to do this, but never in my life will I do this. Never in my life will I do their work, even if they order me to do it.
Q: Do you think you’ll have to be here long?
A: I don’t know whether we’ll have to stay here long or not, I can’t say.
Q: What about the refugees from Maw Ma Sa, etc. who were in the area? [The hundreds of villagers who had fled SLORC forced relocation orders and were sheltering in Way Toh Ray and other villages of KNU-controlled territory.]
A: Some of them arrived here. They’ve had to flee two times already, so they have nothing. I also have nothing, but people have given me some things. I carried some of my things that were old and left some that were new. When I ran out of my village, the Burmese weren’t shelling with big guns but they were shooting their small arms. There were just over 10 Karen soldiers - 10 here, 5 there, 3 there ... Our livestock, our rice and our house furnishings, all of them were left behind, we couldn’t bring any of it. After we got here we heard that the soldiers from the frontline sent a message that the Burmese had burned down our houses. We heard that a woman was about to give birth in Way Toh Ray but the Burmese were all around them, so her husband ran away, they burned the house and she was burned to death in the fire.
Q: Do you think the Thais are going to make problems here?
A: I don’t know yet. It’s up to the [camp] leaders here - if they arrange everything for us it should be alright, but if they can’t and the Thais do anything then we will all die.
[The following details were given by a man who had just fled Si Pyet village on the Tenasserim River. Prior to the offensive, Si Pyet was sheltering several hundred people who had been ordered to move by SLORC and displaced from the free-fire zones west of the Tenasserim River.]
Q: When did you flee Si Pyet village?
A: We ran 8 days ago. When I fled the Burmese Army had arrived at Meh Ngaw village. I don’t know what they are going to do when they arrive at Si Pyet.
Q: Do you think there are still villagers in your village?
A: No, there is no one in the village but they stay outside the village in the forest. I don’t think they will arrive here because the Burmese are all around them.
NAME: "Naw Kree Eh" SEX: F AGE: 30 Pwo Karen Christian paddy farmer
FAMILY: Widow, 3 children aged 3, 7, and 9
ADDRESS: Aw Pu village, Ler Mu Lah township INTERVIEWED: 3/4/97
["Naw Kree Eh"’s village was ordered to move by SLORC starting in September 1996, and every place she fled to she faced further abuses until she ended up in KNU territory at Si Pyet. She then had to flee to Thailand because of the offensive.]
Q: How long ago did you have to run from Aw Pu village?
A: Now it’s 3 months already. We ran from place to place to place, many times already. From Aw Pu we fled to Palaw town, then to Maw Ma Sa, then to Pyi Cha / Mi Kyin Thu, then we arrived in Bo Heh Kee, then to K’Say Hta, then to Si Pyet. I was in K’Say Hta just 2 weeks and Si Pyet just 5 days, then we had to flee. Then to Meh Pya, and then we arrived here. [Explanation: as people from a relocated village they would not be allowed to stay in Palaw town. After they arrived in Maw Ma Sa it was also ordered to move, as were Pyi Cha and Mi Kyin Thu. By the time they would have arrived in Bo Heh Kee in January, SLORC patrols were sweeping the area shooting everyone on sight. K’Say Hta and Si Pyet were KNU-controlled prior to the offensive, but the SLORC attack forced her to flee to Meh Pya, then SLORC reached Meh Pya so she had to flee to Thailand.]
Q: Do you think you’ll have to run again?
A: I don’t know!
Q: What did you bring along with you?
A: I carried nothing with me, only my children. I have 3 children. This girl is 9 years old, this one is 7, and the youngest is 3. Two of them came on foot, and I had to carry the youngest. It wasn’t easy! Now we stay here with 3 families, but we only have two pots. My friend gave us one pot.
Q: From Si Pyet to here how long did it take?
A: One month, from Si Pyet to here. I had to carry my children, carry rice, and carry our bag because I have no husband. The Burmese killed him two years ago.
Q: How did they kill him?
A: They came and arrested him and killed him. It was in Aw Pu village. We didn’t know anything, but they said we had made a mistake. They said he had stolen things. Ask these people here if my husband ever stole anything! I never knew him to steal anything.
Q: How did they kill him?
A: All over his whole body - they beat him, stabbed him, shot him ... [she began crying]. They killed him in the village at Kain Kee. At the place where the Burmese stay. Battalion 17.
Q: What was his name?
A: Saw Jubilee. When they killed him he was 29 years old.
Q: Since your husband died how have you got your food? Could you still make your field?
A: Now in the village we can’t do farming, because the Burmese don’t give us a pass to do it. We have to give to them! We had to give them road fees and porter fees in our village.
Q: Why did you run from Aw Pu village?
A: Because I’m afraid of the Burmese. They said we had to move. We had to move close to the Mon area but among the Karen, at Si Go May. The Burmese came in the middle of the night and called me [as a ‘suspect’, because they had executed her husband].
Q: Now do you have any problem with food?
A: I have a little to eat - no chillies, just rice, salt and some vegetables.
Q: How many houses from Aw Pu are here?
A: 4 houses. There were 22 households from Aw Pu staying [displaced] in Si Pyet. Some are probably still among the Burmese. They are scattered all over the place.
Q: Now the Burmese say they’re making peace everywhere, do you dare go back?
A: No, I dare not go back, that is why I came here. I don’t ever want to go back. I never think about going back. If the people here run I’ll run, but if the people here stay I’ll stay.