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Published date:
Monday, July 28, 1997

This commentary describes the ongoing brutality of the SLORC military junta and the impact that this is having on Karen civilians. More than 50,000 refugees have fled to refugee camps on the Thai border. Abuses include the Four Cuts tactics, torture, extortion, forced labour, rape and arbitrary execution. 

For millions of people throughout Burma, this has been the worst year in recent memory. Bolstered by foreign investment, its acceptance into ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and an increasing confidence in its own invincibility, the SLORC (State Law & Order Restoration Council) military junta has increased its repression in every quarter and is no longer even attempting to hide its brutal nature. This year has seen new and stronger attacks on the National League for Democracy and other political opposition throughout the country, new mass offensives to ‘crush’ all resistance among the Karen people, an escalation in the ongoing attacks against resistance forces in Karenni and Shan States, expansion of the massive forced relocation campaigns against Karenni and Shan civilians, new forced relocation campaigns against Karen civilians in several regions and the increased application of Four Cuts tactics (destruction of food supplies and villages to make resistance impossible) in many more regions. As noted by the UN Special Rapporteur and many other observers, torture, rape, arbritrary executions, forced labour, abuse of children, looting, extortion, land confiscation, religious persecution, and other abuses continue to increase as the SLORC Army, the Tatmadaw, continues its expansion. The SLORC’s mass forced relocation campaigns and other abuses have caused hundreds of thousands of people to become internally displaced in this year alone, adding to the 2-3 million already internally displaced. At least 50,000 new refugees have left Burma for neighbouring countries, at a time when increasingly authoritarian governments in all bordering countries are adopting policies of forced repatriation and denial of sanctuary to refugees. While it is impossible to document all that is happening given the sheer scale and scope of SLORC abuses, at the Karen Human Rights Group we are continuing to try to document a small portion of these abuses and hoping to provide people in the outside world with a sample of what it is like to be a rural villager in Burma.

"When I was there I saw a Burmese villager together with his 3 children digging and labouring together on the road. The father was digging the earth. His two sons, 7 or 8 years old, were carrying the earth along the road. He also had a daughter about 12 years old - she was lifting the earth for the 2 boys to carry [helping them lift paniers full of dirt and rock onto their heads]. Some of the villagers were already finished, but some like them had not finished yet, and they were still working there. When I saw them I thought, "How can they get food to eat?", because the father was doing the work, his 2 sons and his daughter as well, and the mother was cooking for them. The SLORC are doing this, making the villagers and even the children have to work for them, so the children don’t even have time to go to school. This makes a problem for the parents, and the children will only grow up to have the same problems. The children are supposed to start school at age 6. But the children who have to work on the road, how can they attend school? They become older, and as for that girl, she already has to work on the road so she can’t go to school any more. I don’t know if they were villagers or refugees [victims of relocation]. I think their children should be in school, but as long as the road is not finished they will never attend school." - secretary of a Karen village in Tenasserim Township describing forced labour on the T’Gu - Ta Po Hta road (KHRG #97-09)

"The visiting Burmese minister believed that the government’s effort to improve the lives of people living in remote areas would gradually reduce the up to 800,000 Burmese and non-Burmese who illegally sought jobs in Thailand." - 10/7/97 article in the Bangkok Post (Thailand) on a visit by Lt. Gen. Maung Thint, SLORC Minister for Progress of Border Areas and National Races and Development Affairs

For millions of people throughout Burma, this has been the worst year in recent memory. Bolstered by foreign investment, its acceptance into ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and an increasing confidence in its own invincibility, the SLORC (State Law & Order Restoration Council) military junta has increased its repression in every quarter and is no longer even attempting to hide its brutal nature. This year has seen new and stronger attacks on the National League for Democracy and other political opposition throughout the country, new mass offensives to ‘crush’ all resistance among the Karen people, an escalation in the ongoing attacks against resistance forces in Karenni and Shan States, expansion of the massive forced relocation campaigns against Karenni and Shan civilians, new forced relocation campaigns against Karen civilians in several regions and the increased application of Four Cuts tactics (destruction of food supplies and villages to make resistance impossible) in many more regions. As noted by the UN Special Rapporteur and many other observers, torture, rape, arbritrary executions, forced labour, abuse of children, looting, extortion, land confiscation, religious persecution, and other abuses continue to increase as the SLORC Army, the Tatmadaw, continues its expansion. The SLORC’s mass forced relocation campaigns and other abuses have caused hundreds of thousands of people to become internally displaced in this year alone, adding to the 2-3 million already internally displaced. At least 50,000 new refugees have left Burma for neighbouring countries, at a time when increasingly authoritarian governments in all bordering countries are adopting policies of forced repatriation and denial of sanctuary to refugees. While it is impossible to document all that is happening given the sheer scale and scope of SLORC abuses, at the Karen Human Rights Group we are continuing to try to document a small portion of these abuses and hoping to provide people in the outside world with a sample of what it is like to be a rural villager in Burma.

In Chin State and other areas of northwestern Burma, people are finding they can no longer survive the combination of forced labour as porters, road building and extortion payments, which are in many areas augmented by religious persecution and forced recruitment to the SLORC Army. Villagers are also regularly tortured and executed and have their villages looted as part of SLORC’s Four Cuts campaigns to undermine the Chin National Front and Naga resistance forces. As a result, many are fleeing their villages and ending up as labour in India. [See "SLORC Abuses in Chin State" (KHRG #97-03, 13/3/97),"SLORC Orders to Villages: Set 97-A" (KHRG #97-04, 16/3/97), and a new KHRG report on the northwest to be published soon.] At the same time, thousands more Rohingya Muslim refugees have once again been driven to flee Rakhine State for Bangladesh.

In central Shan State, SLORC has expanded the forced relocation campaign it launched in March 1996 in an effort to wipe out any possibility of civilian support for the Shan United Revolutionary Army (SURA). Over 600 villages covering an area of about 20,000 square kilometres have now been forcibly relocated at gunpoint. Over 100,000 people have had to move to Army labour camps, roadsides, scatter into towns and forests, or flee to Thailand. Even if they follow orders the people are not safe - once at the relocation camps they are regularly used as forced labour, and on 21 February SLORC troops shelled Kho Lam relocation camp with mortars, killing the members of 2 families of villagers. In the month of June alone, at least 58 relocated Shan villagers were executed by SLORC troops, including a mass execution of 26 villagers who were simply trying to return to their village to get some rice. [For more details on the Shan relocations, see "Uprooting the Shan" and other reports by the Shan Human Rights Foundation, and "Forced Relocation in Central Shan State" (KHRG #96-23, 25/6/96)]Thousands of Shan villagers continue to flee to Thailand, where they are not recognised as refugees and there are no camps for them, so they end up as cheap or bonded labour on building sites, in sweatshops or brothels.

"They beat us with green bamboo. They hit all over our whole bodies, including our heads. They poured water in our nostrils and our mouths. They tied plastic over our heads. They also sawed my legs with a hand-saw until they were bleeding. I still have some scars from that. They didn’t feed us any food nor water. I fell unconscious, I don’t know for how long. When I was lying face down, a soldier pulled me up by the hair and blood came out from my mouth and nose, and then I tried to sit by leaning my back against something. The soldier asked me, "What are you doing?" and I answered: "I only see God!"" - Kayah farmer who moved to a relocation camp in Karenni State as ordered in August 1996, then was arrested with 11 others on ‘suspicion’. Five of the twelve arrested died under torture. (KHRG #97-01)

In Karenni State, none of the nearly 200 villages forced to move to Army-controlled sites in mid-1996 have been allowed to return home. Instead, the SLORC Army has conducted several sweeps to burn and destroy what remains of these villages. Conditions continue to deteriorate in the 11 known relocation camps. People who have escaped these camps report that there is no food or medicine and SLORC is allowing no outside help, so several people per day in each camp are dying of treatable diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, and malaria, all complicated by severe malnutrition. The villagers in many of the camps are also being used as forced labour on roads, at surrounding Army camps, building fences around themselves, and growing food for the Army. In most camps passes can now be bought to get out of the camp and seek food, but the passes are often only good from sunrise to sunset, and many people caught outside the camps have been arrested and tortured, even with passes. If villagers can get a multi-day pass and try to get to the area of their home villages, they risk being shot on sight because all of these areas are free-fire zones. Some are still managing to hide in the forests or escape to Thailand, but this is very difficult and dangerous. [See "Update on Karenni Forced Relocations" (KHRG #97-01, 5/3/97)]

"In June [on 31/5/96] the SLORC sent us a written letter to move. When I saw the order I went to Shadaw. The SLORC said that all the villagers must go within 7 days. They said: "Stubborn people are not as hard as bullets!"" - Kayah villager describing how his village in Karenni State was forced to move (KHRG #97-01)

"First we had to clear an area where we could stay. Then SLORC decided that we had to clear another place to live, and they used the first place to grow beans. The bean field was a little far from the new place. I had to clear the new place too. But then after one month, the SLORC forced us to move to a new place near their camp and clear it again. As soon as we arrived we also had to cut bamboo and to build a fence." - Kayah villager describing the persistent harassment of villagers who moved to the relocation camp at Shadaw (KHRG #97-01)

"We had to carry along our children, and we had to leave three old people behind because they were unable to walk. We do not know whether they are alive or dead. Once, when we got permission to go back and get some rice from there, we saw that they were very sick. We proposed to the Township LORC that we should be allowed to bring them. Do you know what they replied to us? That we have to report to the Township LORC when they die, but not now." - Kayah villager describing forced relocation to Nwa La Bo relocation camp in Karenni State; many elderly people were left behind in their villages and died alone there (KHRG #97-01)

Karen regions from Taungoo and Nyaunglebin in the north right to the southern tip of Burma have been devastated by SLORC brutality this year. In Taungoo and Nyaunglebin Districts, forced relocation, forced labour and Four Cuts campaigns have continued, wiping out people’s means of survival and driving many of them into hiding in the hills and forests, where they face being shot on sight if they encounter SLORC patrols. In southern Papun District, at least 20 villages have been ordered to relocate to SLORC-controlled sites. In northern Papun District, six SLORC Battalions began a campaign in February and March to wipe out all hill villages. KHRG has compiled and confirmed a list of 73 villages which have been 100% burned and destroyed, and 4 more which have been partially destroyed. These are all Karen villages, mainly in the upper Bilin River and Yunzalin River watersheds, average population 100 per village, and this list is far from complete. SLORC patrols are continuing to burn villages in the region right now, while other villages have simply been abandoned because villagers fear being ambushed and shot on sight. These villagers are not even being given orders to relocate. SLORC patrols simply move from one village to the next, shell each village with mortars without warning from an adjacent hilltop, then enter the village, shoot everything that moves and burn every house, shed, school and church building without exception. Rice storage barns are carefully sought out and burned. Any villagers seen in the village or elsewhere are either captured as porters or shot on sight without warning or interrogation. SLORC’s aim in this case is obviously not to control the villagers or separate them from Karen forces, but simply to wipe them out; their apparent logic is that if there are no civilians there can be no resistance. The KNLA operates hit-and-run guerrilla columns in the area, but they are not based in any of the villages.

The villagers have fled into the forests and are hiding in makeshift shelters and huts, trying to grow the hill rice crop which most of them managed to plant in the intervals between SLORC patrols. Since the beginning of June, more SLORC patrols have been sent out to seek and destroy the shelters they have built. Many villagers have had to flee yet again, and some have been shot on sight. Most of the villagers are short of food, and none of them have any medicines. Many, especially children and the elderly, have already died of malaria and other fevers, diarrhoea, dysentery and other ailments. Over 1,000 people have fled to Thailand, but there are dangers along the way from both SLORC troops and Karen landmines. SLORC is also hurrying to push a supply road through this area, from Kyauk Kyi in the west to the Salween River at the Thai border. This road may be intended for use in a post-rainy season offensive to secure the Salween area, which would allow SLORC forces to completely trap villagers in Papun District and would also provide an easy springboard for invasions into Thailand to attack refugee camps in Mae Sariang district. [See KHRG Information Update #97-U3, 25/6/97]

"I was ill at that time, so I couldn’t carry this heavy load. I was carrying it for 14 days and I fell down unconscious. ... The commander threw water on my face and told the soldiers: "If he can’t carry anymore, we cannot leave him like this. Otherwise the enemy will find out our movements." Then the commander ordered me to stand up. He said, "Stand up! Why don’t you stand up? You are just pretending!" He stepped on me and broke my rib. He hit my back with a G3 rifle butt, then he pulled me up and kicked me and hit my arm. Then a soldier beat me on my arm with his rifle butt. They carried on kicking me and they hit my legs. I couldn’t count it - kick and hit... hit and kick... Two soldiers were pulling me up, and when I was halfway up the commander cursed me and kicked me again. I suddenly saw a big flash in my eyes [he had been kicked in the eye] and I got up slowly. Then the commander kicked me down the slope beside the path. I went unconscious." - 28-year-old Muslim porter from Myawaddy who was left for dead in July 1996, but was rescued by other porters who escaped. Doctors say he has a permanent eye injury and will never walk perfectly again. (KHRG #96-34)

Next to the south is Pa’an District in central Karen State, where the situation continues to worsen. People in the plains west of the Dawna Range are still being forced to work on an entire network of roads to support a heavier SLORC presence in the area. In this region SLORC units are assigned small groups of DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, a Karen group allied with SLORC) soldiers who help them round up forced labourers and extract extortion payments from villagers. Villagers now have to provide food and money for SLORC, DKBA, and KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army) all at once. DKBA soldiers arrest any villagers who fail to cooperate, torture them and often hand them over to the local SLORC unit for execution. In the eastern part of the District, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) is conducting guerrilla operations in the Dawna Range, which runs north-south parallel to the Thai border, and penetrating into the plains to the west. As a result, SLORC is terrorizing the Karen villages lying just west of the Dawna Range, and began forcibly relocating some of these villages in November 1996. Over 10 villages had been ordered to move on pain of death by March 1997, then several more in May 1997. These are larger than the hill villages of Papun District - the largest, Bee T’Ka, has a population of over 1,500. Rather than go to the SLORC camps as ordered, the villagers scattered to towns and villages further west or to the hills in the east. Since the relocations, troops have often opened fire on villagers sighted in their fields, and some have been shot dead. A small and steady stream reaches Thailand despite the heavy mining of the Dawna Range by Karen troops. However, most of these villagers are struggling to survive and are unsure what to do. [See "Abuses and Relocations in Pa’an District" (KHRG #97-08, 7/97)]

"They started giving these orders last rainy season [mid-1996]. First they said nobody could go outside the village, anyone they see outside the village they will shoot dead. All our livestock also had to be kept and cared for inside the village, but the villagers couldn’t feed them like that so they had to let their livestock wander freely, and the cattle ate and destroyed all our rice crop. The people from Naw Ter Kee and Play Ghaw Hta, their cattle and buffalos ate and destroyed all their rice, so they didn’t have enough for themselves and they had to buy it from elsewhere. Then in January the Burmese started to relocate the villages to Thu K’Bee. The Burmese said "Anything you can’t take with you will be mine. I will burn all of your houses." The villagers moved, they took some money with them and bought some rice, but when the money was gone they went hungry. Some tried to find work to earn some money, and they all thought about coming here." - villager aged 25 from Noh Kheh village in eastern Pa’an District describing why villagers in his area are fleeing to Thailand (KHRG #97-08)

"Now the Bee T’Ka villagers are living in small huts and eating what is left of their rice. They don’t have any belongings left because when we had to move they sold all their belongings for low prices. Villagers from elsewhere came and bought them." - villager aged 39 from Bee T’Ka, Pa’an District, describing the current situation for most of the 400 families of Bee T’Ka who were ordered to move to a SLORC site in March or be shot (KHRG #97-08)

South of Pa’an District lies Dooplaya District, where a large area was primarily controlled by the Karen National Union. On 12 February, over 20,000 SLORC troops from 6 different Light Infantry Divisions launched a mass offensive against Dooplaya District, sweeping in from the north, west and 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.

"No, they just shot at the villagers. There were no Kaw Thoo Lei [Karen] 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." - Karen refugee aged 50 from Meh K’Tee village, Dooplaya District, describing his flight from his village in February (KHRG #97-07)

The civilian population of the newly-occupied region is at least 50,000. Most villagers fled to the forests and hills to escape the advancing SLORC troops, but the advance was so fast that many found their escape cut off or were trapped in their villages. In many places, villagers only knew of the offensive when they heard shooting or when SLORC troops arrived in 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.

"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." - Karen villager aged 32 from Dooplaya District describing his flight to Thailand in front of advancing SLORC troops (KHRG #97-07)

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. In the villages, SLORC troops rounded up all the villagers they could capture, then sent some 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 might have knowledge of KNLA activities or looked like KNU sympathisers. 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 villagers were then forced to haul the Army’s loot on their backs or their bullock carts to the new Army camps being established in the area, particularly the major new camp being built at Saw Hta (Azin).

"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 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." - Karen villager in his mid-20’s who was taken as a porter for the Dooplaya District offensive and later escaped. (KHRG #97-07)

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. The penalty for exceeding the limits of a pass or not having one is being shot on sight or arrested and beaten on return. In some villages, particularly Kyaikdon, Muslims saw their mosque and school destroyed and the Koran torn up and stamped into the dirt. They then had their belongings looted, were told to get out and "go back to your country" and were driven out of the villages where their families have lived for generations.

"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. 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!"] 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... 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... 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]." - Muslim man aged 34 from Kyaikdon village, Dooplaya District, who had to flee in February (KHRG #97-07)

"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." - Muslim man aged 29 from Meh K’Tee village, Dooplaya District, who had to flee his village in February (KHRG #97-07)

Many villagers in the occupied area are now being used as porters and are also forced to do shifts of labour building barracks, bunkers, trenches and fences to establish new Army camps. Forced labour has also begun on several roads, which SLORC is hurrying to push into the area to support its occupation force. Convicts have also been brought in from Rangoon and Moulmein to work on these roads. Villagers and convicts are also being used to sweep existing roads for mines. By observing SLORC activities in other areas it has occupied, particularly Pa’an District just to the north, it is predictable that their 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, which will be used to extend military access and control throughout the region. These roads will wash out every rainy season and have to be rebuilt with forced labour every October to January. New military camps will be set up all over the area on land taken from villagers who will also be forced to build the camps, provide all the materials, then act as porters, sentries, messengers and servants for the troops based there, while also having to pay extortion money to every camp. As the SLORC columns become more stationary and predictable, KNLA guerrilla activities are likely to resume, and SLORC will retaliate with the usual waves of arrests, torture and execution of villagers. The forced relocation of villages has already begun and will probably become much worse over the next year, as SLORC will want to move everyone from remote villages to sites where they can be controlled and used for forced labour by the military. The result of all of these actions will be a continual increase in the number of internally displaced people and continuing flows of refugees to Thailand. [See"Refugees from the SLORC Occupation" (KHRG #97-07, 25/5/97)]

"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." - villager aged 35 from Kyun Chaung village in southern Dooplaya who fled a month after the SLORC occupation of his village (KHRG #97-07)

"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." - villager (age 60) from Meh T’Li in southern Dooplaya District who stayed in his village during the SLORC occupation but later fled after they stole all his family’s possessions and rice (KHRG #97-07)

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. At the beginning of February troops surrounded markets in Moulmein and other coastal towns and stopped passenger cars along the main roads, capturing all able-bodied men to be porters. The attack force moved eastward from Tavoy and reached Myitta at the junction of the Tenasserim and Paw Kloh rivers on 8 February 1997, then split into 3 groups which headed northeast toward Tho Ka at the Thai border (just south of the planned gas pipeline route), southward along the Paw Kloh river, and the third and largest force continuing eastward and then southward down the Tenasserim River and the Thai border. 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 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. The offensive bogged down, with strong resistance and most of the troops’ supply lines overextended and cut off, but the Ninth Division of the Thai First Army was quick to allow SLORC troops to patrol and pass through Thailand whenever necessary, and has also been supplying the attack force with rice across the border. SLORC made a sudden advance southward, causing thousands of displaced people who were still in this area to suddenly have 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. 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.

Many of the villagers are still trapped in the villages and forests between constantly moving SLORC patrols, and their future is uncertain. 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" (KHRG #97-09, 8/97)]. 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.

"They gave us nothing, we had to take our own food. We had to work from 6 a.m. until 11 a.m. and from noon until 6 p.m. Before we used to come back and sleep in our house, but now [since SLORC burned his house] we have to sleep in the forest. If SLORC comes to the village again I think we’ll have to move. If you run you have to run fast, and if not you have to go and work on the car road." - 18-year-old villager from Wah Thu Lo in Tenasserim Division, who was forced to do road labour even after his village was burned and declared a free-fire zone (KHRG #97-09)

The fighting continues. 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. A forced relocation campaign is also likely once SLORC establishes its permanent positions and wants to bring all villagers under close military control. [See "Refugees from the SLORC Occupation" (KHRG #97-07, 25/5/97)]

"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. Now we have all left our village, we don’t know what will happen to the people who are left behind in the village. Before we came to stay here, whenever we went from place to place if they captured us they used to do like that."- Karen woman aged 27, a new refugee from Tenasserim Division just after fleeing the SLORC offensive, explaining why she doesn’t dare go back. (KHRG #97-07)

Even further south, parallel offensives have been conducted since February in every region right down almost to Burma’s southern tip. All of the Karen villages in the area of Le Nya and Bok Pyin were destroyed by SLORC troops between September and November 1996, leading up to an offensive in February agains the KNLA’s 12th Battalion area near the Thai border [see"Attacks on Karen Villages: Far South" (KHRG #97-02, 10/3/97)]. Similar offensives were conducted against Mon Army Mergui District and Kaw Thoo Lei Muslim resistance forces in areas slightly further north. Starting on May 10th, SLORC also violated its ceasefire with the New Mon State Party (NMSP) by sending over 100 troops into Halockhani, which was ceded to the Mon in the agreement. The troops stayed several days, took porters and did some looting despite the protests of the NMSP. Although this was not followed by an attack on the NMSP, it may have been intended as a warning that SLORC is willing to break the ceasefire and launch a major offensive against the NMSP any time it likes - for example, as soon as it feels it is ‘finished’ with the Karen.

"They came to the village and they burned all the houses. I was hiding in the bushes. I saw them burning the paddy in my rice barn, the paddy which I grew on my own hill farm. There were a lot of them. It was over 2 months ago, then they came again. They came and burned the houses 3 times, because the first and second times not all the houses were burned completely. After the third time all the houses were burnt. All 30 houses." - Karen villager (man aged 46) from Ler Pa Doh village in the far south of Tenasserim Division (KHRG #97-02)

"The road has all been built before, we build it, then when it’s finished the rains come and ruin it, then we have to build it again. So we have to go - if you can’t go you have to pay money, and if you can’t pay money then you have to go. If we can’t go we have to hire someone, sometimes it is 2 or 3 thousand [Kyats], sometimes 1 or 2 thousand. We had to go one time every month, one person from every house. There are over 40 houses in Nan Ka Prao village. If the adults can’t go then the children have to go, children around 12 and 13 years old. And old men over 50 or 60 years old often have to go on behalf of the young men. Each time it is for about 14 or 15 days. The Burmese don’t give anything, they [the labourers] have to take care of themselves and survive on their own food. Some of them get sick, and then we have to substitute another person for them." - Karen villager (man aged 54) from the far south of Tenasserim Division describing forced labour on the road from Le Nya to Boke Pyin (KHRG #97-02)

While all of these situations are leading to large flows of refugees, the situation for refugees in Thailand continues to worsen. In January, Karenni Camp 2 was attacked by a SLORC-supported force calling itself the Karenni National Democratic Army, the Karen refugee camp at Sho Kloh was shelled with mortars from a SLORC position in Burma, and the Karen refugee camps Huay Kaloke, Huay Bone and Beh Klaw were attacked by large combined SLORC/DKBA forces, resulting in the near complete destruction of Huay Kaloke and Huay Bone [see "Attacks on Karen Refugee Camps" (KHRG #97-05, 18/3/97) and "Update on Karenni Forced Relocations" (KHRG #97-01, 5/3/97)]. Thai authorities not only cleared the way for the attacks by withdrawing their security forces in advance (particularly at Huay Kaloke), but also used the attacks as an opportunity to consolidate the camps further and clamp further restrictions and demands on the refugees.

In February, most of the new refugees from the Dooplaya offensive were allowed to cross the border, but further south in the region controlled by the 9th Division of the Thai First Army the situation was much worse. The 9th Division repeatedly forced refugees back across the border at Tee Hta Baw and Tho Ka into the mouth of advancing SLORC troops. At Bong Ti, where people had fled the Tenasserim Division offensive, the 9th Division sent back all boys and men aged 10 and above directly into a combat zone on 26 February, 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. These refugees have since had to flee to Thailand again and this time they have been allowed to stay due to international pressure on the Thai Government. However, they are still under control of the 9th Division, which has made the refugee camps look more like concentration camps. Now it is mid-rainy season and raining heavily every day, yet the 9th Division is still forcing these refugees to live in the dirt under plastic sheets as they have been for 4 months already, refusing to allow them to build even simple huts; foreign NGOs are trying to provide building materials to get the refugees off the ground, but the Thai Army will not allow it. Current Thai policy, as dictated by the National Security Council and its key ‘adviser’ Xuwichai Hiranpruek, is to make life so intolerable for the refugees that they are coerced into returning to Burma. The Army and Military Intelligence are actively spreading disinformation in the camps, telling refugees that SLORC has left their villages and gone back, among other untruths. On July 7th, Thai district health chief Preecha Tuankrua went even further, telling the Bangkok Post, "We have to do something to control the fertility rate among Karen refugees, otherwise we will have to bear the burden of the increasing population", raising fears that Thai authorities may be considering a forced sterilization program of refugee women. They have already done so a short distance further north at Thong Pha Phum, where many women at a camp for illegal labourers from Burma have been forcibly sterilized by Thai authorities over the past 3 years.

The refugee camps are being almost completely sealed off to outside access, increasing fears of forced repatriations and allowing more abuse of refugees by Thai ‘security’ troops. Outside the 9th Division area, the new camp at Noh Po for refugees from Dooplaya District has recently been fenced and sealed off, with no one allowed in and no refugees allowed out. The refugees are no longer allowed to find work outside the camp or sell things inside the camp, activities which are necessary to supplement the meagre diet of rice, fishpaste and salt which they receive. Maw Ker camp has been fenced, and Thai soldiers in the camp have looted the homes of some refugees and shot dead one refugee. Huay Kaloke camp has also been enclosed with barbed wire and sealed off, and there have now been reports of attempted rapes by the Thai soldiers guarding the camp and beatings of refugees trying to come back into the camp after working outside for money. At the same time, Thai authorities have closed most camps to new arrivals - even if new refugees can sneak into the camps, they cannot build a house and their names cannot be added to the food list. This leaves many new refugees with no option but to try to sneak to Bangkok or other Thai towns, where they end up as cheap or bonded labour in sweatshops, on building sites or in brothels.

To add insult to injury, every refugee knows that the Thai troops who are abusing them under the guise of ‘protecting’ them are certain to disappear shortly before the next SLORC armed attack on their camp - after all, this is what the Thai troops have always done before. And such attacks are quite likely; DKBA members across the border from Huay Kaloke camp have told their relatives in the camp that they will attack and burn it again, and some villagers from Dooplaya District claim that SLORC soldiers have promised to attack and destroy the new refugee camp at Noh Po.

"My mother told a DKBA soldier who looked about 20 years old: "Child, take everything you want but please do not burn our house down!". But the soldier pointed his gun at her and said: "Do you want to die, old woman?""- 19-year-old girl who was in Huay Kaloke refugee camp when it was attacked and burned by a joint SLORC/DKBA force on 28 January 1997 (KHRG #97-05)

"When the mortar landed, he was in front of the house shouting at the children to stay still and hide in the bunker. I called to him loudly that the children and I were already in the bunker. Just as I spoke the mortar landed there, as he was coming towards us. It was too late for him to get into the bunker. His name was Saw Pay. He was 33 years old, Sgaw Karen and Buddhist like me. He was the section 3 leader." - Karen refugee (woman, aged 30) describing the mortar shelling from Burma of Sho Kloh refugee camp in Thailand on 4 January 1997. Saw Pay was killed and at least 2 other refugees were wounded. (KHRG #97-05)

In response to the major SLORC offensives, the Karen National Union has sought new rounds of ceasefire negotiations. SLORC is refusing. The National League for Democracy is still seeking talks, and even offered to rejoin SLORC’s National Convention. SLORC is refusing. The economy is a complete disaster, the value of the Kyat is falling through the floor, the entire country is full of internally displaced people, people even in the cities can no longer feed themselves and many of these are fleeing to neighbouring countries to seek even the lowest wages. SLORC says none of this is happening.

It is at this time, in the midst of all these events, that SLORC is being admitted as a full member to ASEAN. For ordinary people in Burma, it is hard to comprehend why Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei would want to accept SLORC as a peer, an equal. It is SLORC they are accepting, not Burma or ‘Myanmar’, for it is SLORC who will receive the invitations to the meetings, despite the fact that the junta does not represent Burma in any way at all. The people of Burma have made that very clear in 1988, 1990, and continuously ever since. The ASEAN nations lowering themselves to the level of SLORC is simply a sign that the ‘constructive engagement’ policy is working - SLORC’s constructive engagement policy, the policy whereby resources, trade and profit are used to influence the way another country thinks. ASEAN now thinks that SLORC’s way is the way to run a country, and some of its members, particularly Thailand, are adding the methods they’ve learned from SLORC to their already extensive repertoires of repression. But SLORC’s constructive engagement policy is not limited to ASEAN. Other governments can learn from them too. And as more and more governments worldwide show that they are willing to set aside any and all concerns in return for trade and profit, it only remains to be seen who will be next to queue up for lessons.

"The SLORC said if they shot Karen soldiers and the Karen soldiers died, then the villagers must pay for the bullets they’ve shot, and if Karen soldiers destroy their truck then we must pay for the truck. If they ask for 2 guns from each village, we must find 2 guns and give them. But there were no guns, so we had to find money and give it to them. I think I had to pay 600 Kyats that time." - Karen woman aged 42 from Tenasserim Division describing some of SLORC’s demands on her village (KHRG #97-09)

"The SLORC held a meeting and said "Next month you have to move to Kyauk Taung". Some people went, but most people ran away and scattered all over the place. As for us, we ran to the forest. We ran this entire rainy season. We ran in the middle of rainy season and stayed in the forest for many months, 4 or 5 months. In the forest we couldn’t do anything, just stay under the roof in the rain. We went back secretly and got food we had stored in the village. My son had gone to Thailand, so it was only my 2 daughters and I. We couldn’t bear it. We couldn’t build anything, it was raining and we were very cold. My children were sick, and I got sick too. We ran every time we heard the Burmese were coming. If they see you in the forest they don’t ask questions, they just shoot you. So we went down and stayed among the Pwo Karen. That village didn’t have to move, but if they do wrong [i.e. if any fighting happens in their area] the Burmese will force them to move to Mi Sein Kyu, so many of them are frightened and run away. Staying there we also had to be afraid of the Burmese coming. They came many times, very often. If they see people in the village they question them and kill them, so we ran away. We had to build their roads, and give money also. I was staying there with my 2 daughters. If we didn’t go [for forced labour] we couldn’t stay in the village, so my daughter had to go. They didn’t give her anything. No food. She came back and ate at home. She is 16 years old. She had to go every day for 2 months, then she got a rest because it was harvest time. After harvest she would have to go again, every day until the road is finished. It was very heavy work for my daughter. Now they will start it again, so we ran away. I couldn’t carry my things with me, because I had to carry my baby. He is 6 years old but stunted. We came here on foot. It took 2 nights and 3 days [for the trip over the mountains from the free-fire zone to the Karen-held Tenasserim River valley]. By the time I arrived here my chest was very painful. Now we have nothing, just 2 or 3 blankets. My baby isn’t well, he has a stomach ache and diarrhoea and didn’t sleep the whole night." - Karen woman aged 42, a widow with 8 children, from one of the free-fire zones in Tenasserim Division explaining how she came to Karen-held territory. The place where she took refuge and told us her story has since been overrun by SLORC forces. (KHRG #97-09)

"The situation now is more difficult than when the Japanese came. The Burmese give many more problems to the Karen people than the pu-kaw [‘short-legs’, i.e. Japanese] did. When the pu-kaw came they did not burn people’s houses, they just asked us where the English were. But now when the Burmese come all the Karen must run and hide, big and small. When the Burmese came and burned our village all the others ran, but I stayed near. I’m not afraid - the Burmese have shot at me many times before. I’ll search for roots and vegetables, and I’ll stay here - where else could I go?" - 65 year old grandfather, almost deaf, living in a shed in a free-fire zone in Tenasserim Division in defiance of a SLORC relocation order. SLORC troops had already burned half of his village. (KHRG #97-09)

"Yes I need him, I looked after him when he was little and now he was old enough to look after us. I hoped he would take care of me when I become old. The Burmese have done this, now who will look after me? His brothers and sisters who are left can feed me, but he was old enough to walk and work for me, to cook and to search for vegetables. He cooked and we ate, he searched for food and we ate it. But now when we come home we don’t see him anymore. Hai! We just have to survive like this. What can I tell you? His brothers and sisters will have to look after me. The dead are gone, how can he look after me?" - a 50-year-old mother in Pa’an District mourning the loss of her son, who was shot dead by SLORC troops on 26 June 1997 in a farmfield for no reason (KHRG #97-08)