KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP COMMENTARY, 1998 #1

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KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP COMMENTARY, 1998 #1

Published date:
Sunday, April 19, 1998

In November 1997 the State Law & Order Restoration Council (SLORC) military junta ruling Burma changed its name to the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC). Many theories have been put forward on the reasons for the name change, but regardless of these, the SPDC has proven one thing in its first 6 months of existence: that it is at least as hardline and uncompromising as the SLORC ever was, and that it remains committed to the objectives of crushing all possibility of freedom or dissent, controlling every square inch of the country, and gaining the daily power of life or death over each and every citizen of Burma.

"The abovementioned villages must move and consolidate. … Small villages, even those not included in the above list, must move and consolidate to nearby consolidation villages before May 6th. Villages which fail to move will be destroyed." - SLORC written order listing 64 villages in Papun District being ordered to move to military sites (Report #98-01)

"They said to us, ‘People who won’t come to our place must run away. People who don’t want to run away must come to us. People who neither run away nor come to us must die.’ As for us, we didn’t want to go to their place so we ran away and they burned all our houses." - Karen villager (M, 27) from Shwegyin township, Pegu Division, after forced relocation (Report #98-01)

In November 1997 the State Law & Order Restoration Council (SLORC) military junta ruling Burma changed its name to the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC). Many theories have been put forward on the reasons for the name change, but regardless of these, the SPDC has proven one thing in its first 6 months of existence: that it is at least as hardline and uncompromising as the SLORC ever was, and that it remains committed to the objectives of crushing all possibility of freedom or dissent, controlling every square inch of the country, and gaining the daily power of life or death over each and every citizen of Burma.

Wherever necessary, this means that the SPDC is continuing military offensives against ethnic nationalities - not only Karen, as is often mistakenly reported in the media, but also Shan, Karenni, Chin, Naga, Burman and others. If it is useful to use the territory of neighbouring countries to gain the upper hand in these offensives, SPDC troops do so. They have also shown that wherever refugees escape them to neighbouring countries they will not hesitate to organise attacks on refugee camps, using proxy armies such as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), the Karenni National Democratic Army (KNDA), or the newly formed Karen Peace Army (KPA). They cannot accept the thought of anyone from Burma being able to speak or act outside their control. But while military offensives and attacks on refugees tend to attract most of the attention on Burma, there is a far more destructive force being used throughout Burma by the SPDC in its drive to control every area and the life of every citizen. These are its "Four Cuts" operations: systematic campaigns to destroy villages and food supplies in all areas of perceived resistance, to drive the entire rural population into military-controlled camps where they are used as forced labour, starved, beaten, raped and often killed. These campaigns of undeclared war against civilians are now taking place to an unprecedented extent throughout rural Burma.

The policy of the SPDC, and before it the SLORC, in the case of any form of armed resistance has amounted to "drain the ocean and the fish cannot swim"; in other words, to undermine the opposition attack the civilian population until they can no longer support any opposition. This is the fundamental idea behind the Four Cuts policy (cutting supplies of food, funds, recruits and intelligence to the resistance) which General Ne Win initiated in the 1970’s. Many villages now being burned by SPDC troops were first burned in 1975 when the Four Cuts were first implemented, and some villagers speak of having been on the run from Burmese troops since 1975. But even these villagers say that in the past 2 to 3 years things have grown much worse. The direct attacks on the civilian population, characterised by mass forced relocations, destruction of villages and the village economy, and completely unsustainable levels of forced labour, have now become the central pillar of SPDC policy in non-Burman rural areas of Burma. Where in the past 2 or 3 villages were destroyed at a time, now 100 villages are destroyed at a time. The current SPDC plan for consolidating control over areas where there is resistance appears to consist of the following steps: 1) mount a military offensive against the area; 2) forcibly relocate all villages to sites under direct Army control and destroy those villages; 3) use the relocated villagers and others as forced labour, portering and building military access roads into their home areas; 4) move more Army units in and use the villagers as forced labour to build bases along the access roads; 5) allow the villagers back to their villages, where they are now under complete military control and can be used as a rotating source of extortion money and forced labour, further consolidating control through "development" projects, forced labour farming for the Army, etc. If resistance attacks still persist at this last stage, retaliation is carried out against villages by executing village elders, burning houses and other means. The first 2 steps of this strategy can be combined or reversed in order in some cases. Throughout Burma we can see examples where this process is at various stages: in central Shan State and eastern Tenasserim Division, SPDC is working on stages 1 and 2; in Dooplaya District of central Karen State, which they just occupied in early 1997, they are implementing stages 2 and 3; in the free-fire zones of southern Tenasserim Division (see "Free-Fire Zones in Southern Tenasserim", KHRG #97-09, 20/8/97) they are between stages 3 and 4; while in most parts of northwestern Burma they have already reached stage 5. (See "All Quiet on the Western Front?", a January 1998 joint report between Images Asia, KHRG and the Open Society Institute.) In Karen areas such as the Irrawaddy Delta and the western plains of Nyaunglebin and Thaton Districts they have also reached stage 5.

"We were all ordered to go to a temple in Keng Kham, one person from each house, and we were guarded there in a group. Then the SLORC commander told us we had just the next day and the day after that to move all of our things. He said that the last day was May 9th, and if we did not move by then we would all die. He said it to us in the meeting just like that - but it wasn’t really a meeting, because we were all guarded like prisoners! That afternoon, we older people over 60 years old were released. The younger people had to sleep there for one night. Then in the morning they took some of them as porters. Just imagine - they had just ordered us to move within 3 days, and yet they still took people as porters! How could people have time to move their things? Some of their wives even cried." - Shan man, 60, from Kunhing township, Shan State, who fled forced relocation

"Many don’t have enough to eat. Some have to beg along the road, and people are crying all the time. Some people take refuge in the monasteries, some are staying at their relatives’ houses, and some have built tents out of plastic sheets under trees. Many people are begging around for food. … [The SPDC soldiers] don’t give anything. Furthermore they even take all the cattle and the belongings left in the old villages. They take rice for themselves, they kill the cattle and make dried meat, and then their wives and children sell the meat to the villagers." - Buddhist monk, 29, describing the situation around Lai Kha town, Shan State

The most serious case of forced relocation and village destruction currently occurring is in central Shan State, where over 1,400 villages have been relocated and destroyed by SLORC and SPDC since 1996 (see the April 1998 Shan Human Rights Foundation report "Dispossessed", as well as "Forced Relocation in Central Shan State", KHRG #96-23; the quotes from the Shan villagers in this Commentary are from another upcoming KHRG report on the subject). An estimated 300,000 people have been made homeless, and at least 80,000 of these have fled to Thailand. This campaign against civilians is supposed to undermine the Shan United Revolutionary Army (SURA), a group which used to be part of Khun Sa’s Mong Tai Army (MTA) until Khun Sa surrendered to SLORC in 1996. The SURA has recently united with two other groups, the Shan State Army (SSA) and the Shan State Nationalities Army (SSNA), which had ceasefire deals with SLORC. The new combined force named itself the Shan State Army (SSA) and has been trying to negotiate with the SPDC, but the junta refuses to recognise them and vows that it will crush them militarily. The SLORC/SPDC campaign to undermine the SURA and the SSA by destroying civilian villages has been a complete failure, but the junta’s response to this failure has simply been to keep expanding the region where its troops are ordered to relocate and destroy every village. This region already spans 7,000 square miles in the heart of Shan State, and it is still spreading like a cancer over the map as more and more villages are destroyed with each passing month of 1998.

"They came with guns and ordered us to move by pointing their guns at us. They came many times. The first time, they said if they found Shan soldiers in a radius of 10 miles they would kill us. We had to sign four times to say there were no Shan soldiers. Every tract had to give money, and we had to sign an agreement that if the SLORC found any Shan soldiers in the area, they would kill villagers. Then after we signed with those soldiers, other groups of soldiers came! … We had to give money to every group [of SLORC soldiers], then even after we had given money to one group we had to move anyway." - Shan villager (M, 58) from Murng Nai township, Shan State, who fled forced relocation

"They gave the villagers only five days to move, and they said that after those five days they would burn the village. I myself went to talk to the soldiers and asked them not to make us move. I went directly to the commander. He said, "You are all supposed to move for as long as the opposition group stays in your village." The Shan soldiers never come to the village, but according to the commander they do." - Shan woman, 22, from Kay See township, Shan State, describing forced relocation

"Now the military bases are all around the towns. There are about 10 bases, including the air base and all that near Nam Zang. Now our village has not much workable land. The military has confiscated it and they want to build a base there." - 36-year-old man from Nam Zang township, Shan State

"We were ordered to move three months ago [in December 1997]. Within 17 days the village was supposed to move completely but before these 17 days were finished, after only 7 days they came and burned down the village. … My grandfather was killed in the fire. My grandfather was around 89 years old so he couldn’t carry himself. His name was Loong Tchai. My parents had already moved to Pang Long and the two of us were left in the village." - Shan refugee (M, 24), from Loilem township, Shan State

When the relocations began in 1996, villagers were given a few days to move to Army-controlled sites near Army camps and along supply roads, where they were then used as forced labour portering supplies, building and maintaining Army camps, guarding the roads, clearing the roadsides, maintaining the roads, and building a railway and an air base near Nam Zang. Many villagers were simply driven out of their villages and not even told where to go. When this campaign had clearly failed to undermine the Shan armies, SLORC/SPDC began ordering people at relocation sites to move yet again, to sites which were even more crowded and central. On 21 February 1997, SLORC troops even shelled Kho Lam relocation site in order to drive the villagers out. Five villagers were killed, including 2 children. On June 16th 1997, two different SLORC columns massacred villagers at Sai Khao and Tard Pa Ho in Kunhing township. The villagers had SLORC passes to return to their villages to fetch their rice, but these were ignored. At Sai Khao 36 villagers were tied up and machine-gunned, and at Tard Pa Ho 29 villagers were similarly executed, including women and children. The Sai Khao column was led by the region’s Tactical Commander himself, and one SLORC officer told a woman whom he secretly released from the massacre that they had received specific orders by radio from higher levels to conduct the massacres. Throughout the relocation region hundreds of villagers have been shot dead on sight, summarily executed by stabbing, suffocation or drowning, and burned alive in their homes. The Shan Human Rights Foundation has documented the killings of over 300 villagers by SLORC and SPDC forces, and even this list is far from complete.

"I was sure I would be killed too! I was shaking, shaking! I was sitting and shaking all the time. My blood was hot all over my body. I could not think properly. I would have run away, but they were standing there guarding me. There were 3 or 4 of them. There were 6 of us: 4 girls and me and my baby. … Then to the west I heard bursts of machine gun fire. We heard the shots. The soldiers did the shooting. We heard tat-tat-tat-tat-tat!! Shooting like that. They were killing the 16 people. Then after a just a bit I heard gunfire just nearby [killing the group of 10 or the group of three]. But it was all overgrown, so I couldn’t see. It was only about 7 or 8 armspans away, but they wouldn’t let me go and see. There were so many - the place was black with soldiers. Wherever you looked, there were soldiers. Some were doing the killing. Some took the carts to be burned. They took and killed the cattle to eat, and they let some of the cattle go. … After the shooting had stopped in both places I asked if I could go, but they said I had to wait. We were allowed to go about half an hour after all the shooting. Then they said I could go, but I should run, and not to go on the main road. … I was the only adult survivor in my group. The rest were all killed, except for the 3 women who were released and ran away before the shooting started. I think I would be dead if I hadn’t had my son with me. One of the other women left her baby at home and her baby was even younger than mine. She squeezed out milk from her breast to show them that she had a baby at home, but the SLORC commander, the tactical commander himself, just said that her baby must have died, and that was why she hadn’t brought it with her. They killed her. The captain [who was guarding her group] said to us that the soldiers had been ordered to kill any woman with children over 7 months old. … They’d taken away and burned all our carts, shot all our bullocks and shot dead all the others. Only the children and I were left under a tree. … I had to walk to Keng Kham with the children, carrying my son on my back, all night and all the next morning. The children were too young and we had to keep resting under the bushes. While we were resting, a man walking like a drunk came after us from the same direction. He was Nan Ti from Sai Mon, and he was seriously wounded. One of his arms was almost severed, and there were two bullet holes here in his upper right chest and two holes in his lower right chest. I was terribly sick at the sight. I asked him if the others were all killed and he said yes. And I asked what about him, and he said he’d fainted and when he came to he just walked away. With blood gushing out of his wounds he asked me to help him, but I just couldn’t. I told him I would go ahead and ask other villagers to come and help him and he said yes. I did tell the villagers when I got to a farming camp, but it was raining all night and no one dared to go to his rescue. He died later, about half an hour’s walk away at Kho Sai Mon bridge." - Woman aged 27 from Kunhing township, the only adult survivor of a SLORC massacre of 36 Shan villagers who’d gone from Kunhing relocation site back to their villages to get rice in mid-June 1997. The villagers all had SLORC passes to make the trip.

"The SLORC troops arrested these villagers and interrogated them, asking where were the SURA and where the SURA are based. They said these villagers had given food to the SURA. They arrested the men and then beat them for 3 days. And then they arrested women and raped them. After that the SLORC troops covered their heads with plastic and suffocated them, then threw some bodies into the Nam Pang River." - Shan man, 60, from Kunhing township, after listing 94 villagers from 12 villages who had been killed by SLORC troops

"One of my brothers died [just before they moved]. He was killed by the Burmese because they believed that he was supplying the opposition army. He worked in the forest so he had his things in the forest, and that is why they accused him of supplying the opposition groups. They accused him and said, "Why haven’t you moved yet? Do you want to keep on feeding these opposition groups?" After that he tried to take his belongings and start moving but it was too late. They beat him and his friend to death. Then they used a knife and chopped their bodies into pieces. His name was Sarng Hung. He was my eldest brother, he was more than 40 years old." - Shan man, 26, from Murng Kerng township, Shan State

Tens of thousands of villagers are struggling to survive in the relocation sites, where they are constantly used as forced labour by SPDC troops who give them nothing and even demand part of whatever little food or money they still have. Many are starving, unable to return to their villages or fields for fear of being shot on sight. People in the relocation sites and those who have fled to the towns are now reduced to begging in the streets or along the rural motor roads.

"More than a hundred soldiers were guarding us. They came and took our belongings. Sometimes they arrested some people and detained them at their place, they beat and tortured them and then they released them - especially the headmen of the villages because they were all suspected of providing things to the opposition army." - Shan man, 26, from Murng Kerng township, describing the situation at a relocation site

"There were two men at Wan Bang, in Wan Heng tract, Lai Kha township [Wan Bang had been forced to move to Tard Mok]. They were staying at Tard Mok. They went to find their cattle at their old village. SLORC soldiers found them at that village and arrested them, tied them up with bundles of hay and set fire to them. One of them died instantly. I don’t know his name. But the other, Kay Li Ta, came to receive treatment at Zai Lai for a while, and died there after ten days. He was 32 years old. It took place in the second week of May [1997]. It was soldiers from #515 [Light Infantry Battalion] from Lai Kha that did it. Kay Li Ta had a family. Now his wife and children are begging around in Lai Kha town." - Shan Buddhist monk, 29, from Lai Kha area

"The Burmese Army just kept on collecting money. The Burmese soldiers demanded everything they wanted and so did the Shan army, so the rich became poor and the poor became poorer. We were not allowed to go out of the town to farm. If we did, they would say we have contact with the Shan army and they would shoot us. The soldiers didn’t give any permission at all to go, not even for one or two days. If we went outside to find things to do we might be raped by the soldiers, not only that but after raping women they often kill them. Nang Nu was raped but not killed. That was in December [1997]. Nang Nu was my friend. Oh! Life was very hard in that place. I was afraid, so I ran to Thailand." - Woman aged 23 from Murng Kerng township describing life after forced relocation

"They’re also forcing the villagers to grow a kind of bean for the Army. Each 10 households has to grow about 10 acres of beans. Our village has to work on 10 acres. Altogether there are thousands of acres like that. They took away all the land from the outskirts of the village to the edge of the town, no matter whose it was. There are no fences around that land, and if our cattle enter those fields then they’re shot by the Army. … If the cattle put one foot inside the plot of land, the owner has to pay 500 Kyat for one hoofprint. If we tell them who the owner is they’ll fine him 500 Kyat, and if we don’t tell them who the owner is, they shoot dead the cattle." - Shan man, 36, from Nam Zang township, describing life at a relocation site

Most young people and entire families who still have any money left are fleeing to Thailand to try to find a way to survive there. More than half the population of some areas have already fled to Thailand. First they must be able to pay off SPDC soldiers at every checkpoint along the way. As long as they can pay the SPDC generally lets them leave, because the regime has always hated the Shans and is happy to see them go; next to the Burmans they are Burma’s largest ethnic group, they are related to the Thais and have a very distinct culture, historically the Burmans never succeeded in subjugating them, and with their population of 9 million or more they are still seen as a threat to Burman domination of the country. Beginning in late 1997 or early 1998, SPDC troops at the last checkpoints before Thailand began confiscating the National Identity Cards of all Shans heading for Thailand. The cardholders are given a receipt and told that they will be able to reobtain their cards when they return to Burma. This is a very disturbing development, because a similar method has been used since 1992 to strip Muslim Rohingya refugees of their identification when they flee from Arakan State to Bangladesh. If the refugees later try to go home, the SPDC often denies that they ever lived in Burma.

"They [SPDC soldiers] checked whether we had ID cards or not but they didn’t stop us [National Identity Cards (NIC) are supposed to be carried by Burmese citizens at all times, but many non-Burman villagers do not or cannot obtain one]. If you couldn’t produce your ID card you could not pass the checkpoints to go to Thailand. They took our ID cards at Ho Murng and they said on our way back to Shan State we’ll get them back. We’ll have to pay something to get our ID cards back. Some didn’t have any ID card with them, and if you didn’t have it you couldn’t get to Ho Murng." - Shan man, 26, from Murng Kerng township, describing his flight to Thailand

On arrival in Thailand, the Shan refugees must evade capture and forced repatriation by Thai authorities. In Thailand they are not recognised as refugees and have no choice but to enter the dangerous market for illegal labour. Many of them are exploited and ripped off by their Thai employers, while others end up as bonded labour in sweatshops or the sex trade. In March 1998 after SPDC troops had attempted to attack a group of Shan refugees in northwestern Thailand, Thai authorities for the first time allowed this group of over 200 Shan refugees to move into an existing Karenni refugee camp. However, they still have no recognition as refugees, only as people who "fled fighting" when a battle happened near the MTA’s former headquarters at Ho Murng; so it can be expected, in keeping with the current Thai policy of denying asylum to new refugees, that the Thai Army will attempt to force these people back to Burma once the situation "returns to normal" around Ho Murng and the SPDC indicates its willingness to "accept them back".

"Out of the people who have been forced to move, about 80% have come to Thailand. Only about 20% went to the town. There are many people from Shan State now working in lychee orchards, in cultivation, in construction sites, and also in shops, washing dishes... almost every shop, every house has Shan servants now. There are many young women who have just disappeared. They have been sold to the flesh trade. Many people have been exploited by their employers. No one gets proper wages. The refugees from Shan State have to suffer in this way." - Shan Buddhist monk, 29, from Lai Kha area

"I arrived here about one month ago. We have nothing. Life here is also miserable. I owe some money to many people already and my parents keep on sending messages calling me to go back to them. I really want to go back home, but I can’t until I have enough money. The money that we earn now is not enough, it is just enough for survival." - Shan refugee (F, 23), who arrived in Thailand in January 1998

Crossing the border from Shan State into Karenni (Kayah State), we find a situation which is equally desperate. Starting in mid-1996, SLORC troops began relocating and destroying about 200 villages covering most of the geographic area of the state, driving 30,000 or more villagers from their homes into forced relocation sites where they are starving and being used as forced labour (see "Update on Karenni Forced Relocations", KHRG #97-01, 5/3/97). By mid-1997 most of the villages in central and eastern Karenni had been destroyed, but fighting between SLORC and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) continued. SLORC then began sweeping and destroying all villages in southern Karenni, where the campaign had not been as rigorously enforced. Since the beginning of 1998, there are reports that the SPDC has now begun relocating and destroying villages in northern Karenni along the Shan State border. This had been one of the few areas where villagers could still live because it was protected by the Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF), which had a ceasefire deal with SLORC. The area also provided refuge to some villagers fleeing the relocations in other parts of the state. However, under the SPDC these ceasefire deals no longer appear to carry any weight when villages are to be destroyed.

"The Burmese came in and oppressed the villagers. They burned 15 rice barns, 13 houses and they took all the people’s boxes [wooden boxes where people keep their good clothing and valuables]. They took pots, plates, clothing and all our belongings. They destroyed all the rice and cut down our paddy. They destroyed all the tobacco and they made holes in our plates, the stepped on our pots until they broke into pieces and they destroyed all the thread we had for weaving. They ate all the fowl, the chickens, the pigs, our cattle and buffalos." - Karen villager (M, 25) from Toh Thay Der village, Papun District (Report #98-01)

"When they arrived they shot pigs, shot chickens, burned the village and the rice barns. We ran up the hills and we watched them. We saw them when they came. They fired their big gun [mortar] and we ran. They fired the big gun twice, the first shell hit the lower part of the village and the second shell landed right in the village. Then they fired a lot with their small guns. If we’d still been in the village we would have died." - Karen villager (M, 43) from Lay Po Kaw Tee village, Papun District (Report #98-01)

"They shoot their big and small guns when they come, and we run when we hear the sound. They try to shoot the villagers. They fire their big gun [mortar] at all the places where they guess the villagers might be, in the village, at the source of the streams and along the streams. If they see villagers on their way, they shoot them." - Karen villager (M, 43) from Kheh Pa Hta village, Papun District, met while fleeing a SLORC patrol (Report #98-01)

Papun District of northern Karen State and eastern Nyaunglebin District, which straddles the border of Karen State and Pegu (Bago) Division, have always been areas of strong Karen resistance and SLORC/SPDC have never been able to fully control them. The hills are too rugged and inaccessible, supply lines are difficult to maintain through the rainy season, and the villagers always disappear before they can be caught. In order to consolidate control over the area SLORC/SPDC would normally mount a major military offensive, but the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) does not hold any fixed territory there and is even more elusive than the villagers. It therefore appears that the regime has decided to go after the villagers first, clearing them out so that the KNLA will have nowhere to hide and no food to eat. Whatever villages could be ordered to move were ordered to move, but in most of the villages the troops could never catch anyone to give them the order, so a decision was made to simply annihilate these villages without warning, destroy all food supplies, and kill as many villagers as possible, simply to wipe them out or drive them out of the region. One SLORC written order dated 23 April 1997 told the headmen of 64 villages that they must move to military sites, then went on to say, "Small villages, even those not included in the above list, must move and consolidate to nearby consolidation villages before May 6th. Villages which fail to move will be destroyed." The "small villages not included in the list", which number in the hundreds, never even received a copy of that order. They were simply destroyed.

"They say that this is an enemy area, so they will destroy it. Here they don’t tell the villagers anything, they just burn everything and shoot everyone they meet. Around here they have already burned Bo Kywe, B’Na Kwih Duh, Kyaw Law, Bwa Heh Der, Kaw Mu Bwa Der, Yeh Mu Plaw, Thay Ko Mu Der, Dta Meh Der, Dta Paw Der, Mu Kee Der, Ber Baw, Kaw Weh Der - 12 villages." - Karen villager (M, 55) from Yeh Mu Plaw village, Papun District (Report #98-01)

KHRG has compiled a list of 192 villages in Papun and eastern Nyaunglebin Districts which had been burned and destroyed by the end of 1997, 105 villages ordered to move to military sites, and 62 confirmed killings of villagers by SLORC and SPDC troops (See "Wholesale Destruction", KHRG #98-01, 15/2/98). None of these lists are complete, and the destruction of villages in the area is continuing now. Since the operation began at least 23 SLORC/SPDC Battalions have been involved in the operation at various times. Army columns of 50 to 300 men move from village to village. On arrival near a village, the troops first shell it with mortars from the adjacent hills, then enter the village firing at anything that moves and proceed to burn every house, farmfield hut, and shelter they find in the area. Paddy storage barns are especially sought out and burned in order to destroy the villagers’ food supply. Any villagers seen in the villages, forests, or fields are shot on sight with no questions asked. Villages very close to Papun, Meh Way and Shwegyin have been ordered to move to Army-controlled sites such as Meh Way and the Shwegyin - Kyauk Kyi motor road, but the vast majority of villages have been given no orders whatsoever, they have simply been destroyed. Most of the villagers in the area say they do not even understand why this is being done, and that they think SLORC/SPDC is just trying to wipe out the Karen population. KNLA troops are not based in any of these villages, and have never yet been in a village when it was attacked.

"Then we built shelters above the village because we didn’t dare live in the village. We thought we could plant a crop, so we had already cleared the weeds. Then they came a second time, 2 weeks ago. They came to the place where we were staying, so we had to run to this side [of the river]. Then when we were staying on this side they came back a third time, one week ago. They came right here. So we ran further that time, and we’ve just come back 3 days ago. We can never stay in one place, we have to keep running like this. We’re very afraid that they’ll see us. If they come again we’ll run further than before." - Karen villager (M, 43) from Lay Po Kaw Tee village, Papun District (Report #98-01)

Most villagers in the region are surviving in leaf shelters or small huts which they build in the forest and trying to continue taking care of their fields. Those whose paddy storage barns have not been destroyed generally share out their rice with those who have no more food. Most are living on plain rice with some jungle leaf soup, and salt if they are lucky enough to have any. Almost all livestock has been left behind and slaughtered by SLORC/SPDC troops, who simply shoot it, eat a small part and leave the rest to rot. Malaria and other fevers, diarrhoea, dysentery, and other diseases are widespread and the villagers have no medicine whatsoever. Many children and the elderly have already died. Some villagers managed to plant a crop in the 1997 rainy season, but in many cases they had to flee SPDC patrols right at harvest time. In some areas these patrols deliberately burned or knocked down and destroyed crops which were ready for harvest. SPDC patrols are now returning to areas which they previously burned out in order to seek out and destroy the forest huts where the villagers are hiding, destroy any remaining rice supplies and shoot any people they can find.

"… she was sitting in our hut, putting water in the hollow bamboos. The Burmese came quietly and shot her. She never saw them, she was inside the hut and they came out of the forest. They saw her in the hut. I don’t know why they shot her dead, but then they burned the hut until nothing was left but ashes." - Karen villager (M, 55) from Yeh Mu Plaw village, Papun District, describing the murder of his wife by a SLORC patrol in June 1997 (Report #98-01)

"They told me the Burmese shot my husband in the leg and it was broken, but he was not dead. After that they tortured him badly. Then they stabbed him to death with a knife. When I thought about that, I didn’t want to live at all. … It is best never to meet the soldiers. If they see people, they kill them all. He just went to get betelnut leaves to sell so he could buy rice for us. Now he has left me with my little children. I couldn’t do anything, but my friends shared with me what they had. Two of my younger relatives went and buried my husband. … I remember him. I can never forget him. While I was climbing up the mountains with my children, I felt very tired, I couldn’t go on anymore and we fell behind, and still I remembered him. I can’t forget him, but there is nothing I can do." - Karen woman, 36, from Yan Aung village, Shwegyin township, Nyanglebin District; she lived in hiding in the forest from March-December 1997 before fleeing to Thailand, and a SLORC patrol shot her husband dead in August (Report #98-01)

"When the Burmese were firing the big gun she went back, and they saw her and captured her. I don’t know what happened to her. We heard that they tied up her hands and pulled her along with them to Baw Kwaw, at the Bu Loh Kloh. We haven’t heard that they’ve killed her. We’ve never seen her again." - Karen villager (M, 48) from Kyaw Law village, Papun District, describing the disappearance of his mentally handicapped sister-in-law (Report #98-01)

"… they went to that stream, climbed the mountain and saw us at the place where we were hiding, and they shot at us there. They shot with G4’s [automatic assault rifles]. They shot at one girl but she was running and the bullets ripped through her dress and tore part of it away. They shot at me and didn’t hit me, but the bullets went right through my sarong - they hit my sarong here, you can see the two holes. I was running. Three of us got holes in our sarongs like these, and they shot at two young ‘say mu wah’ girls [unmarried young girls who wear the traditional white dress], the bullets tore part of their dresses away. But no one was wounded, and we ran." - Karen villager (M, 49) from Paleh Der village, Papun District (Report #98-01)

"His name is Saw Eh K’Lu. He was a single boy, he was still in school. … I am his father, here is his mother and this is his house. … He was outside the village. We heard the Burmese coming and shooting, so we ran out of the village. But he didn’t know, he came running back to the village to see us and warn us, the SLORC saw him and shot him on the path. He was just coming back to help his mother and father. …They shot him in the arms, once here, once here [in both upper arms], and both of his legs also, here [both upper legs]. Two bullets in the head, in both sides of the back of his head. He was only 18 years old. … When they come to our village they see us and shoot us. They don’t think of us as human. They know that we are just villagers but they want to persecute us. Man or woman, they shoot everyone. But they couldn’t shoot everyone, so they just shot my son."- Karen villager (M, 49) from Paleh Der village, Papun District (Report #98-01)

At least 1,500 villagers from the area have managed to escape to refugee camps in Thailand thus far, but this is difficult and dangerous because of SPDC camps and patrols along the way and the landmines placed along many of the paths by the KNLA. Making the difficulties even worse, in the past 2 months Thai authorities have moved the refugee camps which were nearest to Papun District much further south. Refugees crossing now into this sparsely populated area of Thailand will only encounter Thai troops and Thai Border Patrol Police who are there to conduct illegal logging operations in the Salween National Park, and these forces will almost certainly force any new refugees back across the border. Refugee aid organisations and others have already been barred from the region by Thai authorities, so there will be no witnesses.

"We were living in the forest. The Burmese came to burn us out, so we couldn’t stay there anymore and we came here. We just arrived here the other day. We couldn’t stay there anymore, because the Burmese abused us until we had no more food. They destroyed all our rice and paddy, they burned all our food. They looked for our shelters and burned them. Last year we sowed rice in a little field, but they burned it. We couldn’t sow any rice this year. My wife died, only 8 months after we were married. When we ran in the forest she caught cold, then she got a fever and died. We came as only one family, myself and my mother."- Karen villager (M, 30) from Day Oo Koh village, Nyaunglebin District, just after fleeing to Thailand (Report #98-01)

"I’m afraid of Ko Per Baw [DKBA] and also of the Burmese. Now we also have to be afraid of the Thais because we are in their country."- Karen villager (M, 37) from Papun District just after fleeing to Thailand (Report #98-01)

"If the Thai soldiers say you must go back what are you going to do?"

"I can’t even think about that. We will just have to die. Our life is very difficult."- Karen villager (M, 40) from Papun District after arrival in Thailand (Report #98-01)

"What if the Thai soldiers point guns at you and drive you back?"

"We lived there in fear, we live here in fear. So what can we do? We must stay here."- Karen villager (M, 30) from Nyaunglebin District who fled to Thailand in December 1997 (Report #98-01)

Just to the north of Papun District, there has also been a steady increase in SPDC troop numbers in eastern Toungoo District. These troops have just completed construction of a military access road into the Bu Sah Kee area, which was formerly very difficult to access, and they have been increasingly clamping down on the civilian population there. At the same time, SPDC troops are pushing a military supply road straight across Nyaunglebin and Papun Districts to the Salween River, which forms the border with Thailand. This road is expected to be used as a springboard for an offensive to secure the Salween River and the entire Papun region, to block off KNLA supply lines and the escape routes of refugees and to allow the establishment of new military camps and further sweeps through the area to wipe out the Karen civilian population. Contracts have already been signed between SLORC/SPDC and Thai agencies to begin construction on dams along this portion of the Salween River, and foreign aid has already been sought from agencies such as the Asian Development Bank. The villagers are in the way.

"They said they want to end the Karen nationality. They want us to have no food and no houses so that if we don’t do something for our future we will all die."- Karen villager (F, 40) from Nyaunglebin District (Report #98-01)

"Why do the Burmese come and do all of this?"

"I’m not sure. I think that the Burmese are fighting to rule over people. But if they keep killing people like this, they will rule over nothing but mud. If they want to rule over people they should not kill them like this."- Karen villager (M, 63), now internally displaced in Papun District (Report #98-01)

"I’m not sure if I can stay here for a long time. Even though I don’t know where to go, if I can choose I will stay here [near her home]. Maybe we just have to run in the jungle and the mountains like this until we die by a Burmese bullet. Until we die we feel afraid and we run; some days we don’t know if we will die under the trees or under the bamboo. … If we see a way to go to a safer place you can be sure that we will go, because we dare not stay here any more. But for now we don’t see any way to go to a safe place so we must stay here like this, work like this, eat like this until we die, and then one’s story is finished."- Karen villager (F, 49) from Ku Day village, internally displaced in Papun District (Report #98-01)

Further south, in Pa’an District and Dooplaya District of central Karen State, the SPDC is at the stage of consolidating control by using villagers as forced labour to construct networks of roads throughout the region and new Army camps all along those roads, while at the same time doing localised forced relocations of villages where they cannot be conveniently controlled by an Army battalion. In Dooplaya, much of which was only occupied by the SPDC in February 1997, an entire network of roads is being constructed and/or improved, primarily centred on the main trading village of Kyaikdon and radiating outward in all directions. In mid-February 1998 two convoys totalling 50-70 military trucks loaded with convicts from prisons in other parts of Burma were brought to Kyaikdon and Saw Hta to begin forced labour on several of these roads. Each truck was packed tightly with 30-50 prisoners, so the total may be anywhere from 1,500 to over 3,000 people. However, villagers also continue to be used as forced labour on roads around Kyaikdon. In the area of the ‘hump’ of Dooplaya which projects into Thailand and in some areas right along the Thai border further south, most SPDC and DKBA units are not using local villagers as forced labour except as guides; instead they are bringing in civilian forced labour for portering and other work from further inside Burma, from as far as Pa’an and other towns. Many of the porters seen in the area are ethnically Burman. The apparent reasoning for this is to prevent villagers near the border from fleeing to Thailand, to lure refugees in Thailand into returning and to make it easier for Thai authorities to justify forced repatriation operations.

"The Burmese persecuted us until we couldn’t stand it anymore, so we came to our religious center [in Thailand]. They came last April. When they arrived in the village, the villagers fled. So they called the villagers back to the village. At that time, they did not use the villagers to be porters. They started using the villagers to be porters after the villagers were all back in the village for a long time. They forced us to work for them. They forced us to build buildings for them first, and after we finished the buildings they started to use us as porters. They told us that they would go just over there, but then they went for 2 to 3 days. They forced us to carry very heavy things. Bags of cement, bullets, we had to carry anything that they needed us to carry for them. Although we could not carry the things we had to try hard until we could. Not only the people from Kwih Law Der, but also people from Kwih Kler, Kwih Chit Mu, Meh Tharaw Hta and Maw - more than 100 people." - Dta La Ku villager describing life since the SLORC/SPDC occupation of Dooplaya District

Further inside in the central plain of Dooplaya things are somewhat worse for villagers. SPDC troops have a very heavy presence at Saw Hta, Kyaikdon and all other main villages, and villagers continue to be used for forced labour. A recent visitor to the Kya In area, along the Atayan River in the west of the district, reports that all small villages in the Kya In / Kya In Seik Gyi area have now been given orders to relocate to big SPDC-controlled villages. Muslims continue to be persecuted and banned from most areas where they previously lived, particularly the Kyaikdon area in the central plain of the district. According to villagers from Kyaikdon, SPDC troops there have threatened to kill any Muslims in the area, and there is a population of Muslims who have ‘converted’ (at least in public) to Buddhism because this is the only way they can still live there. All civilians with motor vehicles in central Dooplaya are now forced to use them to carry SPDC Army supplies, and the owner must even pay for the fuel. Army trucks are not used because they are possible targets for KNLA attack. On 24 March, a villagers’ car carrying SPDC supplies was blown up by a KNLA landmine, killing a man and his child. No compensation was given. SPDC authorities in Kyaikdon say they want to ‘develop’ Kyaikdon, and have been realigning and reparcelling much of the land in the village. In the process there are reports that some of the betelnut orchards, which occupy much of the land in and around the village and are central to the livelihood of the villagers, have been cut down. All villagers who want to live in Kyaikdon, including those who have always lived there and never left, are being forced to ‘buy’ their land, even if their house is already on it. SPDC authorities have divided all land in the village into plots big enough for a house and small surrounding garden, and villagers must pay 50,000 Kyats to the Army to buy their plot. If their house and garden already span more than one plot they must buy as many as necessary to keep their land.

"Even when we were in our house they came to our house and demanded chickens. We let them take what they wanted , but when their Sergeant came with a big truck he saw our coconuts and took the coconuts without asking permission. Then he went and took his soldiers’ gun and shot at the coconuts [in the tree] to destroy them. If you speak, they tell people, ‘You are very clever to speak, so I will kill you’. … They threaten people and say, ‘Now you are in our hands. If we decide to kill you, you can’t do anything.’" - Karen villager who fled the SPDC occupation of Dooplaya

In Pa’an and Dooplaya Districts, the SPDC has also added a twist to its usual program for consolidating control; here they are largely using proxy armies, namely the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which has existed since 1994, and the newly-formed "Nyein Chan Yay A’Pway" (literally, "Peace Force", though they have told some village leaders that their English name is KPA, for Karen Peace Army).

The DKBA was formed in December 1994 and immediately helped the SLORC to capture the Karen headquarters at Manerplaw. At that time most of its troops were ex-KNLA soldiers who were disgruntled with the Karen National Union (KNU), and it had a reasonable amount of civilian support from villagers who felt the same way and were tired of the deadlocked political situation and the constant Four Cuts operations they had to face from SLORC. Though on the surface this was presented (particularly by SLORC) as a Buddhist-Christian split, it was not; most Buddhists remained with the KNU, while some Christians went to the DKBA (and there are still Christians in the DKBA today). Since then, almost all of the former KNLA soldiers have left, and now most DKBA soldiers are villagers who joined at one point or another because of the inducements offered. The DKBA probably still numbers around 1-2,000 troops, but it no longer has any sense of political direction, the command structure is weak or nonexistent in most areas, and it has almost no support anymore from the civilian population, who are more disgruntled than ever with the KNU but now view the DKBA simply as an SPDC militia. The DKBA operates primarily in Pa’an and Thaton Districts, with some troops also in Papun District, usually as small local units attached to the local SPDC battalion. They collect money from villages and passenger cars on the roads, and they act as guides for SPDC patrols, helping to round up food, money and forced labourers for the SPDC soldiers and pointing out suspected KNU collaborators. In Pa’an District, SPDC has put them in charge of supervising forced labour on construction of some roads, such as the Pa’an - Myaing Gyi Ngu road and the Myaing Gyi Ngu - Meh Th’Wah road.

"This is to inform you that the gentleman’s village should send 100 bamboo ties, 5 bamboo [poles], and 100 [shingles of] thatch to Lu Baw village on the 10th for the use of Frontline Light Infantry Battalion #12 without fail." - SLORC written order to a village in Pa’an District, June 1997 (Report #98-02)

"Frontline Light Infantry Battalion #12 needs rotating servants, so you gentlemen in each village should send ( 2 ) to Kyaw Ko village today. Chairmen should also come with them." - SLORC written order to a village in Pa’an District, June 1997 (Report #98-02)

The DKBA headquarters is still at Myaing Gyi Ngu (a.k.a. Khaw Taw Pu) on the Salween River. Karen visitors report that there are several thousand households of villagers there, simply because if they stay there they do not have to do forced labour for the SPDC. They still have to do forced labour on pagodas and roads for the DKBA, but this is seen as much less dangerous, with much less chance of being beaten to death or otherwise abused. Villagers living there are not allowed to farm or eat meat, and they receive small rations of rice and occasionally yellow beans, all provided by SPDC. However, the SPDC has stated that it will only supply Myaing Gyi Ngu for "four years and one month", in other words until the end of 1998, and after that time it is unclear what will happen to Myaing Gyi Ngu. The KNLA has recently attacked the headquarters twice, the latest attack being on 24 March 1998. They were targetting DKBA leaders including U Thuzana, founder and patron monk of the DKBA, but U Thuzana is almost never to be found in Myaing Gyi Ngu or among the DKBA anymore and the DKBA is too thinly spread to have more than a few soldiers in Myaing Gyi Ngu. According to soldiers involved in the latest KNLA attack, some houses were burned, up to 15 or more villagers may have been killed and 70 more wounded, but no damage was done to the DKBA leadership. Throughout March a number of other DKBA bases were also attacked by KNLA troops with varying degrees of success. The only real beneficiary of this fighting is the SPDC, and the junta seems more than happy to create the conditions under which Karen will fight Karen.

To further this end, a new proxy army has now been created to the south in Dooplaya District under the leadership of Thu Mu Heh, the former commander of KNLA 16th Battalion who was notorious for corruption and abuse of villagers. When SLORC attacked Dooplaya in February 1997, he surrendered his battalion without a fight in a deal which had clearly been prearranged. Most of his troops fled rather than join him, but SLORC/SPDC have now set him up with an army of his own, the Karen Peace Army (KPA). Thu Mu Heh promoted himself to General, and the SPDC made a big show in the media of handing him "authority" over all of Dooplaya, from Kawkareik in the north to Three Pagodas Pass in the south. It is a large area, but Thu Mu Heh only has an estimated 200 or 300 recruits so he is now actively recruiting villagers. Villagers throughout Dooplaya are being told that if they join the KPA, their house will be marked and their family will no longer have to do forced labour for the SPDC.

The KPA is also targetting the Dta La Ku for recruitment. The Dta La Ku are a Karen religious minority who have very strict beliefs and practices which in some aspects resemble Buddhism, in others Christianity as well as Animism. They are very devout, following strict codes regarding food, dress and lifestyle, and many other Karen regard them as being particularly holy and having special powers. The men are easily recognisable because they grow their hair long and wear it in a top knot, held by a kerchief or bandana. The Dta La Ku number an estimated four or five thousand, living in certain villages of Dooplaya and a small part of Thailand adjacent to the Burma border. About 1,500 of them fled to Thailand in September 1997 due to forced labour after the SLORC/SPDC occupation of their villages, but most of these have returned to their villages over the past one to two months after agreements were reached that the DKBA would keep them from being used continually for forced labour. Over the decades the Dta La Ku have been caught between many sides in the struggle all trying to coerce or force their support, including the KNU, the DKBA and the SLORC; they usually manage to stay independent, though they have often paid a heavy price for this in the form of retaliations by the Armies of all sides. Now the KPA is trying to force their support. The four main villages of the Dta La Ku (Kwih Lat Der, Kwih Kler, Maw, and Kyaw Kwa) have been ordered to report the numbers of all Dta La Ku men and boys aged 15 to 40, and all of these are then to be trained as KPA militia for their villages. Joining an armed group goes directly against the religious beliefs of the Dta La Ku and against their desire to remain above politics. So far they are refusing the order to become militia members, though they report that they are in fear of what retaliation they may face as a result. Dta La Ku elders and villagers report that if the SPDC and the KPA act against them, they will have to flee to Thailand rather than join the KPA.

"Now the problem is for the Dta La Ku people. Dta La Ku can’t carry weapons and become soldiers. Everyone knows that we do not make good soldiers. First they came to make the family list [of all families in his village]. But after we gave them our family information, they changed our family list to the KPA list. So we bravely stood up to them and told them that we would never enter into the Peace Army. We told them, ‘If you want to kill us, we agree to die, but we can’t do their "peace" work’. They needed us to become soldiers. They would teach us through their training, they would give us guns. So we said that we couldn’t do work which involves carrying weapons and shooting people. ‘If you kill us we agree to die.’ So they got angry with us and told us that they will report us to Than Shwe and the UN. We said do as you like, if you want to report to Than Shwe, we don’t mind [Than Shwe is Chairman of SPDC]. If you want to kill us we will let you kill us. That is our problem. … [Another villager added:] Lone Shwe [a KPA officer] said that if we don’t do as the others do, it means we are their enemies. Yes, he said that." - Dta La Ku villagers from Dooplaya District

"To get people into the KPA they didn’t say that people must become KPA, they just said that they wanted to know how many families there are in each village and how old the people are. After that, they said that men 15 to 40 years old must become KPA. Only the Dta La Ku. They will take all, because they already know our number and our ages." - Dta La Ku villager from Dooplaya District

Once the KPA has finished its training it is hard to predict how it will operate; however, its words and actions thus far appear to indicate that it may try to work on a village militia basis, sending many of its trainees back to their home villages to exert direct KPA/SPDC control. This would probably make life much more difficult for the villagers in terms of forced labour and extortion (particularly given the known corruption of Thu Mu Heh himself), though it may also reduce the number of villages in the central part of the district which SPDC troops would otherwise force to relocate. For example, Thay Pa Taw village was initially forced to move by SLORC/SPDC, but now the KPA is telling them to return to their village. The SPDC and KPA may decide to impose a system whereby any village which fails to provide KPA recruits is forced to relocate.

The SPDC appears to favour the KPA over the DKBA, whom they have never trusted; this is understandable, given that the DKBA was originally formed with the idea of Karen autonomy in Karen State, whereas the KPA has been formed by a corrupt officer with no interests except money and power. When it gave authority over Dooplaya to the KPA, the SPDC ordered the DKBA out of Dooplaya with the exception of a strip of land along the Thai border from Myawaddy down to and including the "hump" of Dooplaya which projects into the Umphang area of Thailand. Villagers from Dooplaya have already reported that the KPA and the DKBA cannot stand each other, and it is possible that the SPDC will pit the two groups against each other in the future. With the KNU, the DKBA and the KPA all fighting each other, Karen against Karen, SPDC control of Karen State couldn’t be easier. (The current situation in Dooplaya District will be covered in an upcoming KHRG report.)

"I want to say this. If you are not carrying weapons and I’m not carrying weapons, we see each other and sit together and talk to each other in peace. If you and I are both carrying weapons, then it is not easy for us to sit together. We will have to be afraid of each other and stay far from each other. If neither of us have weapons, we don’t need to be afraid of each other, we will sit closely and talk to each other. So it is not easy for us to answer [to groups which ask them to take sides]. If we carry weapons, the other groups will think about us, "Are they our enemy?" And then they dare not come to sit with us. So we don’t want to do bad things like that. Real peace is to sit together like this." - Dta La Ku villager describing the dilemma of the Dta La Ku, who are always being pressured to take up arms for one side or another

One feature of the war in Karen State which has become depressingly routine is the repeated cross-border attacks into Thailand to burn and destroy Karen refugee camps (the 1998 camp attacks will be covered in an upcoming KHRG report). On 10 March 1998 just before midnight, a jeep and several motorbikes drove into Huay Kaloke refugee camp, home to almost 9,000 Karen refugees, through the main gate. Thai soldiers supposed to guard the gate had left. The vehicles drove through the camp with their headlights off, dropped off some people and then left. Then at 12:30 a.m. another group of attackers were dropped off from trucks in a field on the opposite side of the camp and entered the camp, firing M79 grenades and rocket-propelled grenades ahead of them, firing assault rifles, and then setting fire to each house as they passed. They marauded through the entire camp, burning 84% of the houses and shooting up the entire camp before leaving. There was no resistance by Thai forces, who had left the camp before the attack, just as they have done in almost every refugee camp attack since 1995. In fact, in this attack many refugees believe they recognised the vehicles which brought the attackers as Thai Army vehicles. 36 refugees were wounded by bullets, shell fragments and burns. A pregnant woman named Ma Pein was shot and then burned to death in the camp, and a 7-year-old boy named Pa Lah Ghay was hit in the head by shrapnel and died on the way to hospital. One entire family tried to hide from the shooting in a concrete well behind their house, but the intense heat from the burning bamboo turned the well into an oven and they were all very severely burned by the time they got out. Their 15-year-old daughter died of her burns 3 days later.

"The soldiers arrived first at the bank of the stream and they did not start to shoot yet; they were lining up and they were setting up their mortar. When I saw them, we started to run and then they saw us and they fired their guns. They fired guns first and then shells of big weapons started to land. Then the soldiers separated themselves in two groups in front of my house. There were more than ten soldiers in each group. They started to burn the houses as soon as they entered the camp. I told my family, "Don’t take anything, we will run". I ran with my wife and my child. My wife could not put her slippers on, nor could my mother-in-law. I couldn’t carry anything, not even my blankets. … My mother was wounded. She was wounded in the back by a shell. I think it was a shell from a mortar, a 2½ inch shell. They fired the mortar from near the mango tree. Now she is in the hospital but she can talk..." - refugee at Huay Kaloke who saw the attackers enter the camp

"When we were asleep we heard explosions from section one and section four, we were afraid and we ran. When we ran to the field, a shell landed in front of us and we ran quickly. We said, ‘Run, run!’, we did not stay here. Some were shouting, some were running, some were crying, some were running but they had no sarong." - Karen woman refugee from Huay Kaloke

"I heard the explosion and I ran to the toilets [the concrete toilets at the school]. They saw me and they fired their guns near the toilets. … I stayed in the toilets until the fire went out. I didn’t see them because I dared not get out. I dared not lift my head up to look outside. They shot nonstop. The shell of a big weapon landed near me so I dared not lift up my head. But I heard them going and swearing in Burmese when they came and shot up the school’s library." - man from Huay Kaloke refugee camp

"…my brother was in our house trying to gather our clothing, food and blankets. He was hurrying to follow us, but luckily while he was grabbing the bottle of my children’s milk powder in his frightened hands, he dropped the bottle. Just as he bent to pick up the bottle a 2½-inch shell exploded behind my house. That shell wounded 6 people behind my house." - woman refugee from Huay Kaloke

"The first shell hurt a teacher and a boy. Then they shelled nonstop with M79 and 2½ inch. So many children were hurt by the shells. Girls and boys were wounded. They had bad injuries. A pregnant woman was shot and then burned to death in Section 2 behind camp leader Mary On’s house. Her daughter was hurt as well, by a shell fragment in her hip. Her daughter is only 9 years old. There were 4 members of a family who were terribly burned, and the youngest daughter died 3 days later. … Another sleeping family was also injured [by shell fragments] - the mother was hit in her left breast. Her 9 year old daughter was hit in the left side of her head. Her 7 year old son was hit in his right shoulder and his left hand." - Karen human rights monitor living in Huay Kaloke

The refugees fled to the camp monastery, which wasn’t burned, and the fields surrounding the camp. Between 2 and 3 a.m. the Thai soldiers reappeared and wandered through the field, telling the refugees to sit still and beating six people. Three days after the attack, Thai soldiers went around ordering all the refugees to go back and stay in the ashes of the camp, telling them that if they didn’t obey then the Thai Army would burn the makeshift shelters they’d put up and push them back to Burma at gunpoint. During the attack, DKBA soldiers had told refugees that they would come back after 3 days and kill anyone who remained in the camp, so the refugees were very afraid of obeying the Thais but they had no choice. They still remain in the ashes of the camp, in the dirt under makeshift shelters of straw and plastic sheeting, waiting for the Thai Army to decide their fate.

"We are afraid and we go and sleep outside [the camp] every night. We are afraid of Thais, Burmese, and DKBA; everybody. The Thai soldiers said, ‘Don’t stay here. Gawlawa [white foreigners] won't look after you. Go back to Burma.’ We are afraid. The Thai soldier who talked to us was the one who stays at the checkpoint. He told us, ‘I told you to go back to Burma and you haven’t gone. Why do you trust the Gawlawa? We are bigger than the Gawlawa. If we block the road then the Gawlawa’s rice won't be able to come. If we send you, you must go back. You have a country. Why don't you go back?" - Karen woman refugee from Huay Kaloke talking about the situation after the camp attack

Fifty kilometres further north at Mae La (Beh Klaw) camp, home to over 30,000 Karen refugees, fears of an attack began when a small group of DKBA troops crossed the border on 15 February and tried to fire M79 grenades into the camp. The grenades fell short, but this was the beginning of a series of border incursions that culminated in a large DKBA force entrenching itself in Thailand while DKBA and SPDC forces on the Burma side of the river fired mortar shells at a Thai Army post, a Thai village, and the refugee camp itself, setting fire to some houses in the Thai village of Nya Mu Kloh and wounding Pa Kyot Klot, a middle-aged man in the refugee camp. The DKBA/SPDC troops on the Thai side of the border also laid some landmines around Nya Mu Kloh which later wounded 3 Thai soldiers and damaged their vehicles. The force on Thai soil continued trying to evade the defences and attack the camp, but failed and eventually went back across the border.

The night of the 22nd of March, a combined DKBA/SPDC force crossed the border and attacked Maw Ker refugee camp, 40 km. south of Mae Sot and home to about 8,400 Karen refugees. About 50 houses were burned and 14 refugees were injured, including 4 who were seriously wounded. Refugees who witnessed the attack saw a group of SPDC soldiers staying back behind the monastery in order to support the attack force if necessary, and they believe that SPDC troops were also in the group which went to burn the houses. Up until this attack, Maw Ker camp leaders had always had an arrangement with the DKBA unit across the border to prevent the camp being attacked. Refugees heard from contacts across the border that when SPDC ordered this attack, the DKBA unit refused so the SPDC had to bring in a special unit of DKBA based 100 kilometres to the north in Pa’an District, led by commander Maung Chit Thu (the same DKBA leader who attempted to attack Mae La; he is well known in Pa’an District).

"I was not sleeping when I heard the heavy weapon, I was breastfeeding my child. I went down to the ground and my husband told me, ‘Don’t run, they are firing big weapons and a lot of shells are landing’. I dared not stay so I took my child and I ran outside the house. My sarong was falling down so I told my husband, ‘Carry the baby’. … A lot of bullets landed in front of me. I covered myself like this [with her hands] and when they started firing I was wounded in my hand." - Karen woman refugee from Maw Ker camp

"The DKBA burned the houses and they called out, ‘Burn, burn!’ They spoke in Pwo Karen. I could hear because I stayed inside the bunker when they started to burn the houses. … The Burmese were behind them - they stayed behind the monastery, and the DKBA didn’t burn the monastery. The Burmese fired their guns until the DKBA called to them in Burmese language, ‘Don’t fire, don’t fire!’ And then the Burmese didn’t fire." - Karen woman refugee from Maw Ker camp

"There were casualties in section one and also in section three. In section one there were my daughter and two others who got just a few fragments. One is injured on her hip and another in his leg. The one who got injured in the leg, the pieces entered his thigh. … The baby there is only seven days old, he got injured and his father, his mother and his whole family got injured. Now there is no one to take care of him so I help him. His mother is in very bad condition, the shell fragments penetrated her lungs, all over her back and in her buttocks." - Karen man refugee from Maw Ker camp

The situation in the refugee camps continues to be extremely tense. Many refugees in Mae La and most of those in Noh Po refugee camp (in the Umphang region opposite Dooplaya District) have dug bunkers near their houses. Near Noh Po refugee camp in the week leading up to 27 March, Thai soldiers reported that SPDC troops were entering Thailand every day to look for weaknesses in the border defences; each time, the SPDC patrols would continue into Thailand until they were seen by Thai soldiers, then withdraw. Thai soldiers in the area admitted they cannot effectively defend Noh Po camp, yet the refugees continue to be held in the camp like prisoners, with no permission to leave or reenter. As the DKBA has been withdrawn from the area opposite Noh Po camp, if an attack comes it will have to be conducted by SPDC troops, KPA, or possibly a DKBA group brought in from elsewhere, as was the case in Maw Ker camp.

Though only the major attacks attract much attention, there has been a constant stream of small-scale attacks on both Karen and Thai civilians since 1995. However, it is in the large-scale attacks which destroy refugee camps that we see direct evidence of SPDC involvement, support and planning. The logistics of planning attacks on several camps at once (such as the early 1997 attacks, when 3 camps were attacked the same night) and transport of DKBA soldiers long distances through Burma and Thailand to the camps, the shelling support from SPDC positions across the border, and the eyewitness accounts that some of the attackers are Burmans, all point to direct SPDC involvement in all of the main camp attacks. (The 1998 refugee camp attacks will be covered in an upcoming KHRG report.)

"About twenty or thirty came. I saw Burmese soldiers and DKBA, I saw all of them. I don’t know what they were wearing, it looked like the Burmese soldier’s uniforms. I dared not look anymore, I ran." - Karen man refugee from Maw Ker camp

"They looked like drunkards. They had taken the medicine. They looked like fools. When they take the medicine they don’t know anything and we are afraid that they will kill us. We dare not go near them. We are afraid of the DKBA and of the Burmese. The Burmese are friendly to the DKBA, but what they may do one day to the DKBA we don’t know." - woman from Huay Kaloke refugee camp. The DKBA attackers are usually on ‘myin say’, an amphetamine-type drug common in Burma and Thailand, which makes people aggressive and stupid

The Thai Army has also clearly been complicit in almost every major refugee camp attack. Until this year, this complicity took the form of withdrawing from the camps several hours before they were to be attacked, and in some cases (such as Baw Noh camp in 1995) deliberately disarming the Karen camp security force before the attack occurred. However, if it is true that the Thai Army helped to transport the attackers through Thailand to burn Huay Kaloke refugee camp on 10-11 March, then Thai complicity has reached an entirely new level. Already there have been many cases over the past year of refugees being beaten, and even in some cases killed, by their Thai guards, Thai looting of refugees’ houses, attempted rapes, and other abuses. The refugees have absolutely no faith in the Thai Army or any aspect of Thai authority, and international protection is clearly needed.

"We can’t trust in Thai soldiers. They do not dare to shoot. They will never shoot, even when their duty is to shoot." - Thai Karen villager near Noh Po refugee camp, answering whether he believes the Thai Army will defend the border

In theory, protection should be the role of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and it now appears that the Thai Government is finally about to allow the UNHCR a role in the camps; however, the UNHCR has consistently proven throughout the world that it is more interested in protecting governments from refugees rather than the other way around. It is important that the international community watch the UNHCR with extreme skepticism and suspicion to make sure the agency does not follow its usual pattern and immediately launch into negotiations with the Thai Army, the Thai Government and the SPDC to reach an agreement on a forced repatriation which the UNHCR could then legitimise with its false stamp of "Volrep" (this word, coined by UNHCR and short for "Voluntary Repatriation", is used as both a noun and a verb by UNHCR officials whenever referring to any repatriation operation). The refugees deserve much better than that. At great risk and at great loss they have managed to escape a regime that has vowed to control every aspect of their lives, to use their lives for its own purposes, and to take those lives whenever it wants. Now they at least deserve the right to determine their own fate.

"Now we have to be afraid of the SPDC Army and the Thai Army as well. The Thai soldiers are not kind to us, because the Thai Government wants to drive us back to forced labour, portering and hunger in Burma. I believe we need a safer place for refugees. … Then we need a UN Army to provide security for us because we cannot trust the Thais. I have many Thai soldier friends, and they’ve told me that they really won’t protect us. They don’t want to kill the SPDC Army. They are not brave in battle, they are only cruel to refugee people. I have been in Thailand for 14 years, and I know very well about the Thai spirit. They love only money. If we can pay money to them then they pretend to care for us, but when they finish spending the money they no longer pretend to care. Their faces and mouths show their hearts." - Karen woman refugee living in Huay Kaloke

"On 14/7/97 there was a meeting for all Township and Village LORC representatives in Karen State at Pa’an. The Secretary of the Karen State LORC met representatives from Hlaing Bwe township about agriculture and regional development. He told them to concentrate on increasing rice production and that there will be further increases in the amount of quota rice to be purchased, so the local leaders should cooperate. However, the local leaders explained that many paddy fields were destroyed by the floods so this would be difficult to implement. Also, the local leaders said they were worried about starvation of the villagers in the coming year. But the Secretary did not address the local leaders’ concerns. He changed the subject, saying that there will be a new school built under the local development program. He said the school would cost about 900,000 Kyats. The Village LORC representatives responded gladly to this news for the sake of their villagers. … Then the State Secretary added that the State would provide 300,000 Kyats, and the remaining 600,000 Kyats must be provided by the local people. The Village LORC representatives thought of the villagers, who are already under the heavy burden of porter fees, and they replied that in that case they don’t want a school, they just want one teacher and they would arrange to build the school by themselves. The Secretary appeared not to like this idea, and he replied that there are not enough teachers, so they could not send one teacher. He said that to get a teacher is impossible." - letter from a Karen villager in Pa’an District, October 1997 (Report #98-02)

"We carried their things but they didn’t call us porters, they called us "Nga Pway ration officers". Usually two of them would lift our loads up onto our backs, then if we were unable to stand up they would shout at us, "Nga lo ma tha, Nga Pway ration officer!" ["Fuck your mother, you Ringworm ration officer!"]. Then theystomped on us, and if we were on the ground we had to get back on our feet very quickly or they would keep stomping on us. … A lot got sick but they didn’t give them any medicine. They just made them go on like that, and they lost porters one by one. … One was very old and couldn’t walk anymore, so a 3rd-rank soldier came and kicked him and he fell on the path. Then a 3-stripe soldier [a Sergeant] came and said, "Uncle, don’t you feel well?" The man answered, "I am not well, I can’t even talk anymore", then another 2nd-rank soldier came with a big stone, threw it down on the man’s head and he died. They often kill people like that." - internally displaced Karen man, aged 46, from Papun District who was used for over a month as a porter by a SLORC column which was burning every village in the area (Report #98-01)

"Pi Blu Paw": [asking the interviewer] Nephew, we stay in Kaw Thoo Lei and we always have to run like this. Do you think that there will be peace one day and that we’ll be able to stay here and sleep in our house, or will we have to run again? Can we get our country? Can you tell me that?

Interviewer: I can’t answer you this.

"Pi Blu Paw": The Burmese try to force us to move to the town but we don’t want to go there. They force us to leave and to go to stay with them, and they surround us and hold us there. I don’t want to go. What do we have to do? Can you tell me?

Interviewer: I can’t tell you.

"Pi Blu Paw": We don’t want to run to Thailand. The Thai soldiers give us problems there, and the DKBA as well - but if we stay here SLORC gives us problems and oppresses us.- Karen villager (F, 50) from Paleh Der village, Papun District (Report #98-01)

"I don’t think there will be peace in our village. In our village the main things we have to know are how to run into the forest, where to run, and to be afraid."- Karen villager (M, over 50) from Paleh Der village, Papun District (Report #98-01)

"If they can’t control us, they will kill all of us. They order us to go and live with them. Can we live with them? We have grown up in the mountains, we eat rice three times a day, we plant our fields. How can we live together with them there? We must stay here. Our ancestors stayed here. But they tell us to go and live there, to make peace with them there. We don’t want to live there. We can’t live like them. People who make peace with them must carry heavy loads as porters. Then if they can’t walk anymore the Burmese hack at their legs with their knives, kick them, kill them, so we dare not go to live with them. … Now we stay at H---, we dare not go to Papun. If we go they will capture us. If they only arrested us it wouldn’t matter, we would answer whatever questions they ask, but they don’t do it like that. They put us in jail and kill us after they capture us. Terrible! We dare not go."- Karen villager (M, 36) internally displaced in Papun District (Report #98-01)

"The Burmese can never make peace. They always shoot us when they come, they only come to shoot us. So how can they bring peace?"- Karen villager (M, 27) from Nyaunglebin District (Report #98-01)