KILLING THE SHAN: The Continuing Campaign of Forced Relocation in Shan State

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Published date:
Saturday, May 23, 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). However, there was no change in the four key leaders of the junta, and judging by the testimonies of villagers throughout Burma and the continuation of all of the regime’s military operations, there has been no change in policy. In order to remain in power and "hold the country together", the junta feels that it must control every inch of territory and the daily lives of every civilian in Burma. This is done through the Four Cuts policy, which aims to undermine both the nonviolent pro-democracy movement and the armed resistance groups. The policy involves identifying regions of potential armed or unarmed resistance, and systematically uprooting and impoverishing the civilian populations in these areas so that there is no way they can provide material support to any opposition groups. 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. In the past, the regime would strategically destroy 2 or 3 villages at a time when there was resistance. Now when they perceive a possibility of resistance, they delineate the entire geographic region and forcibly relocate and destroy every village there is, as many as hundreds of villages at a time. In many cases, these villages have had little or no contact with resistance forces and do not even understand why they are being targetted.

This report aims to provide a picture of the current situation in central Shan State, where the military junta ruling Burma has forcibly uprooted and destroyed over 1,400 villages and displaced over 300,000 people since 1996. This campaign against civilians is still continuing, and the number of villages destroyed is increasing each month. In this report, some of the villagers who have fled in 1997 and 1998 describe their experiences. Further background and detail on the campaign to uproot the Shan can be found in the previous Karen Human Rights Group report "Forced Relocation in Central Shan State" (KHRG #96-23, 25/6/96), and in the April 1998 report "Dispossessed: Forced Relocation and Extrajudicial Killings in Shan State" by the Shan Human Rights Foundation.

This report consists of two main parts: first a summary description of recent developments in the forced relocation campaign illustrated by quotes from interviews with villagers, and secondly the full text of interviews with villagers conducted by the Karen Human Rights Group in 1997 and 1998. The names of all of those interviewed have been changed and other details omitted where necessary to protect people. False names are indicated in quotation marks, while all other names are real. Please note that there are many ways to transliterate Shan village names and people’s names into English, so spellings here may vary from those in other reports on the subject. For example, Murng (which can also be spelt Mong, Mung, Merng); Nong (Nawng); Pang Long (Parng Lawng); Nam Zang (Nam Sang, Nam Sarng); Lang Kher (Larngkher, Lang Ker); Kay See (Ke See, Keh Si); and many other names. In most cases we have tried to keep our spellings close to those used by the Shan Human Rights Foundation as well as those used by KHRG in our previous reports. KHRG would like to thank the Shan Human Rights Foundation for providing information which has been very useful in the production of this report.

"Not a single village is left unmoved east of the Nam Teng except Wan Sang. The soldiers are shooting at innocent people, killing livestock for food and taking whatever they want. All villages in the area from Wan Sang up to Murng Nong and Kay See have had to move. From July 7th to 10th [1997] all had to move to the town, including Wan Sang, except Parng Pone relocation site where SLORC troops have their base. Some have already been moved 3 or 4 times. From Nong Kaw to Tard Mok, from Tard Mok to Zai Lai [Kun], from Zai Lai to Wan Sang and finally from Wan Sang to the town [Lai Kha]. … All of that includes no less than 40 or 50 villages. … 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." - "Phra Zing Ta" (M, 29), a Shan Buddhist monk describing the situation in the Lai Kha region (Interview #5)

In November 1997 the State Law & Order Restoration Council (SLORC) military junta ruling Burma changed its name to the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC). However, there was no change in the four key leaders of the junta, and judging by the testimonies of villagers throughout Burma and the continuation of all of the regime’s military operations, there has been no change in policy. In order to remain in power and "hold the country together", the junta feels that it must control every inch of territory and the daily lives of every civilian in Burma. This is done through the Four Cuts policy, which aims to undermine both the nonviolent pro-democracy movement and the armed resistance groups. The policy involves identifying regions of potential armed or unarmed resistance, and systematically uprooting and impoverishing the civilian populations in these areas so that there is no way they can provide material support to any opposition groups. 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. In the past, the regime would strategically destroy 2 or 3 villages at a time when there was resistance. Now when they perceive a possibility of resistance, they delineate the entire geographic region and forcibly relocate and destroy every village there is, as many as hundreds of villages at a time. In many cases, these villages have had little or no contact with resistance forces and do not even understand why they are being targetted.

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. This report provides an update and further interviews on this relocation campaign. It follows up on the Karen Human Rights Group report "Forced Relocation in Central Shan State" (KHRG #96-23, 25/6/96). For a comprehensive analysis, detailed maps and a township-by-township breakdown of the forced relocation campaign, the April 1998 report "Dispossessed: Forced Relocation and Extrajudicial Killings in Shan State" by the Shan Human Rights Foundation is highly recommended reading.

In the first 2 years of this campaign, over 1,400 villages have been ordered to relocate and destroyed, an estimated 300,000 people have been made homeless, and at least 80,000 of these have fled to Thailand - yet the armed resistance is far from being wiped out. 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. In September 1997 the SURA 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." - "Loong On" (M, 58) from Nam Toom village, Murng Nai township (Interview #2)

"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. … Five days after they ordered us to move they came to the village to see if anyone was left, but they saw that nobody was left there and then they burned down the village." - "Nang Sep" (F, 22) from Khok Sang village, Kay See township (Interview #12)

"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." - "Sai Ti" (M, 24) from Bang Nim village, Loi Lem township (Interview #11)

In mid-1996, KHRG estimated that at least 450 villages in 8 townships had been forcibly relocated. By the end of 1996, the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) estimated the number to be at least 605 villages in 8 townships. The numbers rapidly increased, and by the end of March 1998 SHRF had compiled a list of 1,478 villages in 11 townships which have been relocated and destroyed: the initial townships of Kun Hing (185 villages), Nam Zang (181), Lai Kha (201), Kay See (364), Murng Kerng (186), Murng Nai (99), and Lang Kher (31), and townships where relocations started in 1997 and 1998, including Murng Pan (61 villages), Murng Peng (24), Loi Lem (129), and Ho Pong (17). In Murng Hsu township, relocations occurred in 1996 but then were discontinued because SURA troops were not operating there.

Through 1997 and 1998, the SLORC/SPDC has expanded the relocation area to the east (across the Salween River into Murng Peng township), to the south into Murng Pan township, and to the west of Murng Kerng, Lai Kha and Nam Zang, into Ho Pong and Loi Lem townships (see the map [444 KB] accompanying this report). The relocation area already covers over 7,000 square miles, and new refugees arriving in Thailand report that throughout April 1998 the SPDC has been relocating more villages further and further west of Loi Lem, expanding the relocation area almost as far west as Taunggyi, capital of Shan State. There is no sign that the relocations will abate anytime soon. Furthermore, many of the sites to which people were forced to move in 1996 and 1997 have now been forced to move again, and some villagers report that they have been moved from one relocation site to another 3 or 4 times since 1996 as the SPDC attempts to consolidate the population further and further.

"Last year around Keng Kham tract, 5 tracts were moved: Keng Kham, Nar Teng, Koon Bu, Loi Keng, and Nar Boi. The SLORC troops forced the tracts of Koon Bu, Loi Keng and Nar Boi to move into Keng Kham and our village, Wo Long. But this year they forced us to move too [as well as all the people who were forced to move there in 1996]. Keng Kham had over 200 households before people were forced to move there. In our village and in Keng Kham village there were almost a thousand [relocated] families. In our village alone there were more than 300 [relocated families]." - "Loong Seng" (M, 60) from Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #1)

"They told us by mouth. We had to be moved completely by the last week of the month. We had to move from Na Tsen to Pang Long. They said if we weren’t able to move completely they would burn the village. Four houses from Hoi Her were completely burned down, and in San Khan they burned three houses. Many villages were ordered to move at the same time as ours: Bang Hoo, Sanen, Na Tek, ... I can remember Look Koi, Mak Khee Noo, Bang Yang, Huay Koot, Lang Ka, Wan Tam, Kho Tong, Khok Lao, Sak Pung, Loi Lam … all the villages in Ho Pong township and in Bang Hoo village tract [of Loi Lem township]. There are no more villages in the area." - "Sai Tan" (M, 35) from Na Tsen village, Loi Lem township, which was relocated in February 1998; SPDC only began destroying villages this far west in January 1998

In mid-1996 KHRG published a list of 14 Battalions which had been involved in the relocations. Since the beginning of 1997 at least 21 SLORC/SPDC Battalions have been involved: Infantry Battalions #12, 43, 64, 99, 246, and 248, and Light Infantry Battalions #331, 332, 376, 378, 424, 442, 513, 515, 516, 517, 518, 520, 523, 524, and 525; in addition, troops from Light Infantry Divisions #44, 55, and 66 have participated. This list is by no means complete. At the same time, villagers have been used as forced labour to build several new major Army bases, and a new military air base right in the heart of the relocation region at Nam Zang; this base is the largest military air base in Shan State and is now operational. The villagers who did the forced labour building it are no longer allowed anywhere near it.

"Our village is also close to the air base. Before, they forced the villagers to build the air strip and the air base, but now it’s finished. They finished it last year. Now the villagers can’t even get near the air base. It’s very strict around the air base." - "Sai Kyawng" (M, 40) from Wan Ba Lek village, Nam Zang township (Interview #7)

"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." - "Sai Lai Kham" (M, 36) from Wan Jong village, Nam Zang township (Interview #6)

Some villages have been issued written orders to move, but in most cases the order is just given orally by the local military officer or a passing patrol. Sometimes village leaders of several villages in an area are summoned to meetings and given orders to relocate. The order generally allows them 3 to 7 days, sometimes longer, to get out of their village, after which they are told that all belongings will be destroyed and all villagers shot on sight. The officers give reasons for the relocation, usually accusing the villagers of harbouring Shan soldiers or telling them that the civilians must be cleared out so the Shan soldiers can be killed, though in many cases these villages have had little or no contact with Shan soldiers. In the earlier relocations, many villages were ordered to move to more central ‘consolidation villages’, and many others were simply driven out without being told where to go. More recently, most villages being relocated are being ordered to empty fields beside Army camps, motor roads, or large towns such as Kun Hing and Lai Kha, rather than to other villages. Most villagers begin moving their belongings immediately, making several trips to save as many of their food supplies and possessions as possible before the deadline. Those without bullock carts or ‘trologies’ (small motorised Chinese tractors which can haul small carts) find it very difficult to save their possessions in time, particularly if it is a full day’s walk or further to the relocation site. In some cases, SPDC troops have confiscated everyone’s rice supplies just before the move, then redistributed only a small part of it back to the villagers once they arrive at the relocation site.

"May 9th [1997]. This was the deadline. If we didn’t move by then, we would be killed. They gave us 3 days. We were all ordered to go to a temple in Keng Kham, 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. So when the deadline came on May 9th, some people hadn’t been able to complete their move because they were still porters." - "Loong Seng" (M, 60) from Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #1)

"They said the Shan soldiers were staying in our village. They [SLORC] shelled three times. There were about 10 or 20 days between each shell. The first time it didn’t explode. The second time it exploded to the south of the village, in a field. The third time it fell very close to the west side of the village. The Burmese claimed it was the Shan soldiers who did the shelling. They wanted us to move. After each shell was fired, they came into the village the next morning, they searched around the village and asked questions and threatened that we would have to move. They arrested one person. They said if we were shelled three times, we would have to move. Our headman had given money many times so that we wouldn’t have to move, but other villages around ours had already been moved and burned down, so they wanted us to move. They had ordered every village in Murng Kerng township that was further than 500 ‘wa’ [armspans] from the road to move." - "Sai Kham" (M, 27) from Bong Murng village, Murng Kerng township (Interview #8)

"There were about 200 troops wearing no badges or numbers. When they were going around our tract and crossed the river, 2 of their guns fell in the river. Then they asked who could dive under the water - they said anyone who could dive underwater would not have to be a porter. So the leader of the village found 3 people who could dive underwater, and they got back their ammunition and guns. Then the commander asked the village headman, ‘What do you want as a reward?’ The headman told him, ‘If we don’t have to move that will be fine. I’ll be satisfied.’ The commander said, ‘If you don’t want to move that’s okay.’ And then they left. After those troops left our village, some other SLORC troops came and ordered the villagers to move within 3 days. They said, ‘If you don’t move we will burn your whole village and kill all the villagers.’" - "Loong Seng" (M, 60) from Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #1)

"We had 7 days to move, they said that after 7 days they would burn down the village. There were about 50 households in the village. We were allowed to carry our belongings only during these 7 days. After that we were no longer allowed, and they burned down everything." - "Sai Pan Ta" (M, 22) from Sanen village, Loi Lem township (Interview #9)

Most villagers either move to the relocation sites as ordered or flee toward Thailand; very few risk staying in their villages or hiding in the nearby forests, because SLORC/SPDC patrols move through the areas, shooting villagers on sight and often destroying the remains of villages. In some areas military helicopters have been used to search areas the day before armed columns arrive there. Hundreds of villagers have been shot on sight, beaten or stabbed to death, suffocated with plastic bags, drowned, or burned alive in their homes upon being found in their villages or fields after relocation deadlines. The Shan Human Rights Foundation has documented the killings of 664 villagers in the relocation region by SLORC and SPDC forces during 1997 alone, and even this list is far from complete.

"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." - "Loong Seng" (M, 60) from Wo Long village, Kun Hing township, after listing 94 villagers from 12 villages who were killed by SLORC troops (Interview #1)

"Last year we could go back to work our fields, but this year the situation’s a lot worse. … Before I came, 5 or 6 people were killed to the north of our area. To the west several groups of 2 or 3 were killed. I was very afraid! There were 2 people who died right in our Keng Tong area. They were working at their farms and SLORC came and shot them. Then the soldiers went to the village and demanded money, blaming the villagers for letting people go to their farms. This was west of Nong Par. One [of those killed] was called Loong Ong, about 45 years old, and one was called Loong Ti Ya, about 46. … They were both really good men. They were both married and had lots of children. Loong Ong had 5 or 6 children. They were just clearing their fields. Now their families are in Ton Hoong. When I came here no villagers were daring to hide around their villages, because they would be killed." - "Loong On" (M, 58) from Nam Toom village, Murng Nai township (Interview #2)

"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." - "Sai Kaw" (M, 26) from Wan Murng village, Murng Kerng township (Interview #13)

"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." - "Phra Zing Ta" (M, 29), a Shan Buddhist monk from Lai Kha (Interview #5)

"They came very low. Some people were very frightened. They ran away from their houses without even gathering their things. … I don’t know what the helicopters were looking for, but if they came one day, then the next day soldiers would come to the area. This also happened before they relocated our village. One helicopter would come about twice a month. But I’ve heard that now they are coming every two or three days to the area." - "Loong Seng" (M, 60) from Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #1)

On June 16th 1997, two different SLORC columns massacred villagers at Sai Khao and Tard Pa Ho in Kun Hing township. The villagers had been forced to the relocation site at Kun Hing town. They obtained SLORC travel passes to return to their villages to fetch their rice, and set out in convoys of bullock carts. On their way back to Kun Hing they were stopped along the road by SLORC troops. Their passes were ignored. At Sai Khao 29 villagers were tied up and machine-gunned, and at Tard Pa Ho 27 villagers from a different convoy were similarly executed; both groups included 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 the night before from higher levels to conduct the massacres.

"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 Moon, 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 Moon bridge." - "Nang Sai" (F, 27) from Na Kha Orn village, Kun Hing township; she was the only adult survivor of the massacre at Sai Khao, where SLORC troops killed 29 Shan villagers on 16 June 1997. A SLORC officer secretly released her because she was holding her 2-year-old son (Interview #3)

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. Some eventually have no choice and have to risk returning to their villages to try to salvage some of their rice supply, and many of these people have been shot on sight when sighted by SPDC patrols. 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. Refugees arriving at the Thai border in April 1998 report that in the relocation sites at Lai Kha town, people are dying every day due to lack of food and unsanitary overcrowded conditions. Most of the dead are young children and the elderly.

"They gave us nothing. At first when we moved we took all the rice we could and then we shared it among us, but then the soldiers took what was left. In our family, six of us had to survive on one ‘tang’ of rice: my 2 parents, myself, my wife, and the children. All of our crops were taken by the soldiers before we left the village, and when we arrived [at Pang Long] they gave us back some but very little. … Life was very hard, we had to work for the Burmese all the time, #513 Battalion [LIB]. We had to erect electrical poles because they were trying to build another camp. When we were there we also had to carry wood from the forest to build the camp. We had to clear the camp area and dig their bunkers and their toilets." - "Sai Ti" (M, 24) from Bang Nim village, Loi Lem township (Interview #11)

"I was in that place for one and a half months. It was on the outskirts. They provided nothing to the villagers in that place … When we arrived there we had to build a shelter for ourselves. Before building the shelter we had to clear the bushes from the ground. We were not allowed to bring our building materials [from their old house] so we had to find some new building materials at Kay See, and it was very hard to get them. There were many other villagers there, at least 30 or 40 from each village came - altogether four or five hundred. The soldiers just told us where to stay and where we could build the houses. … Five or six people from each village got sick, so altogether there were about 25 or 30 sick people there all the time. They had malaria and diarrhoea, but I didn’t see anyone die. Some of us didn’t have enough food so we had to share food, and we were not allowed to go back to farm our fields. Some people went to their farms anyway, because if they didn’t go they’d have nothing to eat. When they did that they avoided the soldiers, because sometimes the soldiers shot at people." - "Nang Sep" (F, 22) from Khok Sang village, Kay See township (Interview #12)

"We stayed three months in Ham Ngai [Army Camp relocation site]. There were very many people there, about 2,000. Everyone was newly arrived. It was different from our own village. We had to buy everything we needed to eat. Sometimes we had to borrow from other people to eat. We were not allowed to go and work in our own fields. We had to grow vegetables to get income, but we didn’t have enough space to grow them. We also worked as day labourers and got 100 Kyat per day. They [the soldiers] didn’t give us any food. Sometimes they demanded cattle and buffaloes for meat but sometimes they didn’t even ask, they took them by force. Some people got sick. Some died of malaria, some died while giving birth." - "Sai Kaw" (M, 26) from Wan Murng village, Murng Kerng township (Interview #13)

"They lived all round the village, and near the army base. It was difficult for people to bring all of their possessions. They’ve built little huts. Two or three families live together in each hut. If they have money they can afford to buy straw roofing and live separately. If not, they have to share a hut. They came and took everyone’s rice, including paddy [unmilled rice]. Then they rationed it out to everyone in Ton Hoong." - "Loong On" (M, 58) from Nam Toom village, Murng Nai township (Interview #2)

"They built little huts and lived in the huts and then they made a living doing day labour. They worked for whoever needed some work done. They didn’t have any steady jobs. They worked for one family, then another, making 50 or 60 Kyat a day. That’s not enough, because they had to buy rice from Kun Hing town. They lived there for only one year, and then they had to move again." - "Loong Seng" (M, 60) from Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #1)

"They were watching us all the time. If they saw someone trying to go out to his farm they would shoot him. … After 6 months in Ton Hoong they beat 7 people from Kher Nim nearly to death. They beat people with sticks, and sometimes they used a rifle butt or a knife to slash them. … The 7 people were Saw Tang, 35; Pan Sik Tha, 26; Saw Ling, 70; Pan Ti, 23; Loong Aw, 50; Sai Shwe, 25; and Sai Luen, 30. All of them were from the same village, Kher Nim. Later 2 of them died. After they were beaten they became weak, bled, lost weight and then died." - "Sai Aw Ta" (M, 24) from Nam Hoo village, Nam Zang township (Interview #14)

"The relocation camp was surrounded by a fence, and we had to build that fence ourselves. We also cut the wood for the Army camp fence, and we had to carry things. We had to work often, especially carrying. I myself didn’t carry as a porter, but older people from our household had to do it an uncountable number of times. … 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." - "Sai Kaw" (M, 26) from Wan Murng village, Murng Kerng township (Interview #13)

"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." - "Nang Harn" (F, 23) from Nong Yang village, Murng Kerng township, describing life after forced relocation (Interview #10)

People at the relocation sites are constantly being used by SPDC troops for forced labour portering supplies, building and maintaining Army camps, guarding the motor roads, clearing the roadsides and maintaining the roads. Those in the Lai Kha, Nam Zang and Loi Lem areas were used as forced labour to build the new military air base near Nam Zang which is now completed, and they have also been used to build railways: first from Shwe Nyaung to Nam Zang, which is now essentially complete and has a small train running on it, and now from Nam Zang southward to Murng Nai and from Shwe Nyaung up the hills to Taunggyi.

"[The railway is] from Taunggyi to Nam Zang, but people in the area from Lai Kha, Loi Lem and Murng Kerng had to take turns working on the railway construction site. Now it’s finished to Nam Zang. The train is already running from Taunggyi to Nam Zang - it runs from Shwe Nyaung [west of Taunggyi]. They brought the locomotive by truck and then put it on the railway and they run it this short distance. Now they are making a railway up to Taunggyi from Shwe Nyaung, but it’s not finished yet. It’s not running yet. … Mostly it’s used to carry soldiers, and supplies and weapons for the soldiers." - "Phra Zing Ta" (M, 29), a Shan Buddhist monk from Lai Kha (Interview #5)

"The soldiers often came and we had to work for them. We had to cut wood and work on the railway. The railway goes from Nam Zang to Murng Nai. I had to work there over a period of about 7 or 8 months. We had to sleep there. They didn’t supply anything. Women and children about 12 years old also had to work. When we were working, if we worked slowly they beat us with a rifle butt. There was beating and killing. I saw someone die, and I myself was beaten there 4 months ago, before we went to the relocation site." - "Sai Pan Ta" (M, 22) from Sanen village, Loi Lem township (Interview #9)

"The situation in Taunggyi is totally different from before. The situation of the farmers is bad. If we work 2 days for our job, we have to work 5 days for them!! Now there is railway construction work between Shwe Nyaung and Taunggyi. As far as I know, 17 or 18 people have already died on this railway construction site. Three people were hit by a rock and some were suffering from fever and died. It is a very miserable situation. Each family had to work 9 days. If a person can’t go, he has to pay 900 Kyat." - "Mahn Htay" (M, 43) from Taunggyi town (Interview #16)

"Any time they needed porters you had to go. If people wouldn’t go they came and arrested and beat them. The things they had to carry were very heavy, and if you couldn’t climb the mountains they beat you with a bamboo rod. Usually the men had to carry and the women had to serve as guides to show the way [the women were most likely being used as human minesweepers and shields]. … [W]e also had to work for the Burmese soldiers at their camp. We had to clean their camp and to build fences. For 3 months we had to dig bunkers for the soldiers." - "Nang Harn" (F, 23), Nong Yang village, Murng Kerng township (Interview #10)

"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." - "Sai Lai Kham" (M, 36) from Wan Jong village, Nam Zang township, describing life at his village, which is used as a relocation site (Interview #6)

"We had to dig ditches and build buildings at the Army camp near Murng Kerng at least once or twice a month. … Some months it was every day. People took it in turns. … About 40 or 50 people had to go at a time from our village. You couldn’t refuse. If you didn’t go one day, you would have to go for two days." - "Sai Kham" (M, 27) from Bong Murng village, Murng Kerng township (Interview #8)

"All year round people are being forced to do one thing or another, mostly building roads. They have to work on the main road, fixing it where it’s gone bad. About 10 people from each village tract have to go, so there are usually 80-100 people there all the time. We have to go about 24 miles away, and work there for 5 days. Mostly it is splitting rocks and spreading gravel on the road, and digging ditches along both sides of the road. We have to sleep beside the road, under small shelters built of leaves. All have to go, including old people, women and children. … [T]hey give nothing. Instead they give a beating to those who do not work hard enough." - "Sai Wa Ling" (M, 40) from Loi Leng village, Murng Kerng township (Interview #4)

"People are being forced to guard the main road, to prevent Shan soldiers from crossing and to protect travellers from robberies. If any robberies occur anywhere, the villagers responsible for that spot or area will be punished. Along each mile of the road there are four points where they have to stand guard. Two persons at each point. They build a little hut or tent beside the road. They have to guard for one week, day and night. This is all along the road from Lai Kha to Murng Nong. … And at night, townspeople have to guard their towns. They have to come out to the outskirts of the town. About sixteen people, two people at each entrance, though there is no fence. … People who are living around the vicinity of the [Army] camps or the base are always being forced to do one thing or another. They have to grow beans, soy beans, and maize for the Army. They have to make fences for the plots of land where they cultivate for the Army. And they have to dig ditches and trenches around their bases for them. They fetch water for them and gather firewood, and all sorts of things. All the time. It has become a routine for the villagers. Mostly they use the new arrivals [those who have been relocated] to guard the roads, and to dig the ditches they use people who already lived there. The villagers get nothing in terms of wages, and they have to provide their own food. They are forced to work for the Army for three days and then they can return to work for themselves for three days. It’s very difficult for them to make a living." - "Phra Zing Ta" (M, 29), a Shan Buddhist monk from Lai Kha (Interview #5)

When the mass relocations had clearly failed to undermine the Shan armies, SLORC/SPDC not only expanded the area of relocations, they also began ordering people at relocation sites to move yet again, this time to sites which were even more central, crowded, and controlled by the Army. After one SURA attack on a SLORC military unit, the SLORC troops even retaliated by firing mortar shells without warning into Kho Lam relocation site. The shelling occurred on 21 February 1997. Two Shan families hiding from the shells in a ditch were hit; six of them were killed, including 3 children aged 4, 5, and 7. Some villagers first had their villages relocated in 1996, and have had their relocation sites moved again 3 to 4 times since then. Others had managed to avoid relocation by paying bribes of hundreds of thousands of Kyat to SLORC/SPDC officers, but have now been forced to move regardless.

"A relative from there came and told me that in June or July, after the villagers had planted their rice, the Burmese soldiers came and spread straw over their fields and burned the seedlings. So they couldn’t harvest their fields." - "Sai Kham" (M, 27) from Bong Murng village, Murng Kerng township (Interview #8)

"If they found someone outside they’d shoot him. When the crops were ready to be reaped, they burned them down." - "Nang Mawn" (F, 18) from Sanen village, Loi Lem township (Interview #9)

"[N]ow I’ve heard news that in Lai Kha people will have to give their rice to the Army and the Army will give it back to them on a daily basis. But not yet. Wherever there is any activity by Shan soldiers they will do it. If it’s in town, they’ll also do it in town. Now they are already ordering people to take their rice and put it in a warehouse in Lai Kha." - "Phra Zing Ta" (M, 29), a Shan Buddhist monk from Lai Kha (Interview #5)

An estimated 80,000-100,000 Shan, Pa’O, Palaung and Lahu refugees have fled to Thailand because of these relocations and related abuses. In some areas more than half the population has already fled to Thailand. Currently, most families who still have any money left for the trip are attempting to flee. If they have no money then young people or middle-aged couples walk the entire distance, leaving their families behind if necessary in the hope of getting work in Thailand and returning with money to survive. Most people pay the drivers of passenger trucks to get them to the border, and the entire trip takes 3 or 4 stages. Fares are exorbitant, because the drivers have to pay off the soldiers at every SPDC checkpoint along the road. It is common for each passenger to have to pay 5,000 Kyat or more for a trip of less than 100 kilometres.

"How could we move there? We had no money, so how could we buy food there? Some people had some money, and they came to Thailand immediately while they still had it. We knew that if we came to Thailand we could work and get money, but if we went to Kun Hing we would starve. So I came to Thailand." - "Loong Seng" (M, 60) from Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #1)

"Many Shans are coming to Thailand. Even very old people were coming when we came. They were from Kun Hing and Kali. From our village whole households have come. Lots. Or sometimes if a house has 7 or 8 people, then just the old people are left. All the young ones leave." - "Sai Kyawng" (M, 40) from Wan Ba Lek village, Nam Zang township (Interview #7)

"From Si Por to Murng Ton, we had to pay 3,500 Kyat for each person. From Murng Ton to Bong Pa Kyem [near the Thai border] we had to pay another 1,000 Kyat each. The driver said he would guarantee we would get through safely if we paid that much. From Bong Pa Kyem to here there was no problem. We walked through the jungle to Bang Ma [in Thailand]. … We had to hire a Shan guide to lead us past the border checkpoint, at a cost of 400 baht each." - "Loong Seng" (M, 60) from Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #1)

As long as they are paid, the SPDC soldiers generally allow the trucks to pass even though they know the people are fleeing to Thailand. This has been the case since the relocation campaign began in 1996, and it appears that the SPDC is happy to see the Shans leave for Thailand. The Shans, who call themselves Tai Yai, are closely related to the Thais and have always been hated by the rulers of Burma. Not only are they related to the traditional enemies of the Burmans, but the Burman kings never succeeded in subjugating the Shan princes. With their population of at least 9 million the Shan are Burma’s largest ethnic group next to the Burmans, and they are still seen as a threat to Burman domination of the country. By uprooting the Shans and allowing many to flee to Thailand, the SPDC may feel they are finally starting to wipe out the Shan as a people. 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 can 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 can deny that they ever lived in Burma.

"I had to avoid the Burmese soldiers or they would have taken our ID cards and our money, and they wouldn’t return them to us so that we wouldn’t ever be able to go back to our village." - "Nang Harn" (F, 23) from Nong Yang village, Murng Kerng township (Interview #10)

"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." - "Sai Kaw" (M, 26) from Wan Murng village, Murng Kerng township, describing his flight to Thailand (Interview #13)

"I had to leave my ID card at Pan Taw Wet, just before Ho Murng. On our way back we’re supposed to show them this receipt to get it back, so I must not lose this receipt [he showed a ‘receipt’ signed by an immigration officer named Win Khaing] and I have it all the time with me. I will stay longer than the time limit allowed so I’ll have to be fined. They didn’t tell us anything when they took our ID cards. They didn’t tell us what the reason was, they just told us that we could get them back later with the receipt." - "Sai Tan" (M, 35) from Na Tsen village, Loi Lem township (Interview #15)

The Shans are crossing into Thailand at 4 main crossing points, the two main spots being Nong Ook in Fang Province, and through the mountains west of Fang. Others cross from Tachilek into Mae Sai and from Ho Murng into Mae Hong Son province. Throughout the dry season from November to May, 100 to 300 people per day cross the border covertly at the main crossing points. They generally arrive on trucks or on foot near the border in Shan State, and then must pay large sums of money to hire guides to take them through the forest around the Thai checkpoints. On arrival, unscrupulous Thai motorcycle-taxi drivers and others usually rip them off for several hundred Baht to get to the nearest town or worksite. By the end, most people have spent their life savings and no longer have the option of going back.

"Just the two of us came, oh no sorry, the three of us, because I was 4 months pregnant. We took a truck from Kay See to Lang Kher, then we walked two days and then we took another truck from Nam Lin. Oh! We were almost dying on the way. From Kay See to Murng Kerng it was 500 Kyat per person, from Murng Kerng to Pang Long 1,000 Kyat each, from Pang Long to Lang Kher 1,700 for two persons. … We had some money with us, 26,000 Kyat. When we arrived in Thailand only 420 Kyat were left and we changed them into Thai Baht. Then we took a truck and our employer had to pay for the truck because we didn’t have enough. In return we had to work for him. … Now we have found some daily labour but only my husband works because I can’t work [she has a 4 month old baby]. He gets only 50 Baht per day and sometimes he has no job." - "Nang Sep" (F, 22) from Khok Sang village, Kay See township (Interview #12)

On arrival in Thailand, the Shan refugees must evade capture and forced repatriation by Thai authorities. Those who are forced back are often handed across the border to SPDC Army units, who then take many of them as porters. In Thailand they are not recognised as refugees and there are no refugee camps for them, so they have no choice but to enter the dangerous market for illegal labour. Thousands of them can now be found doing cheap labour in the lychee orchards and other plantations of northern Thailand, as construction workers building luxury subdivisions while they live in the shantytowns of Chiang Mai, household servants to the Thai upper middle class, workers in small factories, sweatshops, and the bonded labour brothels of Chiang Mai, Bangkok and other parts of Thailand. Many of them are exploited and ripped off by their Thai employers or end up as bonded labour. Their situation has become even worse since the collapse of the Thai Baht in late 1997. Many construction companies have stopped paying them for work done, and thousands more have been laid off as Thai authorities pressure employers to replace illegal foreign labour with unemployed Thais. Police have stepped up their roundups and deportations as part of a nationwide campaign to get rid of illegal foreign labourers. There are very few paying jobs anymore, and at the same time the flow of refugees has continued as the SPDC destroys more and more villages. Thousands of Shan refugees are now stuck in Thailand without work or food, living in hiding, unable to stay and unable to go back. In April 1998, new Shan and Lahu refugees arriving in Thailand reported that thousands of people have fled the Thai clampdown back across the border into Shan State, but they are living just inside the Shan State border, internally displaced but afraid or unable to return to their destroyed home areas. They are reportedly suffering severe food shortages, and many have committed suicide.

"We just walked to Thailand. It took us more than 10 days. … I came on my own because my children and my parents couldn’t come. I’ve been thinking that maybe after about 5 months I can try to bring them here with me. … I’m working digging sand along the riverbanks [for sand and gravel]. I can’t save any money and I’m in a hard situation - I have a debt of 2,000 or 3,000 Baht and I have no idea at all how I can pay it back. For now I myself am okay, but when I think about my children or about my mother I cannot imagine how they are surviving now." - "Sai Ti" (M, 24) from Bang Nim village, Loi Lem township (Interview #11)

"Now I work as a day labourer. If you’re old like me, that’s very hard! I came with my wife and children, and they’re all working too. If we are lucky and the situation improves in Shan State, I pray to the spirits that we can go back several years from now." - "Loong On" (M, 58) from Nam Toom village, Murng Nai township (Interview #2)

"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." - "Nang Harn" (F, 23) from Nong Yang village, Murng Kerng township, who arrived in Thailand in January 1998 (Interview #10)

In March 1998 SPDC troops crossed into northwestern Thailand to attack a group of Shan refugees who had fled fighting between SPDC and the SSA near Ho Murng. After the attempted attack and the international concern expressed for these refugees, Thai authorities for the first time allowed a group of over 200 Shan refugees to move into an existing Karenni refugee camp. If this leads to further recognition of the Shan as legitimate refugees it could be a very positive move. However, current Thai policy is to deny asylum to all new refugees except in the case where they are "temporarily fleeing fighting", so there are still serious concerns that Thai authorities may decide to force these Shan refugees back across the border once they decide the "fighting" around Ho Murng has stopped and the SPDC indicates its willingness to "accept the refugees back".

At present there is no sign that the SPDC has any plan of letting up on its campaign against the Shan civilian population. The regime has already rejected the possibility of negotiations toward a ceasefire with the SSA, and apparently plans to continue wiping out the civilian population in the hope of eventually wiping out the opposition militarily. There is no telling how far the forced relocations will reach in the end, whether they could extend as far as Taunggyi in the west, to Kengtung in the east, or to Lashio in the north. Right now the area being wiped out is growing larger week by week and month by month. For the farmers of central Shan State, life in their villages has become impossible, life in the relocation sites means forced labour and starvation, and nothing but exploitation and eventual arrest and forced repatriation awaits them in Thailand. If they are to survive, this must be stopped.

"We had no house or land anymore, so we left our children with an aunt and came here. … One is 10 and one is 4. They’re living with my elder sister in the relocation site. I don’t know if the people in the site are being allowed to go back to their fields or not. I worry about them. My wife often cries. … My wife worries about everyone back at home, and whether they can plant rice or not. She wants to go home as soon as possible. … But now we’re just living on a construction site, so we can’t call them [his children] here." - "Sai Kham" (M, 27) from Bong Murng village, Murng Kerng township (Interview #8)

"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." - "Phra Zing Ta" (M, 29), a Shan Buddhist monk from Lai Kha (Interview #5)

"They just kill us Shan whenever they want. For them, a Shan life is less valuable than a chicken’s. The SLORC soldiers announced that wherever shooting breaks out, all the villagers in that area will be killed. I was too afraid to stay on. I had to leave." - "Nang Sai" (F, 27), Na Kha Orn village, Kun Hing twp, only adult survivor of the Sai Khao massacre (Interview #3)