A STRUGGLE JUST TO SURVIVE: Update on the Current Situation in Karenni

You are here

A STRUGGLE JUST TO SURVIVE: Update on the Current Situation in Karenni

Published date:
Friday, June 12, 1998

Between April and July 1996, the SLORC issued orders to at least 182 villages in Karenni (Kayah) State to relocate to military-controlled sites within 5 to 7 days. The primary intention was to bring the civilians under tighter military control and cut off any possibility of civilian support for the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP). The other resistance groups in Karenni, the Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF), the Kayan New Land Party (KNLP), and the Shan Nationalities People’s Liberation Organisation (SNPLO), have already made ceasefire deals with the SLORC. However, the KNPP is a significantly larger and older resistance force than the others. The KNPP made a ceasefire deal with the SLORC in March 1995, but the SLORC simply used the ceasefire as cover to move its troops into offensive positions and then broke the ceasefire by launching an offensive against the KNPP in June 1996. The bulk of the forced relocations were implemented at the same time. Fighting has been ongoing ever since, despite the false SLORC/SPDC claim that the KNPP surrendered in 1996 and that there has been no fighting in Karenni since then. Currently the bulk of the fighting is in the southern part of the State, in both in the southeast and the southwest.

Summary of the Current Situation

"…most of the people living in those areas are unwilling to move down to the relocation sites at Mawchi, Pah Saung and Baw La Keh. They don’t go because they can stay hidden in the jungle along the Karen State - Karenni border, so they just move around there and avoid the SPDC troops. They’re living in the jungle, they stay together with the Karenni Army there. But they’ve been doing that for almost 2 years now, so they have to face the problem of lack of food. I’m not sure about the next year, how long they can keep staying in that area by themselves without any support. They have no chance to cultivate crops, because SPDC troops are moving around in the area. All the villages are burned down now, including the churches, the schools, the entire villages. … If they see anyone in the area, whether soldier or civilian, they shoot him dead with no questions asked. If they find people’s rice, first they take whatever they can for themselves and then they burn whatever is left. Especially in the area between the Pon and Salween rivers. There are still around five hundred people hiding in that area, staying together with the Karenni troops there. They move around and try to find some food. All they can find is some of the food that families have left behind there, but there is no more food. They have no way to keep on surviving there. Some try to flee to the [Thai] border but at the moment it is hard to travel because there are no boats to cross the rivers. Also, east of the Salween river all the way to the border there are so many SPDC troops, so the villagers are scared that they will be caught." 

"Koo Nga Reh" (M, 40+), a KNPP official describing the situation of villagers in hiding (Interview #9)

Between April and July 1996, the SLORC issued orders to at least 182 villages in Karenni (Kayah) State to relocate to military-controlled sites within 5 to 7 days. The primary intention was to bring the civilians under tighter military control and cut off any possibility of civilian support for the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP). The other resistance groups in Karenni, the Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF), the Kayan New Land Party (KNLP), and the Shan Nationalities People’s Liberation Organisation (SNPLO), have already made ceasefire deals with the SLORC. However, the KNPP is a significantly larger and older resistance force than the others. The KNPP made a ceasefire deal with the SLORC in March 1995, but the SLORC simply used the ceasefire as cover to move its troops into offensive positions and then broke the ceasefire by launching an offensive against the KNPP in June 1996. The bulk of the forced relocations were implemented at the same time. Fighting has been ongoing ever since, despite the false SLORC/SPDC claim that the KNPP surrendered in 1996 and that there has been no fighting in Karenni since then. Currently the bulk of the fighting is in the southern part of the State, in both in the southeast and the southwest.

The villages affected by the forced relocations cover at least half the geographic area of the State and are home to at least 20,000-30,000 people. They were given no more than a week to move to the Army-specified sites, and the written orders issued to their villages stated that after that week they would be considered as enemy troops and shot on sight if seen in their villages by SLORC/SPDC patrols. After receiving the relocation orders many people fled into the forest, while others went to the specified relocation sites, unable to take anything more than their children and whatever load they could carry on their backs for the often long walk through the hills. Some of the sick and elderly had no choice but to remain behind in their villages because they were not physically capable of either fleeing or making the long walk to the relocation sites. However, the SLORC was true to its word, and shortly thereafter patrols started sweeping the villages area by area, taking anything of value that was left and then burning all signs of habitation. Villagers caught in these areas were either forced to relocation sites or shot on sight.

At this point some people still tried to remain hidden in the forest, but most gave in to the order and moved to the relocation sites, which were scattered through the state at Shadaw, Ywathit, Mawchi, Pah Saung, Baw La Keh, and other smaller locations. As more villages were relocated, more sites were created. All were under complete control of the Army, usually located adjacent to new or existing Army bases.

In the relocation sites the Army provided nothing at first; villagers had to find materials to build their own shelters and were reliant on whatever food they had brought along with them. Within weeks many started going hungry and getting sick from lack of food and good water. In response, the SLORC officers controlling most of the sites gave permission for villagers to return to their villages for one week, as their last chance to bring food, belongings, livestock and supplies. For most villagers one week only allowed them time for one trip on foot, so it was impossible to bring back anything that would support them for very long. However, many took the opportunity to bring back whatever they could, while at least as many others used it to escape into hiding in the forest or to attempt escape to the Karenni refugee camps already existing in Thailand. They had seen what life held for them in the relocation sites, and they were determined not to go back.

In the relocation sites the situation started off badly and has only deteriorated over time. In the beginning the troops in many of the sites forced the villagers to hand over whatever rice they had brought, then rationed it all back out to everyone. This rice only lasted a short time, then most of the villagers received nothing. When more began to starve, the troops began issuing rations consisting of rice and sometimes salt. At first each person received one pyi [about 2 kg] of rice each 3 days, but this was soon cut back to one pyi per week, less than half what a person needs to survive. Currently, villagers in the relocation sites only receive this, or even less. Aid organisations and the Catholic Church [many Karenni villagers are Catholic] have attempted to provide food and other aid for the people in the relocation sites, but the SPDC will not allow them in the sites and usually insists that any aid must be given to the Army, which can then distribute it; generally when this is done in Burma the Army simply keeps the aid. It is not clear where the rice currently being issued to the villagers is coming from; it may be from the Church, or it may be from the rice which the SPDC is now forcing all farmers in Karenni to hand over for nothing. Farmers in areas which have not been forced to relocate now have to hand over at least one third of their crop to the Army, while others have been ordered to grow a second crop in dry season (which requires irrigation, is harmful to the land and threatens the main wet season crop because it prolongs the life of insects and parasites). All of this dry season crop has to be given to the Army. It is almost certain that the SPDC is either being given or stealing the rice from somewhere, because it goes against their normal practice to ever give anything to villagers in relocation sites.


"They didn’t give us enough rice. There was not enough water for all of us at Mawchi. Especially in the hot season we had to go very far to fetch water. Some people got diarrhoea due to the unclean water. We received no health care. The Burmese who called us there ought to have given us health care, but they never do that. There was a pharmacy but the villagers could not buy the medicines because they were very expensive. Some seriously ill people died because the cars [public transport on small trucks] only ran sometimes. … If you look at the shelters [in the relocation site] you can see that they are very small and not properly built, because it was not easy for the people to go and cut trees and bamboo. The Burmese who called us there ought to supply us with water, food and health care, but they never take care of us."
 

"Paw Lweh" (F), a village headwoman who had just escaped Mawchi relocation site (Interview #4)

"Mawchi is so poor that people have nothing to eat. … you can’t store enough rice in your home for one month, just for three days. You must keep the rest in the church and go to get some of it every three days. This is your own rice. They don’t allow the villagers to keep all their belongings in their own homes, because they accuse the villagers of supporting the Karenni army and giving food to the Karenni Army. Even in Mawchi. … If you are in Loikaw, the capital, you can buy rice and you can eat it there, but you can’t bring rice from Rangoon to Mawchi [the SPDC won’t allow it], you can’t bring rice from Loikaw to Mawchi or to or from the areas to the east." 

"Saw Kler" (M, 20+), Mawchi town (Interview #3)

Villagers at some sites try to find paying labour just outside the camps, but the surrounding villages have already been made destitute by SPDC looting, extortion and crop confiscation so there is very little paying work to be found. Even though the villagers have little or no food to eat, the SPDC in most relocation sites refuse to allow them to cultivate any land. One exception is Nwa La Bo relocation site north of Loikaw, where permission was given for villagers to farm outside the camp; however, they had to pay 50 Kyats each time they wanted to leave the camp and permission is often suspended for various reasons, so many of the crops have failed from neglect. In Nwa La Bo the Army forces villagers to go and work in a nearby Army vegetable plantation several times a month; the soldiers tell them the vegetables are for the people in the relocation site, but the people there never see them.


"They gave only rice and salt. But they gave us a chance to find some more rice - they would let us farm outside the camp, but we had to pay for a ticket to get out. Each ticket costs 50 Kyats. Then if they heard any strange news, for example news that the rebels were close by, they wouldn’t allow us out. So we couldn’t go out to the fields and the paddy crop was destroyed. … Sometimes they forced us to do forced labour in the Army plantation between Nwa La Bo village and Chet Kae village over one hour’s walk away. … They forced us to carry things, dig the earth and do other things. They forced us to do that three or four times a month. The soldiers said that they were planting vegetables for the refugees [the people in the relocation sites] but we never got any of them."

"Nyi Reh" (M, 26), Daw Leh Da village, describing Nwa La Bo relocation site north of Loikaw (Interview #2)

Most of the relocation sites have insufficient water for the people living there, and people often have to walk long distances to get water or use unclean water. Disease is a very serious problem in the relocation sites; the KNPP believes that at least 300 people have died of treatable illnesses in the sites since 1996, and the testimony of villagers who have lived in the sites appears to bear this out. Villagers who have escaped from the sites regularly state that every member of their family was sick, that at least one person in each family was sick, or that they knew of several people dying of disease every month. The major killers appear to be malaria, diarrhoea, and dysentery, though respiratory ailments, skin diseases, and almost every infection and parasite which exists in the region are also widespread. There are medical clinics in some of the relocation sites and pharmacies in some of the adjacent villages, but the clinics will only treat villagers if they can pay a cash bribe on top of having to buy their own medicines from the pharmacies, and the medicines are extremely expensive. Most villagers in the relocation sites have no money to pay either the bribe or the price of the medicines, and many have died as a direct result of this.


"They had a hospital but if you didn’t give them money they wouldn’t treat you. Some people died because they wouldn’t treat them. In two years I saw three patients die, one old man and two children."

"Nyi Reh" (M, 26), Daw Leh Da village, describing Nwa La Bo relocation site north of Loikaw (Interview #2)

"[At the clinic in Shadaw relocation site] they didn’t treat us very well. I saw a woman there who died when her baby was only 6 days old. They would inject one ampoule of medicine into two or three people. … but if we paid money we could go to the medic’s house and be properly healed."

"Klaw Reh" (M, 50), Daw Kraw Aw village (Interview #1)

Some of the relocation sites have basic schools and Buddhist monasteries, but there appears to be a policy of forbidding the construction of Christian churches. Villagers have repeatedly been denied permission to build churches in the sites, even though a large proportion of the Karenni population is Christian, primarily Roman Catholic followed by Baptist. When the forced relocations first happened, some of the Catholic priests and lay preachers from the villages were told to go to Loikaw and stay among the church representatives there rather than to the relocation sites with the other villagers.

"They built a Buddhist monastery but they didn’t give permission to build a Christian church so we couldn’t build one, and the Christians had no chance to worship." 

"Nyi Reh" (M, 26), Daw Leh Da village, describing Nwa La Bo relocation site north of Loikaw (Interview #2)

Even though the villagers are going hungry and struggling to survive, SPDC troops controlling the camps still make them do forced labour on a daily or weekly basis. The villagers are forced to build and maintain Army camps in the area, to build fences, dig bunkers, cultivate land for the Army, cut firewood, haul water to hilltop Army camps, do other general servant’s work, haul Army rations to the hilltops when they are delivered, and sometimes to go as porters with SPDC patrols, although currently the troops take many of their porters from among the prisoners in Loikaw jail. The villagers are not given any money or any extra food for this forced labour. Relocated villagers are also being used as forced labour to build at least two roads: the 96-mile road from Mawchi westward across Karen State to Toungoo, and a short road near Loikaw from the base of Infantry Battalion #269 to the village of Ye Yaw. Families in Mawchi relocation site and in the town itself have to send one person each day to work on the Mawchi - Toungoo road; families are each given an assignment and must stay at the road, eating their own food, until it is finished. This road is supposed to facilitate the transport of minerals from the Mawchi mine into central Burma. However, the road was already rebuilt once in the 1970’s, and that time it only lasted 2 months before it was destroyed by the rains. The same is likely to happen this time.

"The road from Mawchi to Toungoo is 600 feet wide [not the road itself, but the villagers must clear a wide ‘killing ground’ along both sides of the road to prevent ambush or sabotage by KNPP troops]. It is nearly finished. They started it in November 1997. Many soldiers came for this road but they don’t work on the road. There are also no machines working on the road. One person from every house has to go every day to do it, so women and children are also going. People have to take along their own food and sleep beside the road. Every family is assigned a length of road to finish, and they must stay along the road until it is finished."

A Karenni National Women’s Organisation representative (Interview #10)

"They forced me to become a porter. … First we went to Shadaw by car. At first I had to carry big shells. … I also had to carry rice and bullets. It was very heavy. The soldiers didn’t even carry their own [personal] bags, we had to carry them. They carried only guns and equipment. … I saw older people, three or four people who were 40 or 45 years old. I also saw young people, fifteen or sixteen years old. … they beat Aik Htun. He was 25 years old and he was a prisoner. He was beaten by a three-star Captain from Battalion #250 … the soldiers followed him and beat him from behind because he could not carry quickly enough. They beat him on the back and on the head with a bamboo stick. He was wounded and bleeding a lot. I tried to heal him for one day [before he ran away himself]. They forced him to carry again but he could not carry anymore, and when he couldn’t carry the soldiers beat him again. … They also beat another man, Saw Ee. They beat him on his back because he couldn’t carry anymore, because he didn’t get enough food and he was sick." 

"Sai Long" (M, 30), a Shan convict in Loikaw prison who was used as a porter by SPDC troops patrolling Karenni in early 1998 (Interview #5)

At most of the relocation sites the troops no longer guard the perimeter very tightly because the villagers have no choice but to scavenge for food outside the camp. Many villagers have taken advantage of this opportunity and fled into the forests, usually to go and live in hiding back around their old villages. They join the others still there, many of whom have already been living in hiding for close to two years now. Most of the villagers in hiding are staying in the forests somewhere near their old village. Almost all of the relocated villages have now been burned and completely destroyed by SLORC/SPDC patrols, but most villagers had some food supplies and belongings hidden in caves or small storage barns in the forest and have been able to live off of this for some time. Those who have been in hiding for any length of time have already exhausted their supplies, and are trying to live by growing small crops in parts of their long-overgrown fields, or by finding the hidden food supplies of other villagers who have long been gone in the relocation sites or in Thailand. Those in hiding have long ago exhausted whatever stable food supply they may have had, and most of them are living off the forest and going hungry. They have no access to medicines, and many have already died of disease.

"Did the people get sick while they were hiding?"

"How wouldn’t they get sick? And we couldn’t go anywhere to find medicine. But only my wife died. She died of diarrhoea. Her name was Pru Meh. When we lived in Shadaw it was worse - at least one person in each family died of disease there."

"Klaw Reh" (M, 50), Daw Kraw Aw village (Interview #1)

The SPDC still sends patrols into the abandoned villages, area by area, seeking out Karenni forces or villagers in hiding. Many villagers stay together with groups of Karenni soldiers for some form of protection. The soldiers sometimes have limited supplies of medicine and some rations, both of which they share when possible with villagers who are particularly desperate. Villagers can only stay in small groups of two or three families to minimise the chance of detection. Those who are not staying with Karenni troops stay in small shelters in the forest, often taking turns as sentries to watch for any SPDC troops coming their way. Once in a while the patrols find their shelters and they must flee to another place, and once in a while they are seen and shot by SPDC patrols. Even if they are only wounded they are likely to end up dead, because the troops will either finish them off with a knife or leave them to die in the forest because of the impossibility of getting treatment or medicines. Despite all these difficulties, more and more villagers are choosing this way of life over the slow death of life in the relocation sites.

"I decided that if I died everything would be over and that would be better than going back, because life is very bad in the relocation site. … The Burmese called the people who escaped to come back to the relocation site, but after we escaped we didn’t want to go back. When we were hiding there, if the Burmese ever saw some smoke [from a cookfire] they fired mortar shells at it. I was afraid because I saw many people killed by the Burmese, and we were afraid we would also be killed. … SLORC soldiers came and when they found villagers they shot at them. We posted people as sentries, so when the SLORC were coming we always ran out of the village. We saw people shot at by the Burmese, but they didn’t die because we knew they were coming. They look on the villagers as Karenni soldiers so they just kill them. They killed many people. We were really lucky to survive this long. I’m very, very lucky." 

"Klaw Reh" (M, 50), Daw Kraw Aw village (Interview #1)

"When they found out where we were hiding we had to move, then when they found out our new place we had to move again. We had to move at least four or five times. But they didn’t find us, because if they had found us they would have killed us." 

"Klaw Reh" (M, 50), Daw Kraw Aw village (Interview #1)

In some areas, such as in the west and in the north of the state, villages were not forced to relocate because they were in areas allocated to groups which have made ceasefire deals with the SLORC/SPDC, and some villagers fled to take refuge in these areas. In particular, people from several villages fled Shadaw relocation site in 1996-1997 and took refuge in KNPLF areas near the Shan border. However, since then there have been disagreements between the SLORC/SPDC and the KNPLF, the ceasefire areas have shrunk and most of those villages have been forced to relocate. Since the beginning of 1998, villages throughout the northern tip of Karenni have been forced to relocate to sites at Nwa La Bo and other small newly-created sites in the area. The ceasefire areas no longer offer a chance of refuge.

"[T]hey started to relocate most people around the beginning of this year. They didn’t do it in the past, only this year, because this year there has been a little more KNPP troop activity in this area. So they want to relocate the people down to the main road closer to their base, where they can supervise all the villagers more closely. Their base is at Nwa La Bo. They’ve deployed their troops to control the people, watch the people and see what they are doing. They have moved people to small relocation sites at Tee Say Ka, Nwa La Bo, Myeh Nee Kaw, Tee Plaw Ku and Pao Mai. There are 3, 4, or 5 villages together at these places. … There are five big relocation sites and about six or seven small ones, but the small ones are difficult to count because they’re always creating more of them to concentrate the villages more and more. But there are five big relocation sites: Mawchi, Pah Saung, Baw La Keh, Ywathit, and Shadaw." 

"Koo Nga Reh" (M, 40+), a KNPP official, explaining the recent relocations of villages which had previously been told they could stay where they were (Interview #9)

Immediately following the biggest wave of forced relocations in June/July 1996, about 3,000 people arrived at existing Karenni refugee camps in Thailand. A few months later after the rainy season another 1,300 arrived. Since that time there has only been a slow trickle of people crossing the border into Thailand. Groups of 60 or 70 reached the refugee camps in January 1998 and then again in March. Most of these people have finally fled to Thailand because they found that there was no way they could survive any longer in the relocation sites or in hiding. They say that they didn’t make the trip previously for several reasons: that they were determined to stay near their land if there was any way to survive there, that many of the sick, weak and elderly were unable to make the long trip over the hills through abandoned areas of burned and destroyed villages, that there are no boats crossing the big rivers anymore, and primarily that the SPDC has sent so many troops into the area between the Salween River and the Thai border that it is almost impossible to get through without getting caught, especially if travelling with children and the elderly. Access to the Thai border is almost completely blocked for these people.

"I didn’t want to go back to Nwa La Bo and I didn’t want to go to the Thai border either, so I stayed in the jungle near my village. Infantry Battalion #54 had burned down the village … We ate wild vegetables and fruit and boiled rice for two years in the jungle. If we were sick we had no medicine to treat ourselves so we had to treat ourselves with natural medicines. Now the SPDC soldiers are trying to find us, they started coming to shoot at us very often and they also arrested some other villagers, so we fled to this refugee camp." 

"Ni Reh" (M, 60), Saw So Leh village, who fled Nwa La Bo relocation site after SLORC accused him of being a KNPP member (Interview #6)

"It is very difficult to come here because Burmese soldiers block the border, but we had to try to pass. I came with a lot of people - one family from Daw Kraw Aw and two families from Daw Lay Da. If someone is lucky he can pass, if he is not he will die. I was afraid, very afraid that we would be killed. While I was coming here my mind was right outside of my body [an expression for extreme fear]." 

"Klaw Reh" (M, 50), Daw Kraw Aw village, describing his flight to Thailand (Interview #1)

The current SPDC strategy for strengthening control over Karenni State includes more than the forced relocation of villagers. The regime is now attempting to divide the Karenni population against itself through the artificial creation of a new Karenni Army, the Karenni National Democratic Army (KNDA) and its political wing, the Karenni National Democratic Party (KNDP). This ‘splinter’ organisation was formed on November 5th 1996 and allied itself with the SLORC to fight against the KNPP. Its first significant act was to attack Karenni refugees at Camp 2 in Thailand, killing 3 refugees and wounding 9 more. The KNDA/KNDP claims to be independent, but most observers believe it has been created and completely controlled by the SLORC/SPDC from the beginning; unlike the case of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) in Karen State, there appears to have been no movement among Karenni people to create such an army, but there is a definite SPDC strategy of using ‘proxy armies’ to do its work in any part of Burma where the opposition is not sufficiently divided. Many of the KNDA recruits have been former KNPP soldiers who left the KNPP for various reasons. They are then identified in their villages by SLORC/SPDC, approached and told that they can either join the KNDA or be arrested. The KNDA is now also demanding quotas of recruits from villages, whether they are in the relocation sites or not. Villagers who refuse to go as quota recruits after they have been selected face arrest and imprisonment. At the moment the KNDA is much smaller than it claims to be, reportedly consisting of only one or two hundred soldiers, maybe only 50 of these under arms. However, it gives the SPDC a front which can be used to attack refugee camps in Thailand and to claim that the Karenni people support the junta in Rangoon.

"They forced them [the ex-KNPP soldiers] as well as villagers to become KNDA. If the villagers obeyed and became KNDA they didn’t arrest them, but if they wouldn’t become KNDA they arrested them and sent them to prison. … I joined the KNDA because they came and forced me to become KNDA. … They gave me an AK [AK47 assault rifle], and I had to carry that. Before I went there I’d heard that there were four hundred soldiers in the KNDA, but when I arrived there I saw only a hundred. The Burmese control them completely. Wherever they go the Burmese follow them."

"Nyi Reh" (M, 26), Daw Leh Da village, who was forced into the KNDA under a recruitment quota while in Nwa La Bo relocation site (Interview #2)

"The KNDA is together with them because their group was created by the SLORC. Many of them used to be KNPP soldiers, then they freely resigned from KNPP and returned to their homes, but the SLORC forced them to form a new group to attack the KNPP. That is the new strategy of the SLORC, just as they did in Karen areas [by creating the DKBA]. The KNDA is not so big, just 40 or 50 armed men. They also conscript villagers to be their troops. They always have to move together with SPDC troops because they have to be supervised by the SPDC, they cannot do anything without an order coming from the SPDC."

"Koo Nga Reh" (M, 40+), a KNPP official (Interview #9)

The SPDC is also conducting a drive to force all villages in Karenni which have not been relocated to form SPDC-run ‘People’s Army’ [Pyitthu Sit] militia units. Similar units exist throughout Burma. Villages are ordered to put forward a certain number of recruits based on village size. These are then given a basic militia training, given a few weapons and ordered to guard the village against opposition groups. In other parts of Burma the villagers are usually forced by the SPDC to give rice and money to the militia members. In Karen State, village militia groups are sometimes used as cannon-fodder in SPDC attacks on the Karen National Liberation Army. In Karenni, it is still unclear whether the militia members receive any benefits or not, but most of them do it against their will. Currently the SPDC Battalions use them to obtain food, money, and forced labourers from the villagers; the local SPDC Battalion can then claim that it is not they who are making demands on the villagers, it is the villagers’ own militia.

"All the young men of the village have to join the [SPDC] militia, or else they have to join the KNDP. If you don’t do either then you’ll be sent away as a porter. So there are only three ways you can choose from: would you like to join the militia forces, would you like to join the KNDP, or would you like to be a porter for the military? Which one would you like to choose?" 

"Koo Nga Reh" (M, 40+), a KNPP official (Interview #9)

There are no indications that the situation in Karenni is going to improve in any way in the near future. The SPDC has made it clear that they are unwilling to accept anything but unconditional surrender by the KNPP, and the fighting continues. It will be almost impossible for the SPDC to gain the kind of control it wants in Karenni, the kind of control it demands before it will loosen restrictions on the villagers. The only thing that can be predicted with near certainty is that the death toll among villagers will continue to rise, probably at a more rapid rate as food supplies become completely unavailable. What will happen to the people struggling to survive in the relocation sites is difficult to predict, except that many of them will probably flee into the forests while many others will die. With starvation becoming more prevalent among villagers hiding in the forest and the route to Thailand almost completely blocked by the SPDC, the situation is desperate. Even if the relocation sites cease to exist and no more villages are forced to move, it is difficult to see how the people of Karenni could start to rebuild anything in the current political situation. All the villages are destroyed, boats are prohibited from moving on the main rivers, even people in the southern town of Mawchi say they are going hungry because the SPDC prohibits the transport of food to Mawchi from Loikaw or anywhere else, other than rations for the soldiers, mine workers and civil servants. People can barely move anywhere in Karenni without the risk of being arrested or simply shot on sight. Fundamental political change in Burma appears to hold the only hope, albeit remote, for these people.

"In Mawchi it is difficult to eat because no trucks carrying dried foods are allowed to travel between Loikaw and Mawchi. People are not allowed to grow food in the [relocation] camp, and the available food is reserved for the people who work in the mine and for the civil servants, not for the villagers. No permission is given to bring in food [from other areas]. Some people have paddy rice hidden in the forest but if the SPDC troops see them going into the forest they shoot them. In March this year one woman tried to go. She was captured by the Army and tied to a tree. She stayed there for three days and had already died when the Karenni soldiers found her and untied her."

A Karenni National Women’s Organisation representative (Interview #10)

"Some are starving to death. Many people die of sickness, especially in the rainy season from malaria and diarrhoea. They are also forced to work for the military doing things like carrying water, cutting bamboo, making fences and collecting firewood for the Army. Especially in the Second District, the Army goes to fight almost every week so the people are forced to carry their supplies and ammunition, and many people die as porters at the frontline. Now a lot of people who stay in the relocation sites are forced to be militia too, but not only people in the relocation sites have to do that. People from other villages are forced to do that too." 

"Saw Kler" (M, 20+), Mawchi town, describing conditions in Mawchi relocation site (Interview #3)