Destruction of Villages in Northern Pa’an District
An SPDC campaign to destroy Karen villages in northern Pa’an District has already led to the displacement of several thousand villagers, and over 3,000 of these villagers have crossed the border into Thailand. The area they are fleeing is on the eastern slopes of the Dawna Range close to the Thai border, part of Dta Greh township (Dta Greh is called Pain Kyone in Burmese, and the SPDC considers it part of Hlaing Bwe township).
Sixty to one hundred kilometres (40-60 miles) further south in Myawaddy and Kawkareik townships, many villagers have been fleeing their villages because of forced labour as human mine detonators and a threat to relocate their villages at harvest time in late 1998 (see KHRG Information Update #98-U2, "Displacement of Villagers in Southern Pa’an District"). However, in Dta Greh township the campaign to forcibly relocate or destroy the villages already began in August and is now in full swing. There has been sporadic fighting between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and SPDC units in the area, and more intense fighting around the KNLA 7th Brigade headquarters further south, and it appears that the SPDC has now resorted to its standard military strategy of destroying all villages in areas of perceived resistance.
In August approximately 1,500 villagers from the affected area fled across the border to Noh Bo in Thailand, and in September another 1,665 refugees have crossed into Thailand in the Mae U-Su area. The September refugees come from the villages of Tee Gker Haw, Wah Mi Klah, B’Nweh Pu, Po Paw Lay, Meh Lah Ah Hta, Meh Lah Ah Kee, Meh Keh, and Klay Po Kloh. Refugees are also reported to have come from Po Ti Pwa, Ma Oh Pu, and Tha Pwih Hser villages. As yet the total number of villages affected by the campaign is unclear.
In September SPDC troops, reportedly from Light Infantry Division #44, formed three columns of approximately 100 soldiers each and went separate ways to destroy villages. Villagers from Meh Keh testify that the SPDC column positioned itself on a hill outside the village and fired several mortar shells into the village without warning, causing all the villagers to flee. The troops then entered the village, looted the houses, killed and ate the livestock, and burned down the houses and paddy storage barns. Testimony from other villages agrees that this is the pattern being used by the SPDC troops. Villagers confirm that at least 4 villages have been completely destroyed in this way: in Meh Keh 27 houses were burned down, in Meh La Ah Hta 24 houses were burned, and the villages of Tha Pwih Hser and Bo Toh Pwah were also completely destroyed. One house from B’Nweh Pu village was destroyed, as well as varying numbers of houses in other villages.
The intent appears to be to drive the entire civilian population out of the area with little care for where they go. An SPDC written order received by at least one village in the area translates as follows:
Front Line Light InfantryBattalion No. (104)
Ref. No. 104 / 02 / Oo 1
Date. 1998 August
Subject: Order to vacate issued to the villages.
1. Order has been issued to xxxx village to vacate the place and move to Kwih Lay village or to any other place where the villagers have relatives, at the latest by 10th September 1998.
2. After the date of issue of this order, it is warned that the Army will go around clearing the area and should any village or small huts in the paddy fields be found still standing, they will all be dismantled and destroyed.
(for) Battalion Commander
Front line, Light Infantry Battalion No.104
[Above order reproduced courtesy of the Health Workers’ Union (Pa’an District) from their 19 September report on the situation in this area.]
However, most villagers who have fled the area say that their villages never received any such order, they were simply attacked without warning. The only news they had heard was word from local KNLA troops that SPDC columns were heading for their villages and may make trouble. In Tee Gker Haw village, soldiers of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA, a Karen group allied with the SPDC) came to the village first and told the villagers, "Just stay here and don’t run away". The villagers stayed, but when the SPDC column arrived they immediately began looting houses and shooting livestock. Most of the villagers ran, and those who were caught by the SPDC column were taken away as porters. The village was thoroughly looted but was not burned. The villagers report that there are 10 or more DKBA soldiers with each of the SPDC columns, probably fulfilling their usual role as guides and giving information about hidden food supplies and likely hiding places of the villagers
Those who have fled report that most of the villages in the area are now abandoned; even those which have not yet been attacked have been abandoned out of fear. Only a few people remain in some of the villages which have not been destroyed, mainly the elderly or others physically incapable of fleeing to the hills. Many villagers remain internally displaced high in the hills. There are many landmines in the area which have been laid by all sides - the KNLA, DKBA and SPDC. Several villagers have already been seriously wounded by these mines while fleeing. One woman who had her leg blown off has been evacuated to Mae Sot hospital in Thailand.
KNLA units are active as guerrillas in the area, but there is not regular or heavy fighting. The villagers report that the SPDC columns are still around their villages, and believe that they are planning to establish a new Army camp in the area. There are already two existing SPDC Army camps near Meh Lah Ah, at Kyih Lay Kyo and Wah Bway Kyo. The villagers say that in the past, SPDC troops at these camps have not tried to destroy their villages but have regularly raided villages to capture porters and loot food. This time, most villagers fled their villages to avoid being captured as porters, not realising their villages were to be destroyed. The villagers say they have no idea why the SPDC has suddenly decided to destroy their villages.
According to a report by the Health Workers’ Union (Pa’an District), dated 19 September and already released over the Burma news services of the Internet, the operation is code-named "Aung Moe Haing" and is currently employing SPDC Light Infantry Battalions #3, 9, and 118, and Infantry Battalion #81.
Further details and interviews with villagers affected by this campaign will be presented in an upcoming KHRG report.