[The following excerpt is taken from the report of a KHRG human rights monitor in Taw Ta Tu (Tantabin) township, Toungoo District.]
The SPDC army camps are at Bu Sah Kee, Naw Soe, Kaw Thay Der and Kler Lah. The troops in each camp rotate every 4 months. They require the villagers from those villages to give them porter fees, and if they cannot give the fees they have to go and carry things as porters. Therefore, the villagers there always have to give the fees. Each house has to give 3,000 Kyats every month. Those villages are under control of the SPDC so the villagers there have to work as ‘volunteers’ for the SPDC all the time. Sometimes the SPDC asks for taxes from them as well. These days, the villagers have to give porter fees every month but still have to go to be forced porters. The villagers have to go and work in the camp maintaining the camp buildings as ‘volunteer’ labourers and also have to clear the car road. The villagers of Kaw Thay Der in particular have to go and carry rations to Naw Soe or to Bu Sah Kee for the SPDC Army all the time. Most of the villagers who go and carry things are girls and women who have small babies. Sometimes the SPDC soldiers tell them they only have to go for three days, but then keep them for one or two weeks. Men do not dare to go for portering because they’re often kept for many months, sometimes for the whole year. Some villagers have stepped on landmines while they were portering for the SPDC soldiers. Some of them have died and some have lost their legs but survived.
The villagers have to work hard to get more money because they have a lot of debt from giving porter fees [they have borrowed a lot of money from others to be able to pay every month]. Look at attachment #1 [a typed SPDC order to a village head] and you will see an order of the SPDC soldiers demanding porter fees from xxxx village.
The people in those villages work on their cardamom, betelnut and other fruit gardens. They are not working on paddy fields. They just sell their fruit and buy paddy to eat. The villagers told me that the SPDC soldiers confiscate their livestock whenever the moving columns enter the villages. They never ask for permission from the owners when they take the livestock. When they don’t see people in a house, they enter the rooms of the house, break the box open [the wooden strongbox where most Karen villagers keep their valuables] and steal money from it.
The villagers have to buy rice for their daily food and also other things they need around the house. Therefore, they suffer problems when they have to give porter fees. Every day, two villagers from each village have to go to SPDC Army camps for ‘patrol’ [‘gkin’]. ‘Patrol’ work means to do anything the soldiers force them to do. In Kaw Thay Der village, only the girls and women go for ‘patrol’ and portering.
The SPDC soldiers ordered the villagers from Bu Sah Kee, Hsaw Wah Der and Klay Soe Kee to move to Kler Lah. Some villagers went to the relocation village but most of them ran to hide themselves and live in the jungle now. Whenever the SPDC soldiers see them in the jungle they capture them and kill them, and they also destroy their paddy fields and gardens when they see them. The SPDC soldiers accuse the villagers who stay in the jungle of helping the KNU, so they burn their paddy and fruit gardens and they also burn down their huts. The villagers of Bu Sah Kee and Hsaw Wah Der have to go and buy rice at Kaw Thay Der village whenever they run out of rice.
When the villagers of Hsaw Wah Der had just finished clearing their fields [clearing the scrub and burning it off, which happens between January and April], the SPDC came to build the car road at Gko Day, so the Hsaw Wah Der villagers could not sow paddy in their fields and do not dare to work in those fields anymore. The car road construction starts at Kaw Thay Der and goes to Mu Kee [Mawchi]. It is not completely finished yet, so the villagers say, "They will probably come again to construct the road next hot season" [March-May 1999].
[The following incident reports were provided by KHRG human rights monitors and Karen relief workers in Toungoo District.]
[The following is excerpted from the report of a Karen relief worker in Toungoo District; his photos of the incident will be included in KHRG Photo Set 99-B:] Around the village of Wah Paw Pu in Hsaw Dtay Der area of Tantabin township, some villagers are staying in farmfield huts and some are staying high in the hills instead of in their villages. They gather betelnut and betel leaf from their plantations and sell it so they can buy rice to eat. On 17 January 1999 at 10 a.m., a group of eight villagers had met and were sitting talking in one of their farmfield huts. A group of 30 SPDC soldiers from Infantry Battalion #48 heard them talking from a distance and quietly approached until they were only 5 armspans [about 10 metres] from the hut. Then the villagers saw them and Saw H--- shouted, "Burmese are here!" just as the troops opened fire. The villagers tried to run without even looking behind them. The next morning I went together with the people to see the place. It was a betelnut plantation hut outside Wah Paw Pu village. Two villagers were dead there. Saw Bee Dteh had been hit in the stomach, and Saw Gko Dtoh Gkeh had been hit in the thigh and couldn’t walk anymore. The SPDC soldiers then shot both of them in the head, and their brains had spilt out. Saw S--- had also been injured. The other five escaped uninjured. Saw Gko Dtoh Gkeh had wounds on his right thigh and his head and was lying dead in the hut, and Saw Bee Dteh had wounds in the stomach and the head and was laying face down in the hut. Blood was on the floor, and there were many bullet holes in the hut. There were also 2 rocket-propelled grenade shells that they had fired which hadn’t exploded on the floor together with the teacups and a betelnut container. After they stopped shooting, the troops took the villagers’ money from the hut and moved on. At that time, Infantry Battalion #48 was rebuilding the vehicle road from Kler Lah to Kaw Thay Der and Bu Sah Kee, and that’s why they ordered their soldiers to secure the area. These villagers were innocent but they had to die like animals. Saw Bee Dteh was male, age 45, Sgaw Karen Christian, married, a farmer from Lay Dtee village. Saw Gko Dtoh Gkeh was male, age 42, Sgaw Karen Christian, single, a farmer from Sha Kyi Po village. The soldiers are under the command of Battalion Commander Than Myint based at Yay Lone Gyi, and Battalion 2nd-in-command Khin Maung Shwe based at Klaw Mi Der.
[The following is excerpted from the report of a KHRG human rights monitor in Toungoo District; his photos of the incident are included in KHRG Photo Set 99-A. See also Interviews #9 & 10 in this report.] On 16 January 1999 at about 2 p.m., a column of troops from SPDC Light Infantry Battalion #535, Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Soe Nyunt, came to Htee Hsah Bper village, Than Daung township. In the cardamom gardens outside the village they saw Saw Htaw Say, age 16, heading back to the village from his garden together with his aunt. They immediately opened fire at the two villagers with a carbine rifle [usually carried by officers]. The first bullet hit the side of his face and tore off his left cheek. The second bullet hit the right side of his chest and exited through his back, and the third bullet hit his right thigh. Saw Htaw Say’s aunt ran and escaped unhurt. When the villagers went to the scene afterward, they found Saw Htaw Say dead with blood all over the path. His right arm was missing, possibly cut off and taken away by the troops, and the flesh of his right thigh had been cut off right down to the bone. The family’s field hut nearby had been ransacked, and the troops had stolen the following:
(1) 2 big tins of rice, which now costs 1,000 Kyat per tin in the area
(2) 30 viss of fishpaste; current price is 500 Kyat per viss. [1 viss = 1.6 kg / 3.5 lb]
(3) 10 viss of salt; current price is 200 Kyat per viss.
(4) 1 gunpowder [muzzle-load] hunting rifle worth 5,000 Kyat and 1 air rifle worth 15,000 Kyat.
(5) 10 viss of betelnut; current price is 1,300 Kyat per viss.
(6) 4,000 Kyats in cash from his pockets.
(7) one cow, market value 20,000 Kyat.
In total the looted possessions were worth almost 80,000 Kyat. Saw Htaw Say was buried by the other villagers. There is no clear explanation of why his right arm was missing, though SPDC troops have been known to occasionally cook and eat the liver or bits of flesh from their ‘enemies’ for mystical spiritual strength.
While some of the LIB 535 troops were killing Saw Htaw Say, another group ran to a nearby farmfield hut and found Saw Dtaw Law, male, age over 60, a bachelor and cardamom farmer from the same village. They killed him by stabbing him twice in the back and once in the chest. The villagers who later found the body say that he was lying on his side with one hand under his head and the other arm bent, twisted and broken behind his back. All of the flesh on both sides of his face had been carved off with a knife, as well as his ears and his nose. His eyes were also gone. His mouth was intact, but his neck had been slashed and his tongue cut out. The top of his forehead had been smashed open, probably with the butt of a rifle. The flesh which had been cut off was nowhere to be seen, causing the villagers to suspect that the soldiers cooked and ate it. His cloth bag was still with him but the contents had been stolen, as well as an estimated 50,000 Kyat in cash and a cassette player. His hut had been ransacked. Most of the villagers were so horrified at the sight of the body that they would not dare touch it, but it was buried by his ‘grandson’ and a friend.
On 13 November 1998 a villager named Saw O---, age 29, married, from Htee Hsah Bper village, Than Daung township, went to Baw Ga Li Gyi [Kler Lah] village to sell his cardamom. When he arrived he went to stay in his elder brother’s house, and while he was cutting food to cook a chicken curry, troops from LIB 234 based at Baw Ga Li Gyi came into the house. Without asking any questions, they began kicking him with Army boots and hit him hard 3 times with a gun butt. They then tied his hands behind his back and took him to Baw Ga Li camp. Saw O--- was bleeding all night from the beating they had given him and was in a lot of pain, but he received no treatment or medicine in the camp lockup. The next morning they released him without explanation. [They had probably intended to take him as a porter like the twelve others (see below), but he was too badly beaten.] Twelve other villagers who had gone to Baw Ga Li Gyi to sell their cardamom were also arrested, and they were sent as porters with a frontline column. According to one of them who later returned, they were each forced to carry a basket of rice, and to prevent them escaping the LIB 234 troops tied all of their hands together. At nightfall they reached the Gyi stream, but even then the porters were given nothing to eat. The porters were kept tied up overnight, and while they were sleeping a soldier stole 5,000 Kyat in cash from the bag of one of the porters, but the porter dared not say anything about it because he was afraid the officer would kill him if he complained.
In September 1998, troops from SPDC LIB #234 came into the Baw Ga Li Gyi [Kler Lah] area just before harvest time and began forcing villagers to move to Baw Ga Li Gyi, including the villages of Bpeh Gkaw Der, Maw Ko Der and Der Doh. At that time they also ordered Bpeh Gkaw Der village secretary Saw Ba Chit, age 60, to gather porters for them and send them to Toungoo. Saw Ba Chit was the SPDC-appointed Secretary of the Village Peace and Development Council [local-level SPDC administration; at the village level, PDC officials are mainly responsible for obtaining people and cash for SPDC demands for forced labour and extortion money.] He collected 10 porters and accompanied them to hand them over at Baw Ga Li camp, then he returned to the village to tend his betelnut and cardamom plantation. On 23 September at about 3 p.m., troops from LIB 234 came to his cardamom garden and found him there. They grabbed him and shot him in the middle of the back with a G3 assault rifle without asking him any questions. They then robbed 50,000 Kyat in cash from his bag. This was money he had collected from the villagers to pay the monthly ‘porter fees’ demanded by the Army, and the soldiers knew he would have it. The soldiers apparently shared the money between themselves and did not want their superiors to find out, because they dug a pit and buried Saw Ba Chit in a sitting position, then covered it with some dirt, pulled up some cardamom and stuck it in the ground on top of the grave. Saw Ba Chit’s daughter looked for him for two days without knowing what had happened, until after two days she noticed a smell around their cardamom garden and the loosely placed cardamom plants, and she and her siblings found the body. They later exhumed it and buried it properly elsewhere.
In May 1998, SPDC troops from Bu Sah Kee camp of Infantry Battalion #26, under the command of Battalion Commander Kyaw Zwar Min and officer Myo Thein Maung, went to Tha Aye Kee village and burned down the houses, causing the villagers to flee and live in hiding in the forest. After leaving the village, the SPDC troops laid landmines 30 minutes’ walk west of the village on the hillside path which the villagers always use. On 12 September 1998 three men of the village were heading to Kaw Thay Der village to try to buy some rice: Saw Y---, age 32, married; Saw C---, age 34, single; and Saw L--, age 20, single. All three are Karen Roman Catholic farmers. Saw Y--- was walking in front, followed by Saw C--- and Saw L---. Just before 9 a.m. Saw Y--- stepped on one of the SPDC landmines on the path. He lost his leg, and half a day later he died. Behind him, Saw C--- was sprayed with dirt and shrapnel, blinding him and breaking his right leg. Saw L--- was hit in the mouth and the abdomen by shrapnel from the mine.
[The following note was written by a village elder in Baw Ga Li Gyi village tract.]
The actions of [SPDC] Maj. Chit Khaing starting on 2/5/97:
(1) Demanded porter fees and arrested the villagers as porters.
(2) Oppressed the Christians and destroyed their belief.
(3) The villagers had to do everything for the military.
(4) The villagers had to take responsibility to provide food for the road security unit [troops sent to guard the road].
From June 1997 until now, the Light Infantry Battalions from Na Pa Ka [Western Regional Command], Ta Pa Ka [Southern Regional Command] and the Rangoon Military Command have been in our area.
(1) The villagers have to pay 400,000 kyats for porter fees monthly.
(2) The military arrests the villagers to be porters and the villagers have to serve as porters without payment.
(3) Whenever they arrive at the village they demand chickens, pigs, meat, fish, durian, mangosteen, gourd, cucumber and
other vegetables, etc.
(4) They search the village and steal everything they want.
(5) They threaten and rob the villagers.
(6) They make money for themselves by demanding porter fees.
(7) They demand gifts from the vehicle drivers.
(8) [The permit] to carry rice is 200 kyats per sack.
(9) They stop all travellers and demand money.
(10) In remote areas, whenever they enter villages the houses and churches are set on fire.
(11) The gardens, plantations, trees and crops of the villagers are destroyed and set on fire by the military.
(12) The compensation paid for villagers who are killed or die while serving as porters has changed from 10,000 kyats to 5,000
kyats [when this happens, the authorities demand the compensation money from other villagers throughout the area,
then keep all for themselves except 5,000 Kyat].
(13) ‘Special’ porter fees and ‘emergency’ porter fees we have to pay have increased from 2,000 Kyat to 4,500 Kyat per
NAME: "Saw Min Shwe" SEX: M AGE: 56 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 5 children aged 4-26, some other children already died
ADDRESS: Zee Byu Gone village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 2/99
["Saw Min Shwe" was interviewed just after arriving in Thailand as a refugee.]
Q: Where is your village?
A: My original village was Dta Weh Dah, but I went to work near Tantabin and got married there, so I settled down there. I lived in Taw Ta Tu area, they call it Tantabin township. My village, Zee Byu Gone, is not near any town. When I was there I worked in my fields.
Q: Can you tell us why you came here?
A: I came here because the Burmese tortured us until we had no time left to do our own work, they forced us to work for them so much. As less and less time was left for us to do our own work we produced less and less food, until it was not enough for use to survive anymore. So we came here.
Q: How did the Burmese make you suffer in Taw Ta Tu township?
A: As for me, I suffered because I am a farmer and I was working my fields, but then the Burmese soldiers told us that the fields we were working were fields of the government. That means fields of the Burmese. Then they decreed that one acre of field can yield 70 baskets [of unhusked rice] so we must give them 50 baskets from each acre. But our fields do not even yield 50 baskets per acre, so we couldn’t give them what they demanded from us. Fifty baskets was the very top yield we could ever get. Therefore they made problems for us. If you couldn’t give it they captured you and put you in the stocks, they forced you to dig their ponds and do other work. As for me, they never captured me for that reason because I tried very hard to give whatever they ordered [he bought or borrowed rice to fill the quota], but I still had to go and do their loh ah pay [‘voluntary’ labour, actually forced labour] many times, such as digging ponds and digging the path. I had to go because I had no money to hire someone else [to go for him; he was never taken for failure to pay quota, but he had to go whenever the troops made their regular demands for forced labourers]. My children have gone too. Other times they captured me and I had to do loh ah pay. I couldn’t suffer it so I set out to come here. I’m telling you the truth, I’m telling you what I have suffered.
They also forced us to leave our houses and go to live near the car road where there is a relocation site. Our village is at the foot of the mountains, and they made us go live near the car road at a place called Taw Ma Aye. That was 3 or 4 years ago. After they forced us to go to the relocation site they killed some people in the forest, and they captured some people and put them in jail.
Q: Did they force only Zee Byu Gone village to go there?
A: No; Sha Yi Bo, Zee Byu Gone, Taw Gu, Yay Sha and many villages around there had to go. All. They gathered us there and showed us the area where we had to live but they didn’t give us food. We had to go back and work our old fields, but it was difficult and we couldn’t get enough food to eat. Our field is in Zee Byu Gone so we had to go back and work in Zee Byu Gone. It is 2 hours’ walk. They gave us a pass for three days [at a time]. Then we had to come back every three days to get another pass for another 3 days. But even during those 3 days [when you are at your fields with a pass], if their troop patrols saw you along their way they called you over and harassed you, so you couldn’t do your work. The people from the other villages had to live the same way as me.
Q: When you went back to do your work did they ever grab you [for detention or labour]?
A: They didn’t grab me when I went to my old village, but they grabbed me when I went to cut bamboo on the mountain. They captured me and told me to stay with them for only one day but then forced me to live with them for a week, sometimes more than one week, and they didn’t give me enough rice to eat. Each time I came back home after that I felt sick of that kind of thing, because it took away the time I need to work for my family. That is why I am here.
Q: Did you have to give porter fees?
A: If you don’t have time to go you must give porter fees, sometimes 1,000 and sometimes 2,000 [Kyats], or amounts like that. If you have no money to give porter fees and you go [for the labour] yourself, it is very hard because they don’t give you enough rice to eat so you don’t have enough strength to carry their heavy things. When you feel tired and can’t carry they beat you. Some people have died when they were portering. All of the abuses they have committed - you just can’t describe them all because there are too many, so I’m just telling you what I myself have suffered and what I have seen. I didn’t go as a porter, but I had to go and do loh ah pay many times.
Q: How many times did you have to go?
A: Sometimes once a month, sometimes twice a month, and each month we also had to give money to reimburse people for whatever the soldiers had eaten in the village, like pigs or chickens [after SPDC troops steal livestock, the villagers collect money to reimburse the livestock owners in order to distribute the cost evenly]. We are forced to give 100 or 200 [per family] every time they come and eat things in the village. Money is not easy for us to get, so sometimes we couldn’t give it and they sent us to do loh ah pay when we couldn’t give money [the village authorities are always ordered to send numbers of forced labourers to the Army, so they send those who cannot pay money to reimburse the other villagers for SPDC looting]. I’m telling you exactly what I have suffered.
Q: What kind of labour did you have to do as loh ah pay?
A: Go dig the road, go dig ponds [fishponds for the Army] and many other kinds of labour, whatever they forced you to do. I had to go and dig dirt on the path. They put big piles of dirt on the path and forced you to dig. If they said to do one armspan then I had to dig one armspan. It wasn’t a car road, just a path for them to travel along.
Q: Do they have a camp at Zee Byu Gone?
A: They don’t have a camp there but they often travel to Zee Byu Gone, so they force people to dig [repair] that path every year when it is destroyed. People have to dig it every year.
Q: Did they give you rice to eat when you were doing loh ah pay?
A: Ahh lah!! We had to take our own rice with us. They never give us rice to eat. Sometimes we have to work for 2 or 3 days.
Q: What do they do with the ponds they force you to dig?
A: I haven’t gone to see them after they’ve been finished but people told me they are raising fish and planting banana trees around the pond. It was at a place above Taw Ma Aye, beside the car road.
Q: What Battalion are those soldiers from?
A: I don’t know which battalion because they change all the time. I only know the name of the commander who came a long time ago and stayed for a long time; his name was Soe Tha. Since then there have been many commanders but I don’t know any of them. Even their soldiers don’t know them. We just had to work for them, until we were finished whatever work they forced us to do.
Q: Are they still killing people this year?
A: It is still happening, but as for me I just worked in the village and they couldn’t capture me to be a long distance porter. I had to go but just near our area. As for the people who have to go [as porters] to places further away like Kler Lah, we’ve heard of some of them being beaten to death. But we only had to go to Swa Ler, K’Waw Kheh Der, Ko Mi Der and Play Sha Ler. I had to carry cookpots, rice and their other rations. They never beat me, but they shouted at me and slapped me.
Q: When did the Burmese start forcing people there to pay fees and do loh ah pay and portering?
A: I didn’t take note, but I think it was 10 years ago. Since my eldest child was small. Since the Burmese soldiers entered the area. When I was single and first married the situation was good and we were free to work, but since the Burmese came there has been no freedom for us. We had to run to escape from them whenever we were working because we didn’t want to carry as porters when they captured us. After suffering abuse by the Burmese as I’ve described, I’m worried that my children will have to suffer it much more in the future than I have. That’s why I moved from place to place and eventually came here.
Q: What were your sons doing for a living?
A: One hired himself out to take care of another person’s elephant and another one lived with me. If you all live in the house together it is not easy to survive, so I asked one of my sons to go and take care of a rich person’s elephant. The pay is 20,000 Kyats for a year, but you have to eat and pay all the [SPDC] fees, so 20,000 Kyat cannot support you for a year. This season I didn’t work on my fields, I just helped my son with the elephant and did some day labour. I knew that life for my children would only get worse and worse in the future, so we came here. Now all of us have come here. If we go back the Burmese will only torture us more, so we don’t dare go back.
Q: Have you ever worked for the KNU?
A: I have never done that.
Q: Did KNU/KNLA members ever come to your place?
A: They arrived. Battles occurred sometimes. If battles occurred the Burmese came and beat and tortured our village head. They accused him of having contact with thetha bone [‘rebels’] and feeding the tha bone. But if you think about it, they are your people [i.e. Karens] so you feed them. Could you stay without feeding your own people?
Q: Do the Burmese troops eat your livestock when they enter your village?
A: Some Burmese commanders are very bad and hate Karen people, so they shoot livestock in the village whenever they come, but some commanders are kind and they ask for permission before they eat our livestock. As for me, I was busy with my field and loh ah pay so I didn’t rear any animals and I didn’t have any livestock for them to eat, but I myself was abused often.
Q: Do the Burmese soldiers eat people’s rice when they come to your village?
A: They didn’t just eat it, they also destroyed the rice of the villagers by burning it. When they saw the paddy of the villagers in the hills, they forced villagers[at the relocation site] to go up and carry that paddy down to them. Not only the paddy from around my village [Zee Byu Gone], but from the hills all around that area where people stored their paddy. I thought they would take it to eat, but when the villagers had carried it down to them they threw it all in the bushes and burned all of it. That happened just before I left the village [to flee to Thailand]. I left in the first week of January .
Q: In that area can you get any day labour to earn money?
A: There is day labour. The pay for one day is one bowl [8 small milktins, about 1.5-2 kg/4 lb] of rice. That is for day labour transplanting paddy seedlings. If they pay money it is 100 Kyats per day. In hot season you can go and gather betelnut and betel leaves, but you need a pass to go and the pass costs 5 Kyats. It is easy for us to work for money, but if you work for money then you aren’t free to go for loh ah pay, so you have to pay the loh ah pay fees when you come back from making money. I saw that we could never get anything that way, so we came here. Your Aunty here [his wife] is always ill. If you had seen her when she was on the way here you would know how hard it was for her. Even now she’s still not healthy, but she goes to the clinic here and gets medicine so she is getting better.
Q: How did you come here?
A: We didn’t have enough money to make the trip here so we waited for our brothers and sisters to join with us and take us. We came by way of the towns [southward through central Burma, then east to the border]. They [his relatives] took us to K--- one by one, and then we reunited with each other there and came here. We had to sleep one night on the way to K---, then we came by the jungle paths and followed other people who were coming here [from Pa’an District]. It was very difficult coming here from K---, but we arrived alright thanks to God.
NAME: "Naw May Paw" SEX: F AGE: 46 Karen (Bp’Gu) Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 5 children aged 4-26, some other children already died
ADDRESS: Zee Byu Gone village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 2/99
["Naw May Paw" is the wife of "Saw Min Shwe" (see interview above). She was interviewed just after arriving in Thailand as a refugee.]
Q: What was your occupation when you were in your village?
A: I worked in the fields, but not our own fields. We rented fields belonging to others and worked them. We only worked 4 or 5 acres.
Q: Can you tell me about the situation in your village?
A: Living in our place is now very hard. If you need to go anywhere you must get a pass. There is no freedom to go anywhere. You always have to be afraid, so you do not dare to go anywhere. The Burmese beat some Zee Byu Gone villagers to death. They met them near our banana patch and accused them of being KNLA, so they beat four of them to death and buried them in the same pit. That was 7 or 8 years ago, and since then the situation has only become worse step by step. Oh!!
Q: Was that after they started the Four Cuts policy? [An official policy begun in the 1970’s to cut all sources of food, funds, recruits and intelligence from opposition forces by systematically attacking civilian villagers and driving them to destitution; this policy is still in effect]
A: Yes, right. Then they forced us to relocate from Zee Byu Gone, they forced us to go and live in Taw Ma Aye. We couldn’t work in Taw Ma Aye, so we had to get passes to go back and work in Zee Byu Gone. Our children had no chance to go to school because we didn’t dare to leave them among the Burmese in Taw Ma Aye when we went to work in Zee Byu Gone, so we got passes for them as well and took them with us when we went to work. We had to go back and forth in fear. It is very frightening for us to travel. I couldn’t really work due to illness, but I had to work even if I was groaning in pain because if you don’t work you’ll have nothing to eat. I was sick of working while I was ill. Even so, we could have survived if they didn’t disturb us, but then they forced us to move to Bah Yah Na Thee to live there. They forced us to move from place to place, and we had to keep moving. They forced other villagers to come with their bullock carts and carry us to Bah Yah Na Thee. Bah Yah Na Thee is just a big field. They forced us to stay there for a few weeks and then forced us to move back to Taw Ma Aye again, but that time they didn’t arrange a ride for us so we had to go back on foot. Under the Four Cuts policy, they forced us to relocate many times to many different places. Taw Ma Aye was the last place they made us stay, but now people are coming and going. Some people are staying around Zee Byu Gone and some are staying in Taw Ma Aye. There is no safe situation, it just gets worse and worse each day.
Q: Couldn’t your children go to school?
A: My children couldn’t go to school because we had to relocate from place to place like that. All my children finished Grade One, and my third son finished Grade Two. That’s all, because we had to live like wild animals. Now my children are trying to teach themselves to read and write in Sunday School.
There are many kinds of problems we have to suffer each day, so how can we even take note of them all? One day we have to suffer this, the next day we have to suffer that, and the problems keep increasing all the time. In the past no one disturbed us, we could travel freely from place to place and work freely, but now you need a pass to go anywhere, and if you go to do your work there is always loh ah pay behind you, so when you come back you have to give loh ah pay fees [forced labour demands are so frequent that you can only go to do your own work if you can pay to avoid a shift of forced labour]. All the money you earn you must give them as fees and taxes. You cannot buy food to eat, so I had to eat poorly and I became unhealthy. How could I go on suffering like that, nephew? My siblings and relatives were not around me when I was there so I found that it was very hard for me to live, and in the end I came here. If the Burmese don’t disturb our lives we have no problems, but the Burmese try to get money from us in many ways and they are always asking for taxes and fees. You have to give it to them, and then you have nothing for yourself.
Q: Have you seen the Burmese troops when they come to your village?
A: I’ve seen them but I never spoke to them. I just stayed quiet without talking to them and smiled at them because I’m afraid of them. I can’t speak much Burmese, so I was afraid that if I spoke to them and they asked me more questions I wouldn’t be able to answer, and then they would beat me. Once a battle occurred right in front of me. I was selling noodles between Aw Ler Pu and Kyaw Ah Gweh, and they started shooting all around me while people were eating my noodles. They didn’t warn us that they were going to shoot. Three Burmese soldiers died, but no Karen soldiers were killed or wounded because they just shot and then ran away. I saw them myself, I saw the Karen soldiers but I’m not afraid of them like the Burmese. I’m not afraid of them because they talk to me nicely when they see me. If they talked like the Burmese then I wouldn’t dare to talk to them.
The Burmese killed my niece at a place between Zee Byu Gone and Ta Byi. She was beautiful and single. They raped her and then killed her. That was about 10 years ago. If she were still alive she would be over 20 by now. After they raped her, they stabbed her breast and her side with a knife. They left her in the bushes, so we had to look for her for 2 days before we found her. We were afraid when we saw her. Then we had to take her to Taw Ta Tu because the police wanted to see, and after that we buried her.
Life is hard because we did not even have food to eat. Our children had to follow us from place to place so they had no chance to go to school. If we only had enough food to eat, we could keep our children in school. I have suffered too much so I don’t know how to tell you any more. I don’t know what to say because there is just too much.
NAME: "Saw Tee Muh" SEX: M AGE: 48 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
["Saw Tee Muh" grows betelnut, cardamom, dogfruit and durian in his village.]
Q: Is xxxx [his village] close to the Burmese camp?
A: Yes, xxxx village is close to their camp. It takes 5 to 10 minutes to walk to their camp. They are Infantry Battalion #30 under Commander xxxx and they have many camps, at Paleh Wah, Bu Sah Kee, Kler Lah, Kaw Thay Der, Naw Soe and Si Kheh Der villages. Kler Lah is nearly a 2 hour walk from xxxx, the Burmese have the main office for Taw Ta Tu [Tantabin] township there. Kler Lah village has more than 400 houses. The Burmese Army camp is on the hill at the edge of the village.
Q: How many houses are there in xxxx village?
A: There are 130 to 140 houses. We are staying under Burmese control and they don’t allow us to buy rice freely. If we need rice we have to report to the main office in Kler Lah in order to be permitted to transport rice. We must pay 200 Kyats tax to transport one sack of rice. A sack of rice costs 2,000 Kyats [in Toungoo] but we have to pay 2,600 or 2,700 per sack. All of the villagers have to buy rice from Taw Oo, which is 38 miles from Kler Lah. Drivers buy the rice and transport it for us. The driver makes the report and must give the taxes to the Burmese. One vehicle can carry 50 sacks of rice so the driver must pay 10,000 Kyats each time. The driver asks for about 600 Kyats [per sack] for the transport service because of all the fees he must pay on the way. There are many gates [Army checkpoints] between Kler Lah and Taw Oo, such as Payar Chay Yine gate, Infantry #39 gate, T’See Ther Milah [13-mile] gate, Kee See Milah [20-mile] gate, Paleh Wah gate and finally Kler Lah gate. At some of the gates they demand 50 Kyats for each sack of rice the driver is transporting. Sometimes there is an understanding between the driver and the Burmese soldiers so all they ask is that he bring them curry. The money that they collect is for the Burmese officers who stay here. When they go back to town they use that money to build themselves houses. They can do that because they take money from the villages. [i.e. the officers take the money with them when they are rotated back to the cities. The rank-and-file soldiers on the checkpoints are ordered to collect money for their officers, but they receive none of it and they are given insufficient rations, so they often accept food instead of money at the risk of severe punishment by their officers].
Q: Usually how often do they go to buy rice in Taw Oo?
A: It depends on the situation in the village. If we need rice, the driver reports to them. But sometimes if battles have occurred in the hills of their area, they don’t give permission to buy rice. They say that we are feeding the resistance, so the resistance is becoming stronger and shooting at them with guns. Now they’ve closed the path to carry rice [from Kler Lah], so it’s not easy for those of us who stay in the hills to get food and we can’t eat rice regularly. Sometimes we eat rice once a day, and sometimes we don’t even have enough rice to eat once a day. When we cook rice we mix it with bamboo to make a soup [rice is often prepared as a soup when food is low because it makes the rice last longer]. It’s not easy for us to get food.
Q: Do you know any commanders from Kler Lah?
A: I know an intelligence officer named M---. He collects money but he must be very cautious because he is under his commander [he doesn’t report all the money he collects to his commander].
Q: Do they force the villagers from each village to give them money?
A: Yes. Sometimes they lie to the villagers and say that they must either go to be porters or give them money so they can arrange replacements. It’s not true. They just lie to the villagers because they want their money. Recently in xxxx [his village], Commander xxxx of IB #30, who has left already, forced Naw xxxx to buy a cassette player for him. He thought Naw xxxx and Naw xxxx had a lot of money because they were car drivers. He forced them to buy him good quality machines, such as Sony or National which come from Japan. The one Naw xxxx bought him cost 10,000 Kyats and the Sony that Naw xxxx bought cost 6,000 Kyats. He didn’t even look at it when they gave him a cassette player that had been made in China. After people bought the cassette players for him, he went back to the Battalion #30 camp south of Taw Oo and took the cassette players to town. He has 2 or 3 cassette players. I think he is going to sell some of them in town because he can probably only use one of them.
Q: Have the Burmese ever captured people in Kler Lah to be porters?
A: Yes. They capture porters whenever they have an urgent need for them. When they capture them they say it is for loh ah pay [voluntary labour, the term used by the SPDC for forced labour; in this context it is used to mean short-term forced labour as opposed to long-term portering and infrastructure work] but portering and loh ah pay are the same. People have to carry heavy things in the same way. People in Kler Lah don’t have to carry things as much as those in xxxx [his village]. We’ve heard that people in Kler Lah give money every month instead of going as porters. Each month the whole village of Kler Lah must give two to three hundred thousand Kyats. The very least they ever have to pay is 200,000 Kyats. Our village, xxxx, is very small with poor villagers so we don’t have money to pay like that, we don’t even have enough money for ourselves. That’s why we always have to carry things. We can’t do anything about this. When three groups of Burmese troops came to Taw Ta Tu township, one from Southern Command, one from Rangoon Command and the other from Western Command, they came to Kler Lah and xxxx villages at the same time and ourxxxx village saw many problems. Our village was nearly destroyed and we had to carry many things. Many of the villagers were injured by gunfire and landmines. Some died. More than 10 people [were injured but] survived. This depressed the villagers and they didn’t even care if they lost their property anymore [they fled into the forests with nothing]. This event [the coming of the troops] has caused big trouble for xxxx village.
Q: Why does Kler Lah village have to give many hundreds of thousands of Kyats?
A: For porter fees, but you must understand that the porter fees are going to the Burmese commanders and not to the porters. I have a house in Taw Oo as well as xxxxand I must give porter fees for both houses, but still they force us to go for forced labour. Whether they call it portering or loh ah pay, we still have to carry their things the same.
Q: Is there a difference between what they call portering and what they call loh ah pay?
A: No, there is no difference. They just like to call it by a good name. I think you know that this government likes to call everything by nice-sounding names. If they capture people and put them in jail, they never say that they’ve put them in jail but rather that they have secured them. They like to use terms that sound sweet.
Q: Do the Burmese ever hold meetings with the villagers in the village?
A: In the meetings they never talk about improving things, they only talk about how they need people to porter and for loh ah pay. Only a few groups of the Burmese hold meetings that are about village development. Recently the Na Pa Ka [Western Military Command] came and did some development in the village. They ordered the villagers to dig dirt and fill holes in the road. Most of the time they do only what benefits them.
Q: Have you ever had to go for forced labour?
A: I have gone many times. I have only gone as far as Si Kheh Der [as a porter], which is a 5-hour walk away. If I’m required to go to Bu Sah Kee I hire a person to go for me which costs 3,000 Kyats. When I’ve gone I’ve had to carry many different things. I’ve carried things such as rice, oil, milk, sugar, onions and garlic. Sometimes we had to carry ammunition when they needed it, but now we don’t have to because their vehicles come along the road during the dry season so they have a lot of ammunition already. The vehicles also bring their rice during the dry season.
Q: If the Burmese see the villagers in their gardens do they abuse them?
A: They abuse people a lot when they see them in their gardens. The year before last they captured two villagers, a father and son from Maw Thay Der. It is one hour’s walk from xxxx. The father’s name was Sa Lu Lu and his son’s name was Joseph. Joseph was 12 or 13 years old. They killed them both, but on different days. The group that does the most killing is IB #26. Whenever they see villagers they treat them like animals. People have to run whenever the Burmese are coming.
Q: Have you ever heard of them burning villages and destroying gardens?
A: They often do it like this: they destroy the villagers’ gardens, they cut down the betelnut trees and cook them to eat [the core of very young betelnut trees can be cooked and eaten]. They burn the cardamom gardens and say, "We must burn them quickly so the villagers will become poor sooner and can’t feed the KNLA anymore." The year before last they went to Khaw Tu Htoh, 3 hours walk from our village, and they saw that the paddy was already yellow on the stalks [ready for harvest]. Then they forced the porters and soldiers to destroy all the paddy fields and burn down the rice barns that had rice in them. Whenever they finish their rations they confiscate the villagers’ rice to eat, and when they have enough rice for themselves they destroy the villagers’ rice and paddy whenever they see it. The Burmese have come to our place in the mountains and they torture us like this too often. We can’t describe all the persecution we must suffer.
NAME: "Naw Ghay Hser" SEX: F AGE: 28 Karen shopkeeper
FAMILY: Single, lives with her parents
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
Q: Where do you get the things that you sell?
A: From Taw Oo town. I ask a person who has a car to go for me once a week to buy things.
Q: Have the Burmese forced any villagers who stay near your village to move?
A: The Burmese said that if they [KNLA soldiers] come to shoot at them they will force the villagers to move. Their commander, and sometimes Sergeant xxxx, often came to tell us that. They stay in the camp but they came to each house to tell us that. The Burmese commander also calls a meeting once a week and one person from each house must go. At the meeting they said that the villagers have to carry things for them and that if we don’t we will have to move or we will be fined.
Q: Is your village near the Burmese camp?
A: No, it is far. It takes 15 minutes to walk there. They come sometimes and buy things from my shop. They are Infantry Battalion #xxx and their commander, who stays in the camp, is Company 2nd-in-Command xxxx. He comes to visit, he comes and orders people to go and carry things. I had to carry things to Bu Sah Kee. It took 3 days to go there and 2 days to come back. 30 or 40 people have to go each time and we carry ammunition, milk, sugar and tobacco. Both married and single women have to go. Sometimes there are 20 or 30 women and only a few men among them. Women have to carry 15 viss [24 kg / 53 lb] while men have to carry 20 viss [32 kg / 70 lb]. If people don’t go and carry for them they confiscate rice and things from the house and then damage the house. They did that to 2 people from 2 houses, K--- and L---. There are 4 people in K---’s house from whom they took many things such as rice, pots and plates. They also took her livestock. She didn’t dare to say anything. They took the livestock and some of the rice to their camp, and they sold some of the rice. Sometimes we have to carry once a week and other times once a month. Sometimes we must go for two days at a time. They threaten the villagers that if we don’t carry things for them they will fire their guns, burn the houses and drive all the villagers out of the village. Even when people don’t have to go carry things they never allow us to go to do [our own] work.
Q: Do the Burmese ever arrest people to be porters when they come to the village [as opposed to sending orders for them to come to the camp]?
A: Yes, they arrest villagers to be porters. People had to flee from the village. Some soldiers who arrest the villagers ask for money to let them go free. The amount they ask for depends on how much they want. One time it was around 500 or 600 Kyats. The villagers were afraid to be porters so they gave the money and then fled.
Q: Do they call carrying things portering or do they call it loh ah pay [‘voluntary’ labour]?
A: They call it loh ah pay, and they force people to do it every week. Sometimes 40 people must go and sometimes as many as 70 people must go. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to go. I have to go every month, and if we can’t go we must give money. We have to pay 500 Kyats for each day so it costs two or three thousand Kyats each time if we can’t go. Most of the time I go but I have hired people to go in my place for 500 Kyats per day 6 or 7 times already. We give money to people to go in our place. We also have to pay porter fees of 200 Kyats every month. We have to pay that every month and still we have to work for them whenever they require us to porter or to do [other] labour.
Q: How many Burmese are there in xxxx [her village]?
A: There are 20 soldiers. Sometimes they, both the soldiers and the commander, come and buy things from the village. They have borrowed things from my shop and sometimes they pay me for them but other times they don’t. Sometimes they borrow things worth up to 10,000 Kyats. They still have a few thousand Kyats outstanding that they haven’t paid.
Q: Do you have to pay taxes to the Burmese when you buy the things you sell in your shop?
A: We have to give money on the way from L--- to xxxx. Sometimes I have to give 2,000 Kyats and other times I have to give 3,000 Kyats. I also have to pay taxes when my goods arrive in the village but I can’t say how much, because sometimes they take many things and other times they only take a few things.
Q: Did they ever threaten you?
A: Yes, they always threaten me. Both the commander, Major xxxx, and the soldiers told me, "Your village is a Nga Pway [‘ringworm’, a derogatory SPDC name for KNU/KNLA] village so you must follow me to my place or I will burn your village." But I said to them, "Do it! Burn it! I’m not worried about it, it doesn’t bother me!" Major xxxx is a xx-year-old short and dark-skinned man, but he has already left and xxxx came to replace him 4 days ago. xxxx arrived on September xx .
Q: Do the Burmese soldiers require forced labourers often?
A: Yes. We’ve had to carry things and build a road. Women had to go also. We had to work on the road in April and May , during the hot season. We had to cut and clear the road and where cars couldn’t pass we had to dig the dirt [to repair the road]. They used both the vehicles of the villagers and the vehicles of the Burmese to build the roads. There were soldiers in the army vehicles and they got angry if the villagers weren’t working hard.
Q: How did they show their anger?
A: They fired their guns. Before they fired their guns they said, "I will shoot you!" Then they fired off 4 or 5 shots. I was afraid. They showed their anger in front of me. When I ran to go back to my house, he [a soldier] shot at my feet but I was not injured. They aimed their guns at us while we were working. They were worried that we would run away. They were also worried that KNLA soldiers would come and shoot at them.
Q: When the Burmese go away from the village and KNLA soldiers shoot at them, what do the Burmese do to the villagers when they return?
A: When they came back, they said that the villagers had shot at them so they tortured the villagers. About one or two hundred soldiers from Infantry Battalion #48 arrived on September 10th from Taw Oo with 60 to 70 porters. Some of the porters were old and some were young. They carried ammunition, rice and other things that the military uses. The soldiers carried their rations and their guns. They stayed one night in the village. The soldiers tortured N---, a 22-year-old unmarried boy, because they’d been shot at. The Burmese Sergeant hit his head 3 or 4 times and took his watch, a Seiko 5, then they tied his hands behind his back. The Sergeant was thin and not more than 30 years old. He also took N---’s mess tin and killed 4 of Naw S---’s ducks, he hit and killed the ducks because someone had shot at him. He robbed the villagers’ things and then forced them to leave. He kept N--- tied under the house for half an hour and then demanded that he follow him to the Bu Ler Der road and to the betelnut gardens. They were going to Bu Sah Kee village to send food to the operations commander. After keeping him tied up for a day and a night he forced him to go back. When N--- came back to the village he said that the Burmese had tortured him.
Q: Did they destroy the villagers’ belongings?
A: Yes, they destroyed many things, such as rice, fishpaste, salt, and clothing. They destroyed things in Bu Ler Der, Hsaw Wah Der and Kaw Thay Der villages. They also destroyed a wooden church with a zinc roof in Bu Ler Der last March or April, during the hot season. Light Infantry Battalion #707 burned the church. They didn’t burn the houses, only the church. They also burned everything that they found in the jungle below xxxx, all the things that the villagers there had been hiding in the jungle.
Q: Have any xxxx villagers stepped on landmines when going to their fields?
A: Many people have stepped on landmines when they have gone to porter. While portering, 7 of our villagers carrying Burmese rations have stepped on both Burmese and KNLA landmines and some of them have died. The Burmese brought them back and sent them to get treatment in Rangoon hospital. The names of the three single women who stepped on landmines on different occasions are Naw Mar Shar, 24 years old, Naw Kae Neh, 22 years old, and Naw Mary Htoo, 20 years old. They were carrying rice and ammunition for the Burmese when they got injured. Naw Mary Htoo was carrying rice for the Burmese and got injured in December of last year , Naw Kae Neh stepped on a landmine 2 years ago and the other stepped on a landmine 3 years ago. Five others [from her village] also died while they were portering. The Burmese didn’t take care of them.
Q: Do they ever demand chickens or pigs from the villagers?
A: Yes, from me as well. Six of seven of them threatened and demanded them of me. They asked me twice, so I had to give them one duck and one chicken. The drivers [of all vehicles using the roads] also must give them chickens, ducks and sometimes tofu.
Q: When the villagers want to leave or go to buy things do they need permission?
A: Yes, they must get one [a written pass] from the village headman’s house. U xxxx, xx years old, was elected by the villagers. The sheet for the pass comes from the Burmese and people who don’t have national identity cards must give money. It costs 40 Kyats per pass and the money is given to the village headman to get the sheet. The village headman uses that money for the expenses of the village, for the times when we have to give the money to the Burmese. The village headman has 10 people in his household. He is not here because he has gone with 9 other people to Bu Sah Kee to carry things for the Burmese. 2 men and 8 women went. One had a child still breastfeeding and she had to leave it at home. The Burmese told them that they would have to go for one day, but they’ve been gone for 4 days now. If they don’t get back today, maybe they’ll arrive tomorrow. They were going to the place where the Operations Commander stays. They were carrying fishpaste and many other things. They called me to carry as well but I said that I was sick.
Lastly, a troop of Burmese soldiers from Infantry Battalion #30 under the command of xxxx came to the village and took 50,000 Kyats that belonged to M---. When they arrived in the village at about 10 p.m., he [xxxx] called for the vehicle drivers but they were all sleeping. A--- then went to look for money. He is a 30-year-old private who was demoted from Sergeant 2 months ago for stealing 50,000. He entered M---’s room where she was sleeping and took her money. He stole the money by himself and didn’t tell his friends [the other soldiers] but now his friends know about it. They don’t dare mention it because they think he will flee [if he knows that they know]. He is still staying in the village. M--- told me about that and I know it’s true because one soldier came to buy things with 50, 200 and 500 Kyat notes.
NAME: "Saw Htoo Wah" SEX: M AGE: 22 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 3 children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
Q: Do the people in your village have to give porter fees?
A: Yes. There are many kinds of fees. Sometimes we have to give 1,000 Kyats but other times we only have to give 5 or 6 hundred Kyats. The difference is because of urgently required porters. The regular fees are 5 or 6 hundred Kyats but if a column comes and needs porters urgently we must pay more, 1,000 Kyats.
Q: Do the villagers have to do forced labour?
A: Yes, every month. If we don’t go we must give money. Last year [last dry season, i.e. October 1997 to May 1998] we had to go for forced labour many times each month. Women also had to go. One time we had to go for a whole month but usually it was 2 or 3 times per month. As our village is small, only 10 people had to go each time. We were required to go to Bu Sah Kee, which is one week’s walk from our village. We had to carry things, cook and fetch water for them. My complaint is that we went to work for them but they didn’t give us enough food. They did give us some food, each person got enough rice to cover the lid of a mess tin, but it wasn’t enough. Sometimes we were given rice and salt and other times we were given rice and fishpaste. We never saw what the soldiers ate.
Q: Did you have to bring your own rice?
A: Yes, we took our own rice. When that was finished they gave us some but it wasn’t enough. Each time we thought we’d brought enough rice, but the problem was that they said that we would be going for a week and then they would force us to stay for 2 or 3 weeks.
Q: What did you have to carry?
A: We had to carry rice, ammunition, alcohol, milk and tinned meat. I had to carry 15 viss [24 kg / 53 lb]. The women had to carry 12 viss [19 kg / 42 lb], and we all had to carry our own things as well. They tied us up because they were afraid that we would run away. Sometimes they tied us up during the night. They allowed us to sleep, but they watched over us with guns.
Q: Did they threaten you while you were portering?
A: Yes, they threatened us. They were worried that we would escape and they said to us, "Don’t run. If you run I will shoot you dead and burn your house." Some villagers did run but they didn’t do as they said, instead they demanded that the villagers give them pork. One villager that tried to escape had to give them 10viss [16 kg / 35 lb] of pork. He had to give it to them or else he wouldn’t have been able to stay [in the village].
Q: When you were portering what kind of problems did you see?
A: While we were portering for the soldiers we had to walk in front of them. I had to walk in front of them. They forced us to go in front because of landmines. If there are landmines the porters get injured. They forced us to walk in front of them to clear landmines in Bu Sah Kee. I never found any but my friend May May was injured. She is 16 years old and from Kler Lah village. Saw Ler Ler, a 19 year old also from Kler Lah, was also injured. They sent the villagers that got injured back home, but those who weren’t injured had to keep going. Sometimes they gave medicine to the porters who were sick but other times they didn’t.
Q: How did you come back?
A: They released us when our term was finished.
Q: Have you gone portering this year?
A: We haven’t gone this year because we pay the porter fees. We give them the money in Kler Lah and they hire porters from town.
Q: Do they ever force the villagers to give them rice?
A: Yes, everywhere. Sometimes it’s only a few soldiers and other times it’s the whole group. When they finish their rations they force us to give them rice. They tell us that they will repay us for the rice when their rations come, but they never do. They also steal the livestock when they enter the village, they never ask for it. They do that every time they come. The villagers see them stealing their livestock but they don’t dare to say anything.
Q: Do they threaten the villagers in your village?
A: I saw them do that in Kler Lah village. Last year they went to capture students in the school to be porters but the students didn’t want to go. They captured them anyway, but the students punched the soldiers and tried to grab a soldier’s gun. The gun broke into two pieces. In the end the students didn’t go. I saw that with my own eyes.
Q: When did the Burmese come the last time?
A: Two months ago 30 soldiers from Infantry Battalion #48 entered the village. They caught our chickens and stole money from "Pi Thu Meh" [see interview with her in this report], and they also stole a small cassette player that belonged to Day Po who is 60 years old. They steal things when the owners aren’t at home. One soldier talks to the owner while another enters the house and steals things.
NAME: "Saw Tha Muh" SEX: M AGE: 52 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Single, lives alone
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
[There are about 70 households in "Saw Tha Muh"’s village.]
Q: Do SPDC troops ever come to the village?
A: Yes, they come. They change their troops every 4 months. At those times they enter the village and then go back to Taw Oo. I heard the village headman and other people say that they came to the village to demand food. They slept on the path and stole the villagers’ things. They told me to give them my rice so I did. They demand livestock, coconuts, durian and many other things every time they come. If you give them livestock, they are very happy.
Q: Have the Burmese ever slept in the village when they’ve come?
A: Yes, and they took many of the villagers’ belongings, like watches, boots, clothing, sarongs, chickens and many other things. They took many things from a teacher named Y--- from Taw Oo. They do that sort of thing whenever they enter the village. We complained to their commander but he said that he asked his soldiers about it and they said that they didn’t take anything.
Q: Does the SPDC write letters to the villagers?
A: They’ve written letters often. The letters are about the food and porters that they want.
Q: Has the SPDC ever called a meeting in the village?
A: Yes, they’ve called meetings twice this year. They talked about us having to cut bamboo and firewood [for them] and about us having to go to Kler Lah to clear the road. We had to cut wood for their bunkers, and we had to cut 500 bamboo poles. We cut the bamboo in xxxx and then they came by car to get it. They used it for their bunkers.
They sent us by car and we had to go to build the road at Ler Hta Gwin. We had to fill the holes in the road. We had to bring our own food and find our own water. The women, children and old people also had to go, the eldest was 60 years old and the youngest was 15 years old. We went in the morning and then they brought us back in the evening.
Q: Could you take rests?
A: If we were not finished they told us to keep working until we were finished. They planned for xxxx village and Kler Lah village to finish in the same day. We had to cook and work, sometimes they came to have a look and they ate with us [eating the villagers’ food].
Q: How do they ask for porters?
A: Sometimes they threaten us and force us to go and be porters. The commander of Battalion #48 told the villagers that if we don’t go they will drive us to a relocation site. They will force villagers from xxxx village to T’See Ther Milah [‘13-mile’, along the road from Toungoo] and then they will force the Kler Lah villagers to Mah Ner site. They said they will move them. They said, "If you’re not afraid, look down our G3 and G4!!" [i.e. if you don’t obey and move because you’re not afraid of us; G3 and G4 are SPDC Army assault rifles.] They also threaten us and demand that we give porter fees. They collect the porter fees but still sometimes we have to go [as porters]. One or two months ago they captured and tied up some people to be porters. The people gave them one or two thousand Kyats each and they released them. Those soldiers were from Infantry Battalion #26 under Major Htaw Win, Infantry Battalion #20, and Infantry Battalion #48 under Major Aung Win. If they shoot their guns the villagers are afraid of them and give them money.
Q: When villagers from your village go as porters, do they ever step on landmines?
A: Yes, they have stepped on landmines in Maung Daing Gyi and Naw Soe. Five people have stepped on landmines, all men.
Q: How much do you have to pay for porter fees each month?
A: Each house has to pay 4,250 Kyats each month. The whole village pays over 60,000 Kyats per month. Some poor people can’t pay the fees or they can only give half. Only about half of the villagers can pay the whole fee. Sometimes I pay the whole fee and other times I can only pay half. I’m afraid of them [the Burmese] so I try to give them at least half. They don’t say anything when I only give them half. The village headman collects the money from the villagers and has to send it to the Burmese on the first day of the month. They’ve already demanded the money for this month but I haven’t paid it yet. The village head has only been able to collect 40,000 Kyats. They do the same sort of thing in Than Daung township.
Q: Do the Burmese ever collect other taxes?
A: They only collect the porter fees and other things such as food, fruit, chickens and pigs. They don’t collect any other tax money. Last year when the Na Pa Ka[Western Military Command] came to the village, they demanded 5 of the villagers’ pigs. They wrote a letter to the village demanding the pigs. Whenever they came we had to cook one pig for them. When they change their troops every 4 months we have to cook a pig for them.
Q: How far is the Burmese camp from your village?
A: It’s over an hour’s walk away, well over a mile. They try to force us to do labour in their camp but we don’t go. They have also tried to force us to build a monastery, but again, we didn’t go. When we didn’t go they didn’t say anything, they didn’t even ask us for money.
Q: What kind of work do the villagers in your village do?
A: They work on farms and plant peanuts, fruit and betelnut. Sometimes Kler Lah villagers come to buy our produce, and sometimes xxxx villagers buy our produce and then take it to Taw Oo to sell. 1 viss [1.6 kg / 3.5 lb] of peanuts sells for 200 Kyats whereas 1 viss of dried betelnut sells for 400 Kyats. Those who don’t grow rice have cardamom gardens and they use the money from selling the cardamom to buy rice in Kler Lah village. The rice in Kler Lah is bought in Taw Oo for 2,000 Kyats a sack but when we buy it in Kler Lah we must pay 3,000 Kyats per sack. The reason the price is different is because the villagers in Kler Lah must pay taxes to the Burmese and sometimes they have to give them things along the road. When the vehicles go to Taw Oo, they [SPDC police, soldiers and commanders] demand fruit from the drivers and then order them to bring them fish and many other things. They ask for so many things that some of the drivers have left [to go and live elsewhere]. On the path from here to Kler Lah we have to give at 3 gates, Lwee Milah at Pyah Chay Tin gate, T’See Ther Milah gate and Paleh Wah gate. Then there is also a gate at Kler Lah. They [the people who go to buy the rice] must get a letter of permission from Battalion #30 in Kler Lah camp to go to Taw Oo to buy rice. The letter costs over 100 Kyats [depending on the number of sacks to be bought]. The drivers bring the rice from Kler Lah to Kaw Soh Ko and then we buy it.
Q: Do they allow the villagers to go outside [of the village] to work on their plantations?
A: If we do whatever they demand of us, carrying things and forced labour, they allow us to do that. If we don’t do as they say they tell us not to sleep on our farms or at our betelnut plantations. If they see us there they will kill us without any questions asked, but they haven’t done that. Ten days ago a column from Rangoon, Light Infantry Battalion #149, destroyed the betelnut plantation in xxxx village. They cut down the betelnut trees of the headmen, K--- and Thra T---, and cooked a curry with them. They cut down the durian trees and made firewood. [The core of very young betelnut trees can be cooked and eaten.]
Q: Did they shoot any livestock?
A: Yes, 2 years ago they did that near Hsaw Wah Der. Battalion #107 of the Na Pa Ka [Western Military Command] forced their porters to guard some cattle and buffalos, and then they shot 4 cows and ate them. The owners of the cattle weren’t there.
Q: Do they take the villagers’ belongings from their farmfield huts?
A: If they see them, they take them. Three months ago Infantry Battalion #48 came and took chicken, fish, pots, machetes and everything else they found that belonged to the villagers. They burned paddy barns in Maung Daing Gyi, Si Kheh Der and in the area east of Gyi Kyaut and Gho Kee village. Those places are far from Kler Lah village, about 20 miles away. They destroyed many of the villagers’ things there.
Q: If the villagers don’t obey the soldiers, what do the soldiers usually do?
A: When the villagers don’t obey them they enter the village, threaten the villagers, steal their belongings and shoot their guns. That happened in our village 5 or 6 months ago. They fired carbines and G3’s [M1 carbine rifles, usually carried by officers, and G3 automatic assault rifles]. They didn’t shoot any big weapons. Two of the bullets they fired came down through the roof of the church. When they were firing their guns some villagers were afraid and said, "If you need us to do something for you, tell us and we will do it!" Some villagers fled to their farms and gardens. They said that if we didn’t like them staying in their camp in Kler Lah they would shell the village with large shells. They threatened us.
Q: Did they do anything like that in any other villages?
A: Not so long ago [Infantry] Battalion #48 and also the Na Pa Ka [Western Military Command] tortured villagers from Si Kheh Der, Plaw Mu Der and Ta Kwee Soe villages. They said that the villagers didn’t do any work for them, so when they saw the villagers they said that they were bad people and they killed them. The other villagers were afraid and fled the village and then they burned the houses. They also burned churches in Si Kheh Der and Plaw Mu Der. The bibles made a lot of smoke when they burned.
NAME: "Pati Lay Kyaw" SEX: M AGE: 50 Karen farmer
FAMILY: Married, several children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
["Pati Lay Kyaw" was forced to move to a relocation site at Lwee Milah village along the road from Kler Lah to Toungoo, but at the time of the interview he had temporarily sneaked back to his home village to do some farming.]
Q: Have the Burmese forced any villagers to relocation sites?
A: Yes, our village had to move, and other villages as well. The first 3 villages to move were Nyein Chan Yay Gwin, Klay Soe Kee and Wah Tho Ko villages. The Burmese government didn’t give us a place to go so we had to find a place ourselves. I moved to stay in Lwee Milah [‘4-mile’], which is 10 hours away by car, and I had to build my own house. That was 9 months ago. There are over 300 houses in Lwee Milah. The bus fare to get there is 500 Kyats per person and we had to pay it ourselves. Lwee Milah is only one furlong [1/8 mile] from the Burmese camp. It’s very close, just a five-minute walk. The Burmese come very often.
Q: What is the primary occupation of Lwee Milah villagers?
A: They work on peanut gardens. Many hill villagers have gone to stay there from villages such as Thway Kaw Po, Oo Bper, Htee Hsah Bper and many other villages. The Burmese [soldiers] and Lwee Milah villagers are also staying there.
Q: What are you doing for work now?
A: I have a small cardamom garden and I also do some logging.
Q: Do the Burmese collect porter fees in Lwee Milah village?
A: They collect porter fees very often. Once a month they collect money for porter fees, sentry fees, electricity and forced labour fees. The village headman collects the fees. The porter fees are not always the same amount, it could be 30, 40 or 50 Kyats [per family]. The electricity fee is 20 Kyats per month.
Q: If the villagers in Lwee Milah village don’t give the fees do the soldiers say anything?
A: They said that if we don’t give the fees they will send our names to Naw Soe and the soldiers there will force us to carry things or fine us 500 Kyats. If we pay the 500 Kyats we don’t have to carry things for them. The villagers pay the fees every month because they are afraid of them, so they haven’t sent anyone to Naw Soe yet.
Q: Have the Burmese ever held meetings in Lwee Milah village?
A: When I went back 2 or 3 months ago they had already held a meeting in Lwee Milah village. At the meeting they ordered the villagers to go for forced labour. Usually when they hold meetings they demand people for forced labour, cleaning and other things in the village. If we don’t do it they fine us 500 Kyats.
Q: Have you ever had to pay 500 Kyats?
A: No, I’ve never paid 500 Kyats, but one time they said my toilet wasn’t clean and they fined me 200 Kyats.
At the meeting they talked about improving the village and told the villagers to do things so that the village will be beautiful, such as cleaning around the village and avoiding problems. The last time they called a meeting they said that if a stranger comes or there’s a problem the villagers must hit the hollow log [so they can hear it from their camp]. If a stranger comes along the path we have to beat the hollow log. Now they make sentries be on duty everywhere, in 5 or 6 places [villagers have to do forced labour as sentries]. They say it is to protect us from thieves and robbers. When a sentry beats on the hollow log, all of the villagers in Lwee Milah have to start beating on hollow logs. If we don’t, they fine us 500 Kyats.
Q: Who are the thieves?
A: In the village there are many Burmese, so there are many thieves. The thieves are people from outside the village. They are of many nationalities, such as Indian, Burmese, Shan, Karen or others. We have to take care all the time.
Q: Do they force the villagers to labour?
A: They forced all of us to fence the school and to dig irrigation canals in the fields in Say Bu Daun. Sometimes 60 or 80 people had to go, sometimes 100 or over 100. We had to dig irrigation ditches to grow rice in the hot season [double-cropping; the main crop is grown in rainy season]. We went to work in the morning and came back at 12 p.m. We had to take our own food, and if we didn’t go we had to pay the 500 Kyat fine.
Q: Do the Burmese tax the villagers’ paddy?
A: Yes. The taxes are higher on the paddy during the hot season. In the hot season they take 12 baskets of paddy as tax for every acre of paddy field. [They force the villagers to dig irrigation so paddy can be grown in hot season, then take as much as half of the hot season crop as ‘tax’. This is similar to SPDC double- and triple-cropping programs in other areas such as the Irrawaddy Delta, where the second crop is called ‘Saytana’ (‘Goodwill’) rice and the SPDC often takes all of it.]
Q: Is there a school in Lwee Milah?
A: Yes, the school has the first 4 standards and then the students have to move to Bee Lah.
Q: Is there a hospital in Lwee Milah?
A: No. If people get sick they must go to buy medicine in Taw Oo. The Burmese allow us to go.
Q: Have you heard whether the Burmese have burned the houses of any villagers?
A: Yes, they burned down the villages to the east of the Day Lo river such as Pwih Kee, Blah Kee, Maw Ko Der, Oo Bper and Htee Hsah Bper. I don’t know if they burned all the houses or not because we didn’t see it, we only heard about it.
Q: How long ago did you come back here [near his home village]?
A: I came back just over a week ago with 2 of my daughters, to cut some logs and tend my cardamom. I will go back when I’m finished tending my cardamom. I don’t think that will be too long.
Q: If the Burmese come here, will you flee or stay?
A: I will flee because I don’t dare to stay. When we stay here we have to be afraid. About one week ago, while I was here, the Burmese changed one group of their troops in Naw Soe. They [the new troops] came from Taw Oo, and they entered the village here. We stay just outside the village. I didn’t flee, I stayed outside the village and listened. If they had come any closer, I would have fled.
NAME: "Pu Tee Kuh" SEX: M AGE: 70+ Karen farmer
FAMILY: Married, 6 children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
[When interviewed "Pu Tee Kuh" was living in hiding in the forest.]
Q: What do you call this place?
Q: Have the Burmese arrived here before?
A: They came 2 or 3 months ago. I was very ill but still able to run, so I ran into the forest to stay there. Later I became seriously ill so I took blood tonic and some natural medicines and bathed with warm water. My son had to carry me back here because I was too ill to walk. He is 30, his name is Saw K---.
Q: What do you do for a living?
A: I’m a farmer. I clear my fields, which are at the edge of K---. This year more than 10 families had finished clearing their fields but they couldn’t sow paddy because the Burmese came. I was in K--- at the time. They [the SPDC troops] came to do road construction. When they came we fled to stay on another hill. They stayed for over a month, destroyed our seed paddy and then went back.
Q: What are your children doing?
A: They work on a small betelnut plantation and they also grow cardamom. The cardamom this year is very poor, some plants are old and the yield is not very good. The betelnut is also very bad this year because we don’t have time to water the trees or cut the weeds.
Q: Do you have enough food each year?
A: In the past we also worked our paddy fields so we got rice but this year we could not sow paddy. We have to go to Kaw Thay Der to buy rice. Last time, one of my three daughters [his daughters range in age from 27 to 40 years old] went to buy the rice. Someone must go to buy rice whenever we finish the rice we have. The price of rice goes up and down but the most we’ve had to pay for a small sack is 2,200 Kyats. If people leave in the morning to buy the rice they are back in the afternoon.
Q: How many times do you have to go to buy rice in one month?
A: It depends on how much rice we get from our farm. The more we have the longer we can go without having to buy rice.
Q: When your children went to buy rice, did the Burmese cause them any problems?
A: No, they didn’t ever see them because my children went when the situation was better. They don’t go as other people do, they listen to hear about the situation before they go. In the past we only had to buy rice occasionally because we had rice from our farm, but this year it will be more difficult. I don’t have much money so I borrow small amounts from many different people. Now we have lots of debt so we have to work to pay it off.
Q: What about the future of the villagers here?
A: Only a few people have been able to sow a small amount of paddy here this year. Only 2 or 3 people!
Q: Do the villagers here hide things in the jungle?
A: They hide their food. Now we don’t have any rice to hide so we hide our fishpaste. The Burmese eat or destroy our food if they find it. When they came this time they destroyed one basket of my rice, some of my machetes, an axe and some other things. If they find clothes they also take them or destroy them.
Q: Have you heard of villagers stepping on landmines while fleeing from the Burmese?
A: There was one guy who stepped on a landmine and died when the Burmese soldiers came over a month ago.
Q: Have the Burmese killed any villagers?
A: The Burmese haven’t killed anyone this year but they killed people last year.
Q: Have the Burmese burned the villagers’ houses?
A: They burned down the church in Hsaw Wah Der when they were leaving to go back. The villagers built the church when the situation was good, I helped to build it. The roof of the church was zinc [corrugated zinc sheeting] and cost tens of thousands of Kyats. The villagers bought the zinc from town. As for the Pyi Daw Tha school, it had a zinc roof also but the Burmese government paid for part of that and the villagers paid part. But the villagers paid the whole amount for the church. While the church was being built all the villagers had to pay 30 to 60 Kyats [per family] about 5 or 6 times as the work progressed.
NAME: "Saw Thay Ler" SEX: M AGE: 29 Karen farmer
ADDRESS: Htee Hsah Bper village, Than Daung township INTERVIEWED: 1/99
["Saw Thay Ler" was interviewed when he was about to go and bury the remains of his nephew Saw Htaw Say, age 16 from Htee Hsah Bper village, who was shot dead on sight by an SPDC patrol on 16 January 1999. The village was ordered to move and everyone has now fled.]
Q: Who is the dead person you are going to bury now?
A: My nephew.
Q: Can you tell me about him?
A: The Burmese shot him three times with a gun. Once in the temple, once in his chest and once in his leg. He was shot in the right temple and it [the bullet] came out the left side. When he died, one of his arms had been cut off and there was a hole in his chest. He still had his left arm, but his right arm had disappeared. I don’t know if his arm was ripped off by the bullets or if they cut it off [with a knife]. It is an even cut.
Q: What about his leg?
A: I think he was hit in the thigh, because the bone is not broken.
Q: When did this happen?
A: It was on the 16th of January, in the afternoon at about 2 p.m. I first saw him lying dead on the path. His clothes were on him, but the 4,000 Kyats he’d had in his pocket had disappeared. He didn’t have anything else with him.
Q: What was his name?
A: Saw Htaw Say. He was 16 years old. He was single. He was one of 6 brothers and sisters. He was the third [eldest]. He still had a father, but his mother died. His father’s name is xxxx.
Q: How do you feel about the SPDC Army when they do things like this to your people?
A: We feel sad but we can’t do anything. We have to be afraid of them.
NAME: "Saw Lay Htoo" SEX: M AGE: 23 Karen farmer
ADDRESS: Htee Hsah Bper village, Than Daung township INTERVIEWED: 1/99
["Saw Lay Htoo" found and buried the body of Saw Dtaw Law, age 60, who was stabbed to death in his field hut by SPDC troops on 16 January 1999. Saw Dtaw Law was from the same village. He was unmarried and grew cardamom for a living. Note that "Saw Dtaw Law’s grandson" who speaks below is not his real grandson, but the grandson of a brother or sister; in a Karen extended family, this still makes Saw Dtaw Law his ‘grandfather’. All the people of the village have now fled.]
"Saw Lay Htoo": We saw him lying on his side beside the post of the house. One of his arms was under his head and his other arm was bent and green, and broken so that it was twisted like this behind his back.
Q: How do you think they killed him?
"Saw Lay Htoo": They stabbed him two times in the back and once in his chest. There was also one hole on the top of his head as big as this. I think maybe they smashed his head open with a gun [butt].
Q: What about his legs and arms?
"Saw Lay Htoo": His legs and arms were there, but his left arm was broken. Normally you couldn’t twist a person’s hand like that even when they’re already dead, but his left hand was twisted around completely backwards. On his face, both of his cheeks had been carved off all the way to the ear, so his ears had been cut away and his nose was cut off as well. [They had cut all the flesh off his face, presumably after killing him.] The top of his throat was cut open, and they’d also cut out his tongue. I didn’t dare to touch his head. They’d also taken out his eyes.
Another man: On the whole head of this human being the only thing left [intact] was his mouth. They even cut off his nose.
"Saw Lay Htoo": There was only bone left on his face, and his teeth were showing. The lower part of his body was still okay, and his clothes were on. He died on his side like this [he showed the position], and it looked like he was stabbed to death. His bag was still with him, but there was nothing in his bag except one match. Everything else was taken by the Burmese, and so was his old cassette player. I don’t know all the things they took from his bag.
I had already dug a hole in the ground to bury him and I asked people to help me carry him there to bury him, but those people didn’t dare to come. I think they were afraid and found it too horrible. But I looked at him again and I decided we couldn’t leave him there without burying him, because he was a human being and he was old.
Q: Did you know this old man very well?
"Saw Lay Htoo": I knew him. His name is Dtaw Law. He is over 60 years old.
Q: How did you feel when you saw that your grandfather had been abused like this?
Saw Dtaw Law’s grandson: I feel that I would like to shoot them dead to repay what they have done to my grandfather. I feel very angry because when I saw my grandfather he had no face. I asked the Karen [KNLA] to chase them [the SPDC soldiers] but they didn’t chase them.
Another man: If they had simply killed him we would not feel this badly. But they cut off his tongue and his face, and that is very painful for us.
Saw Dtaw Law’s grandson: The Burmese came and killed people and went back right away. I heard the sound of weapons and I went to find out if it was the Burmese or not. Then I suddenly saw the place they had been [where they had stopped for a rest or camped]. The place showed signs that many of their soldiers had been there. The place was twice as wide as that area outside [indicating the clearing outside the hut]. I saw that one barn full of T---’s sticky-rice had all been thrown away[scattered on the ground and destroyed; ‘sticky-rice’ is gelatinous rice highly valued in some regions]. They had destroyed many things, including sticky-rice, paddy and betelnut, and they had taken my two handmade [hunting] guns, two big tins of rice, 30 viss [48 kg / 105 lb] of fishpaste, 10 viss [16 kg / 35 lb] of salt, and everything from my hut. They took about 4 viss [6.4 kg / 14 lb] of my rice and threw away the rest. They also ate a cow belonging to one of the villagers. I don’t know whose it was, I just saw its tail on the path.
Q: Now how are the Htee Hsah Bper villagers living?
Saw Dtaw Law’s grandson: They are now living in the jungle, scattered in their hiding places. I was looking for them for two days before I saw all of them. They don’t even know whether they can go back or not. They are living in fear.
NAME: "Saw Eh Tee Kaw" SEX: M AGE: xx Karen farmer
ADDRESS: Bpeh Gkaw Der village, Than Daung township INTERVIEWED: 1/99
["Saw Eh Tee Kaw" describes the murder of the village headman (Saw Ba Chit, age 60) by SPDC troops on 23 September 1998. Saw Ba Chit had been chosen as headman by the SPDC.]
"Saw Eh Tee Kaw": The SPDC soldiers who came are from LIB 234. They came during the time when people were reaping their paddy. Then they forced people to relocate. At that time elder Ghay Htoo [a.k.a. Saw Ba Chit; Ghay Htoo is a Karen name, while the Burmese name Ba Chit was probably used by the SPDC troops in their dealings with him] was the secretary of the Village PDC chairman. He went to get porters for the SPDC Army and took those porters to Kler Lah, then he came back to Bpeh Gkaw Der after handing the porters over to the SPDC Army. It was the time of the forced relocation, so some people had already relocated to Kler Lah and there were few people in the village. While he was working in his cardamom garden, some SPDC soldiers who were going from place to place looking for things [looting] saw him, and they hit him and eventually killed him.
In my mind I thought that they killed him because they wanted the money he had with him. He had 50,000 Kyats, which was the porter fees that he had collected from the villagers and had to give to the chairman of the local SPDC. But the Burmese soldiers lied to the people who asked them about it, and said that they killed this man because he started running away when they called him over. Just after they killed him they dug a pit, put him in the pit sitting down and covered him with dirt. Then they put cardamom plants on top of the dirt and went away. Two days later his children were looking for him but they couldn’t find him. In the end there was a bad smell in their garden, so they checked the cardamom and pulled up the cardamom on the place where he was buried. The cardamom plants came out too easily when they pulled them up, so they dug deeper and then they saw him. After that the children buried him properly. They found the things in the field hut had been destroyed and some things had been taken by the SPDC soldiers.
One day later, 5 soldiers captured a villager and forced him to show them the village headman’s hut again. When they arrived, he [the officer or NCO] asked the villager whose hut it was, and when the villager answered that it was the village headman’s hut he was told to go back. When he was away from them a short way, he heard the officer tell his four soldiers to guard that area properly or they wouldn’t get any of their share from the 50,000 Kyats.
NAME: "Naw Dah" SEX: F AGE: 50 Karen Christian farmer
ADDRESS: Bu Sah Kee village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
["Naw Dah" and other Bu Sah Kee villagers have been internally displaced, living in the forests and fields near their village and moving from place to place, for 2 to 3 years now.]
Q: Where is your husband?
A: He went to buy rice for us near K---. He will get one big tin which is enough for one week if we are cautious with it. He left yesterday and he will be gone for 3 days, he will return on Saturday. Last night he slept in M--- but he will arrive at H--- village this evening.
Q: How many villagers went with him?
A: 10 villagers went with him. They have to go because last year the harvest was not good. Last year the paddy was growing fine, but when the Burmese came we didn’t dare go to our fields to cut the weeds and grass so the paddy became completely overgrown. Finally, a fire destroyed all the paddy. They have to go buy rice twice a month, I think. The villagers have had to go and buy rice twice already. When they go they must go among the Burmese. One small sack of rice costs 1,500 Kyats. There should be 3 big tins per sack, but it’s not all there.
Q: Do the Burmese come often?
A: They came once before we started sowing the paddy, and they destroyed 4 big tins of paddy seed that belonged to one of the villagers, L---. They would have destroyed my paddy if they had seen it. Then they didn’t come for a long time after that, but they came again recently. About 20 or 30 soldiers came. They were staying on the other side of the hill. They burned down K---’s farmfield hut and my farmfield hut at about 2 p.m. They also burned N---’s field, but not his farmfield hut. They destroyed my farmfield hut but it was not completely burned. Then they entered the fields, cut down the plants and kicked and trampled on them. They burned down 3 farmfield huts at the same time. The other farmfield hut that they burned down was M---’s; he is staying [now] at xxxx. I was staying here when they burned my farmfield hut and then I ran into the jungle.
Q: Did they leave after they burned your farmfield hut?
A: They went down to their camp which is 2 or 3 hours’ walk away. They did not enter the village when they came. We all ran to xxxx when they came. Then the soldiers[KNLA] accidentally passed them and they shot at them, so we [the villagers] split up and each ran our own way.
Q: What will you do if you don’t have enough rice this year?
A: We will buy more, and if we don’t have the money we will borrow rice from someone else. I thought that we would get 40 or 50 baskets of rice from our 8 tins of seed, but the animals have eaten some and the Burmese have burned and destroyed some so now we’re not sure how much rice we will get this year.
Q: How many years have you been living here [a site in the fields away from the village]?
A: I’ve only been living here this year. Last year I stayed over there. We have to move like this every year. I don’t yet know where we will go next year, but we must move because we can’t produce enough food living here.
Q: Where do you buy salt and fishpaste?
A: We have to go far, to H---.
Q: Can people go back and live in Bu Sah Kee village?
A: We don’t dare go back because the Burmese are living in the jungle around there. All the villagers have left [the village proper] because we can’t stay there anymore. We all came here. When we fled and came here we didn’t have a chance to bring our chickens with us. We left them all in the village. They took everything they saw. They took our pots, plates and clothes. You must keep your things in a place where they won’t see them. You must not keep your things with you. At first the Burmese didn’t know that we were living here, but now they know because they have come. They haven’t burned the houses here yet but we are worried that they will come again. We had to run to the jungle when they came [this time, in September 1998].
Q: What would they do to the villagers if they captured them?
A: Huay!! If they captured people they would kill them all! Recently they tried to capture some people but the people ran to the other side of the river to escape. The Burmese shot and killed 3 of the villagers. They were from Bu Sah Kee. One of them left a little daughter and a wife here. That happened about one and a half years ago. It was the time when people sow their paddy [midyear, in the early part of rainy season]. The man who died, Hsa Bpaw Tay [about 40 years old], he left a wife and a small daughter, and his two other daughters were captured. Their names are Naw Paw Heh and Nyi Nyi Po. They were both single, one was a teenager and the other was in her 20’s. They captured them about a year and a half ago. They have been gone all this time. I don’t know if they are dead or not.
NAME: "Saw Lah" SEX: M AGE: 45 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children
ADDRESS: Hsaw Wah Der village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
[When interviewed "Saw Lah" was internally displaced at a hut in the forest.]
Q: Now what are you doing for work?
A: I didn’t have a chance to sow my paddy this year because the Burmese came and we had to run away. Now I cannot do anything because we are afraid and living like this. We are also afraid to go as their porters.
Q: When did you come to stay here [in the forest]?
A: I came to stay here 3 years ago. I’ve stayed here the whole time. Sometimes we have to run away [further] into the jungle, but we always come back to stay here again. In other years the Burmese haven’t arrived right here but this year they came in May to build a road. They hope to build the road to Mu Kee [Mawchi] but the soldiers [KNLA] put up resistance so they had to go back. I have never gone back to Hsaw Wah Der [the village proper] since the Burmese first came and we fled. We’ve been staying in the jungle here since then and we can still live here for now.
Q: How many families are here?
A: In the beginning there were 60 families in our village but now we are living in the jungle scattered around here. When the Burmese come we run and hide ourselves in the jungle and sleep there because we are afraid of them. When they came here they didn’t see us.
Q: Do the Burmese destroy things if they find people in the forest?
A: Yes, when LIB 707 came recently to build the car road they did. If they saw villagers’ belongings, they burned and destroyed them all. They destroyed my things. They saw 20 baskets of my rice in the jungle and they burned it all. They also burned 40 baskets of my nephew’s rice. They took other villagers’ rice and livestock to eat. They only ate one of the buffaloes. It belonged to Saw G---.
Q: Did they shoot any villagers?
A: When they came this year, they only killed Hsah Krih Pa [age 40, wife deceased, one child]. On May 30th 1998 he went to see his betelnut garden. The Burmese shot and killed him, then they confiscated all of his belongings, his watch and his money, 20,000 Kyats. His child’s aunt is now taking care of the child.
Q: Did the Burmese burn any houses?
A: They burned the houses of many villagers, namely H---, S---, Saw B--- and other villagers in Sho Hta, which is a one hour walk from here. They did that on June 11th . The Burmese went to Paw Baw Soe and burned all the houses on their way back. Those villagers are from the same village as us; we separated from each other and stayed in different places after we fled from our village. Our group [in the forest] has 3 houses, but the group whose houses were burned had 10 houses. That was LIB 707 who did that, but a different group [of soldiers, though from the same Battalion] than those who had come to build the road. They also burned 4 houses in Hsaw Wah Der that belonged to H---, L---, M--- and P---. They also burned a church that was worth about 300,000 Kyats. Those things were burned on May 10th, when they came the previous time.
Q: Have the Burmese destroyed any of the villagers’ gardens?
A: They cut down the cardamom plants and fruit trees of the villagers. They cut and destroyed our plantations and gardens. We couldn’t get any produce from the things they cut down.
Q: Have any villagers been hurt by landmines?
A: One villager, Bee Tay Lay, was killed by a landmine on about June 11th of this year  at Paw Baw Soe. He was 60 years old and had 2 children, his wife had already died. Burmese LIB 707 planted a landmine at the foot of the steps in front of his house.
Q: Have they ever captured people from your village?
A: They captured someone before but not this time. They captured my nephew, Ta Bper Bper, when he went to Kaw Thay Der last year. He was 25 years old and single. The Burmese cut off his hands and his legs, kicked him with their boots, shoved him with their guns and sliced flesh off his body. Finally they killed him. Villagers who used to go to Kaw Thay Der every day told me about that.
Q: Is there a Burmese Army camp in Kaw Thay Der?
A: Yes there is. IB 39 was there but now IB 48 is staying there. They rotate their troops every month. It takes about 3 hours to walk there.
Q: Do the Burmese force the people to be porters when they capture them?
A: Yes, they do. A villager [from his village] named K--- who trades in Kaw Thay Der was taken as a porter. One time he went to Kaw Thay Der just for a visit and the Burmese captured him and made him a porter. He was forced to carry food, rice and ammunition which weighed about 20 viss [32 kg / 70 lb] to Naw Soe from Kaw Thay Der. He portered for one day.
Q: How often do the villagers have to carry things for the Burmese?
A: It depends on what they need. If they need people more often, people have to go more often.
Q: What are the villagers here working on?
A: Some villagers are working on ricefields, others work on betelnut gardens and others are growing cardamom. We don’t dare go out and work freely because the Burmese are in the area. We can’t even go to Kaw Thay Der, so we can’t do anything. Now only a few villagers are able to sow paddy. Sometimes our leaders [meaning the KNU] give us some rice or money when we have no rice. They have little money or power, so they can only help us refugees a little.
Q: How do the villagers here get rice?
A: We trade for it. With what we get from the betelnut gardens, the cardamom plants and the durian gardens we can trade for rice. One viss [1.6 kg or 3.5 lb] of cardamom is worth two to three thousand Kyats. One big tin of rice costs 1,500 Kyats. Some villagers get 20 to 30 viss [of cardamom] for their year’s harvest so they can buy enough food to last the year. Cardamom fetches a good price. Those who don’t produce enough cardamom to provide food for the whole year must also work a paddy farm.
Q: Do the people have to go far to buy rice?
A: Yes. They have to go a long way and it’s very dangerous. I ask people to go buy rice for me because I dare not go myself. Men who are not afraid go to get the rice, but they must be very cautious. Often women go, even single women, because it is safer for them as they are not accused of being soldiers. I have to pay the person who goes for me 500 Kyats to bring a sack of rice. A sack of rice contains 3 big tins. If you ask someone to go and buy rice for you but you don’t have the money to pay for it at the time you can pay him later, when you have the money. We are able to get food for each day right now, but we are in trouble and worry about the future. We hope the situation will be better soon but if it doesn’t change we are going to have problems.
Q: Are there any problems for those who go to get the rice?
A: No, there are no problems. On July 25th  N---, Naw D--- and T--- [3 women] went to buy rice and there were some Burmese [troops] along the way. The Burmese looked down on them from a hill but they didn’t do anything because they knew they were villagers. However, when the women saw the Burmese they were afraid of them so they started running back, and because they started running the Burmese started shooting at them. The women left behind the money to buy the rice and all of the things they were carrying. Finally they arrived back at their place in the jungle. That hasn’t happened again because now everyone listens to messages [about where the Burmese are located, from other villagers or from the KNLA] before going and if the situation is not good no one goes, not even the women. People go to buy rice whenever they finish the rice they have. They see the Burmese, but the Burmese don’t do anything to them because they are very meek. The Burmese aren’t concerned about them. If the Burmese need porters to carry things for them, they capture them all.
Q: Do the Burmese capture the villagers to be porters often?
A: They capture them and force them to carry their things to Kaw Thay Der, Naw Soe, Plaw Mu Der, Si Kheh Der and Thay Kwih Soh. They have to carry rice and other food, the rations of the Burmese.
NAME: "Pi Lwee Paw" SEX: F AGE: 63 Karen Christian preacher/farmer
FAMILY: Married, one child
ADDRESS: Hsaw Wah Der village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
[When interviewed "Pi Lwee Paw" was internally displaced at a hut in the forest.]
Q: Where is your village?
A: My village is Hsaw Wah Der but I left there more than 10 years ago. We went to stay in the jungle in the area around Hsaw Wah Der, and 3 years ago we came to stay here at xxxx.
Q: Have the Burmese ever come here since you have been here?
A: They came recently, 2 months ago, to build a road from Gko Day which is in the area of Hsaw Wah Der. They will build the road to a place below Gko Day. People who had farms there had to stop working their farms. They looked for us but we ran into the jungle when they came because we are afraid of them. If they saw people they would have killed them. They’ve killed 18 people already.
Q: While the road was being constructed did the Burmese take anything?
A: Yes, they ate the livestock but they didn’t eat any of mine because I don’t have any animals. They also destroyed all the paddy seed that we kept at our fields. Recently they burned the paddy seed belonging to M--- and Naw T---. They only destroyed the seeds that people had [they didn’t destroy the rice barns]. Some people lost 6 or 7 big tins of seed while others lost as much as 10 big tins. Because the villagers have no seed paddy they weren’t able to sow. The other reason they haven’t sown their paddy is that they are afraid of the Burmese who are in their fields.
Q: Did they kill any cattle without eating them?
A: Yes, but I don’t know how many. Sometimes we walk in the jungle and see them [dead cattle].
Q: So what do the people eat?
A: Now we eat what we have left from last year’s harvest, but we don’t know how long that will last. Those who have finished all their rice have to go secretly toxxxx or xxxx village to buy some. I have gone sometimes and I have seen the Burmese. They didn’t ask me anything because we avoided them, we are afraid of them. I didn’t dare go alone. Sometimes 3 or 4 people go, other times 6 or 7 people go. We go and come back in the same day. I could only carry 4 or 5 bowls or rice, which is enough for about 3 weeks because there are only a few people in our family. That’s not enough for people with larger families. We must go to get rice whenever we are finished the rice we have. Three big tins of rice now costs 2,800 Kyats.
Q: Have the Burmese destroyed other crops like durian, betelnut or cardamom in the area of Hsaw Wah Der?
A: They have cut some down to destroy them. That was on about the 16th of June. When T--- went to his garden to catch fish he saw that his plants had been destroyed. I have a durian garden, but they didn’t destroy mine because mine aren’t near there.
Q: Did they burn any houses of the villagers?
A: Yes, they burned the houses in Hsaw Wah Der - I think it was about June 12th but I’m not sure about the date. [They burned some houses in May and then more again in June.] They burned half of my house along with the others. They wanted to burn it all but the fire didn’t consume the whole house. I built my house there a long time ago, it cost me 3,000 Kyats. They also burned the church, which the villagers had built at a cost of 300,000 Kyats. They burned it on the same day that they burned my house. The villagers bought the supplies to build the church in Taw Oo [Toungoo] town and finished building it in 2 months. They had to hire a car to go there. They hire a car any time they go there.
Q: Have any villagers stepped on Burmese landmines?
A: There was one person, his name is Bee Tay Lay, it means ‘goat’. He has 2 children but no wife. He stepped on a landmine on about the 10th of June . I heard people say that the troops who did that [planted the mine there] were #39 [Infantry Battalion; others say it was LIB 707].
NAME: "Pi Thu Meh" SEX: F AGE: 65+ Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, one child, but she lives alone
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
["Pi Thu Meh" is a betelnut and vegetable farmer in her village, which has 20-30 households.]
Q: Have the Burmese ever come to your village?
A: They came recently while I was at church worshipping and stole my money while I wasn’t home. I can’t remember when they came exactly [it was in mid-1998] but it was the time when we heard the sound of gunfire. They stole 10,000 [Kyats] from me, and I only had 10,000 so when they stole it I lost all hope. I don’t know how to eat now. They also took many small things such as ½ viss [800 g / 1.8 lb] of garlic, ¼ viss of dried noodles, 6 viss of chicken and a flask pot that I bought a long time ago for 200 Kyats but hadn’t used yet. They also took 5 of my dried fish. They took away both my food and my money so I can’t get anything to eat, it’s hopeless now.
Q: Did anyone see them when they were stealing your things?
A: People saw them but they didn’t dare to say anything. I closed my door but I don’t have a lock. I didn’t lock my door because I didn’t think the Burmese were going to come. However, I did lock my box where I keep my money, but they broke open the box [Karen people often have a large wooden box with a lock that is used for holding all of their valuables, such as money, jewellery and their best clothing. The soldiers always look for these boxes]. When I came back from church all of the soldiers had already left.
Q: Did the villagers run away when the Burmese came?
A: I don’t know if they ran away or not because I’m old and I don’t know anything. I just went to church when I heard the sound of the bell.
Q: Do you have to give porter fees each month?
A: I always used to give them but I can’t now since I lost all my money. In the past I paid the fees whenever the other villagers had to pay but I paid less than the others. Sometimes I paid 200 [Kyats] and sometimes I paid 100 [Kyats], it depended on how much the others had to pay. When the others had to give 500, I had to give 250. It was like that, but now I can’t give anything since I lost my money.
Q: Why don’t you report what they did to you?
A: Ah! I don’t dare because I can’t speak or understand Burmese. I can only understand ‘eat rice’ and ‘drink water’ in Burmese. They only ever asked me one question: "Ah Mo [Mother]! Have you finished eating?" I answered, "Finished," then they left. I don’t dare to go and complain so I stay in hunger like this.
Q: Did the Burmese soldiers threaten the villagers when they came?
A: Yes. When they came from where they’re living at Kler Lah, I saw them abuse the villagers but I was afraid so I hid myself and didn’t see what they did.
Q: Do the Burmese require people for forced labour sometimes?
A: I don’t know because I’m too old. I don’t really know anything.
NAME: "Saw Kaw Doh" SEX: M AGE: 42 Karen farmer
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
["Saw Kaw Doh" is a betelnut farmer in his village.]
Q: Is it true that the Burmese are encamped in your village, xxxx?
A: Yes, they’re encamped on the hill at the edge of the village. Their camp is about 5 minutes [walking time] from the village. They come to the village often to buy food to eat. Those who come to the village don’t do anything to the villagers. Now xxxx from IB #xx is in charge of the camp.
Q: When they come to the village do they demand things?
A: They normally do that. Sometimes they enter the village during the night and steal the villagers’ things. They stole my livestock but not much. They don’t demand food from the village, but the villagers who drive the line bus [the private utility vehicles that provide paid public transport to Toungoo] always go to give them fish and vegetables. The villagers get up every morning and go to do their own work and the soldiers don’t say anything.
Q: Are you sure it was Burmese soldiers who stole your things?
A: We didn’t know exactly which ones, but we know that they were Burmese soldiers. When we told the Burmese soldiers who were in our village about it, they told us that it is normal for troops on the move to steal the villagers’ livestock when they enter any village [i.e. the troops stationed there don’t steal it, but the passing columns do]. The soldiers who are staying in the village don’t steal the livestock but sometimes they require meat for curry, or fruits, vegetables and coconuts. When moving troops stop at your village, you must be cautious with your livestock.
Q: Do they capture people to be porters?
A: No, they haven’t captured people yet. IB #xxx asks for people from the village, 4 or 5 people from each section [of the village; he means they haven’t randomly rounded people up, but they do send orders demanding set numbers of people]. They only demand porters when they need them, not often. The porters carry things such as salt and fish paste to Bu Sah Kee and sometimes to Naw Soe, where their camps are. They already sent the rice in the summer [before June], so now they only send other things. They always have enough rice. Sometimes they find rice that the villagers have hidden and they take it to eat. Other times they take rice from the villagers’ rice barns. They regard the forests as tha bone [‘rebel’] land so they take everything they find in the jungle.
Q: Do you have to give porter fees?
A: Yes. If I don’t go for portering I must pay porter fees. Each family must give 200 Kyats every one or two months. There are over 100 families in the village but we don’t take the fees from the old people, the village headman, the village section leaders and the pastor. 100 families must pay the fees and they give the money to the porter leader [actually a labour agent] who lives in Kler Lah. He doesn’t send the money to the soldiers, but he has to look for porters to hire. [In this area the troops demand porters, so the villagers collect money and give it to a labour agent who hires itinerant labourers in Toungoo to go as porters.]
Q: Is there any other forced labour?
A: Yes. People have to do road construction and build and fence their camps. I went to do forced labour last month, in August. We had to work for a whole week. Some people didn’t have time to go so 20 or 30 villagers went at a time in turns. Women, men, boys, girls, old people, married people and unmarried people all went together. They said that it was the duty of one person from each house to go. The fencing work is finished now but they ordered the villagers to go and do other work for them. Today 8 of our villagers were forced to cut the bushes around their camp.
Q: How many hours do you have to work each day?
A: We start work at 8:00 a.m. and work until 12:00 noon when we can stop and eat rice. After lunch we have to work again until 4:00 p.m. They don’t give us food, we have to bring our own. They have [plain] tea there but nobody drinks it.
Last summer [March-May 1998] they forced the villagers to clear the trees and bushes along the sides of the road. They were building the road themselves with their bulldozer. 40 to 50 people had to go for a day each day; all men, women and children who were able to work. They built the road from Kaw Thay Der to Bu Sah Kee. Cars cannot yet drive on the road. This season they haven’t forced us to go for that yet.
Q: Have you ever gone to cook for them?
A: I have never had to cook for them but others were forced to cook once when they were calling people for forced labour. Another job the villagers must do is that 2 people from our village must go each day to Naw Soe as messengers to take messages, tobacco, food and anything else they need to fetch or send anywhere. If you aren’t carrying anything heavy it takes about 3½ hours to walk up the mountain to Naw Soe. Coming back only takes about 2 hours because it is a downhill walk. I had to go before but I don’t have to go now.
Q: Do they ever demand taxes from the village?
A: Recently 5 villagers were playing cards and they [the Burmese] fined them 5,000 Kyats each. They gave that money to Commander xxxx of IB #xxx, who recently went back to his Battalion base in B’Go [Pegu Division], at Taw Oo [Toungoo]. Another commander came to replace him. Whenever the Burmese enter the village they borrow things from the shops and never pay for them, even when they go back [when they’re rotated out]. Once the shopkeepers followed them when they went back and received money for some things, but not all the money.
Q: When the Burmese soldiers enter the villages do they threaten the villagers?
A: Recently, IB #48 went to the front line and some of them were shot. Because of this, when they came back they were very angry and threatened the villagers. They beat the ducks and the chickens to death and then took them to eat. One soldier was shouting while beating the animals. He said, "I am going to do what I want to do to anyone who says anything to me." Then he beat 4 ducks to death and asked the owner of the ducks, "What do you want to say to me?" The owner, Naw S---, answered that she wouldn’t say anything. She was afraid.
Q: What are you doing to earn a living?
A: I’m working on my betelnut plantation. Now we can sell betelnut for 400 or 450 Kyats per viss [1.6 kg / 3.5 lb] but sometimes the price is better. The price of betelnut is not always the same. The Burmese don’t take taxes from the plantations or gardens but they do demand taxes from the cars which transport the cardamom.
NAME: "Naw Eh Krih" SEX: F AGE: 18 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, no children, lives with 6 family members including her siblings
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
Q: Have the SPDC soldiers ever come to your village?
A: Yes, they have come but I can’t say how many times. I have seen them and when they come they steal things. A few months ago soldiers from Infantry Battalion #48 stole 4 chickens belonging to "Pi Thu Meh" [see interview with her in this report], an old grandmother. They also stole 10,000 Kyats cash from her at that time. It was the Sabbath Day and we were worshipping in church when their troops entered the village and stole these things. After the service the Burmese had already left, but when "Pi Thu Meh" went back to her house she noticed that some of her things were missing. They stayed in the village for not more than an hour and after they left they went to Kler Lah village.
Q: Is your village near the Burmese camp?
A: Yes. Kler Lah camp is 3 hours’ walk away. We must go to Kler Lah to buy food because there’s no shop in our village. One big tin of rice costs 1,000 Kyats, that’s more than it’s worth. All the villagers always have to buy rice in this way.
Q: Do the Burmese threaten the villagers when they enter the village?
A: Yes, they shout at the village heads and get very angry. They shout at people and force people to guide them. I have never had to guide them but H---, a 40-year-old single man, had to go. He had to go a long time ago. I’ve never gone because I give porter fees. Each family must pay 500 or 600 Kyats every month.
Q: Do they ever kill and eat your livestock when they come to your village?
A: Yes. They also eat other people’s livestock when they come.
Q: Are people able to go out to work freely?
A: No. If they see people sleeping in a farmfield hut they shoot them.
Q: What kind of work are the Burmese doing?
A: They have a betelnut plantation and also farm nuts. One viss [1.6 kg / 3.5 lb] of nuts is worth 200 Kyats while one viss of betelnut is 700 Kyats.
Q: Do the Burmese ever force the villagers to relocate?
A: Yes. Klay Soe Kee, Ko Pler Der, Lay Kaw Der and Der Doh villages had to relocate to Kler Lah. They didn’t provide us with houses. We had to go far to get bamboo and then build our own houses. The houses are built with 12 poles, quite small, and are very close together.
NAME: "Saw Lay Ghaw" SEX: M AGE: 43 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
["Saw Lay Ghaw" is a village elder.]
Q: How long have you been the village headman?
A: Two years. When the villagers elected me the SPDC didn’t say anything, but they did notice. They demand porters and porter fees often, so much so that the villagers can’t give them anymore. The villagers have become poor because they have to give porter fees and also have to go for porter duty. Last year the villagers had to carry things for them for the whole year. I didn’t have to go myself, but the villagers had to go.
Q: Did the villagers have to carry for them if they paid the fees?
A: Carrying and giving them money are different. When we carry things they call it loh ah pay but when we give them the fees they call those the regular porter fees. The lowest amount of money that we’ve had to give was 500 Kyats and the most is usually 1,000 Kyats [per family per month], but some villagers have had to give 4 to 5 thousand Kyats before.
Q: How many places do the villagers have to go for portering?
A: They’ve had to go to Naw Soe, K’Law Kaw, K’Law Soe and to Bu Sah Kee. It’s a week’s walk to Bu Sah Kee. Sometimes we must go and carry their things and other times we must go and work for them. Women must go as well, but those who are nursing children don’t have to go.
Q: When they go for forced labour do they have to take their own food?
A: Sometimes they send letters telling the villagers they must take enough food to work for 3 days or a week. However, sometimes they say they must come for a week but then force them to stay longer, so the villagers finish the food that they brought; then when the soldiers give the villagers food, they don’t give them enough. That happened last year. This year they still send the letters but we don’t go. They demand that we give them porter fees but they haven’t demanded fees for forced labour in years.
Q: Where must the villagers go to buy rice?
A: The villagers go to Kler Lah village, which is one hour’s walk away, to buy rice. One big tin of rice costs 1,000 Kyats and there are 3 big tins in a sack so a sack of rice costs 3,000 Kyats. We must go by foot, there is no vehicle road. It’s not a problem to buy the rice, the problem is that we have no money to buy the rice with.
Q: Where do the villagers from Kler Lah get rice?
A: They go to buy rice in Taw Oo. Rice is very expensive now. We can buy rice when they [SPDC] give us a chance [permission] to buy it. For example, when they gave us permission to buy 10 sacks of rice they taxed us 200 Kyats per sack. The cost of one sack of rice in Taw Oo is now 2,000 Kyats but we must pay 3,000 Kyats per sack in the mountain villages. There are many Burmese gates [Army checkpoints] on the way and the Burmese soldiers demand money from the driver. The fee we must pay the driver is expensive because he must pay so much to the soldiers. If he didn’t collect his fee he wouldn’t be able to make a profit. A driver from Kler Lah said that one time the Burmese from A’Mila Kee See [20-mile] gate told him to buy one sack of rice for them. When he brought the rice they told him that he hadn’t bought the Kao Gyi rice, that’s the name of the good rice. They were very angry at the driver and they told him to go and buy them Kao Gyi rice. The driver groaned. The soldiers at the other gates didn’t ask for too much rice. There are 2 or 3 groups in T’See Ther Milah [13-mile]. The police and intelligence officers also ask for food. The amount that they ask for at the gates depends on the vehicle. The driver gives them whatever he has, such as vegetables, fish, meat or money.
Q: When the Burmese enter the village do they ask the headman to bring them things?
A: When they came to the village last year they did but they haven’t come many times this year. However they came recently, 2 months ago. They came to the village when the villagers were worshipping. They entered the betelnut plantation and then came into the village. They went to an old grandmother’s house and caught 4 of her chickens. They also opened her tin box and took 10,000 Kyats.
When they see the villagers’ belongings they take them. In the past, when Infantry Battalion #48 entered the betelnut plantation they always took and ate whatever they saw. They took things like salt, fishpaste, tobacco, cooking oil and onions from P---’s farmfield hut. Infantry Battalion #48 was the group that stole the chickens [from the grandmother mentioned above]. They’ve only come once this year, but they do this kind of thing all the time in other places like Peh Ghaw and Maw Ko villages.
Q: Is there a hospital in your village?
A: No, there’s no hospital in our village. When the villagers here get sick we send them to the hospital in Kler Lah village. We also get medicine from the hospital in Kler Lah. If we are very sick we go to the hospital for treatment. If we have some kind of common illness we go to buy medicine from the doctor at the hospital in Kler Lah. It is a government hospital but the medicine belongs to the doctor so we must buy it from him, it’s his business. The medicines are very expensive. We can’t do like they do in Kler Lah [sell medicines] because they prohibit us from carrying medicine and batteries [villages in the hills are forbidden to carry or possess medicines and batteries on the grounds that these could be useful to opposition forces].
Q: Why do they prohibit you from carrying medicine?
A: I don’t know, but they prohibit us from carrying batteries because they say that the KNLA will use them to plant landmines.
Q: How many Burmese camps are near your village?
A: Only Kler Lah camp is near our village. I don’t know the name of their commander but they are Infantry Battalion #30. I know the name of an intelligence officer there. His name is Bo M--. He was on duty there just 2 or 3 months ago.
Q: Have they burned any houses in your village?
A: I heard that they burned the houses in the upper places [east of the village, higher in the mountains], in Ghaw Kee and Tha Aye Kee. That happened last hot season[March to May 1998]. The villagers were afraid of them so the villagers fled from the village and then the soldiers burned the houses. They haven’t burned any in this area.
Q: Have you heard if the Burmese have driven the villagers out of the mountain villages?
A: Yes, they have driven villagers from Der Doh, Maw Ko Der, Ko Pler Der, Ko Kler Der and Klay Soe Kee to Kler Lah village. Some villagers don’t go to stay in Kler Lah, the villagers who have only a little money flee to stay in Taw Oo. The villagers who have fled have no work to do where they are, they can’t do anything. They secretly return to their villages and work on their cardamom gardens there. If the Burmese see them, they will shoot them dead.
Q: Have the Burmese shot and killed anyone?
A: Last year they killed many villagers that lived far from here. We only heard about that. I don’t know if they’ve killed anyone this year.
Q: How many houses are in your village?
A: In the past there were about 40 houses, but when the Burmese came and forced us to move many people couldn’t stay in the village. Now there are just over 20 households and some people are staying in the betelnut plantations. Recently the Burmese went and saw them there but they didn’t say anything. They have been able to work there.
NAME: "Saw Thaw Thi Wah" SEX: M AGE: 26 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
Q: How many houses are there in your village?
A: There are 28 houses in my village but some villagers are going to leave so there will only be 22 houses left.
Q: Do the villagers have to pay fees to the SPDC?
A: Yes, every house must pay fees every month. In addition, if we don’t go for forced labour or go when they urgently require people we have to pay them money. The taxes for one month are 2,000 to 2,500 Kyats [per family]. Villagers who can afford to give the higher amount must do so.
Q: How do they ask for the ‘urgently required people’?
A: When they come and need people urgently some people can’t go. Those who can’t go must give 4,000 Kyats each. If they demand 5 people, the villagers have to give 20,000 Kyats. I have had to pay for the urgently required people myself, but I don’t remember how many times. There are many different kinds of fees. Sometimes I’ve had to pay 2,500, 2,000 or 1,000 Kyats. Now they’re going to carry things to Naw Soe village and have asked 5 villagers to carry for them. If the villagers don’t go they’ll have to pay 4,000 Kyats; sometimes they must pay as much as 4,250 Kyats.
Q: How much does your village have to pay for porter fees each month?
A: This month our village had to pay 50,000 Kyats [regular monthly ‘fees’, in addition to the money in lieu of ‘urgently required people’]. Last month we couldn’t give them all of the fee and they knew it, so this month they’re also demanding the balance from last month. When people flee from working for the Burmese, they [the Burmese] go to the village headman and the village headman has to collect money from those who fled [from their families]. Many villagers can’t afford to pay the money so other villagers help them to pay.
Q: How many months ago did they demand villagers to do forced labour?
A: They have forced villagers to work many times but the most recent occurrence was not even a month ago. The villagers didn’t go so they demanded money. That was on about the 13th of September; they demanded villagers to carry their rations to Naw Soe village, which is a 6 hour walk from our village but if you walk slowly it takes all day. Sometimes they force people to go and work for them once a month, but sometimes it’s less often than that. We dare not go when they demand forced labourers because it causes many problems. Sometimes we get injured, or health problems at home can stop people from being able to go. I have seen people die with my own eyes. I saw a 60 year old Burman porter die.
Q: Have you heard of anyone stepping on landmines?
A: I have heard of people stepping on landmines but no one from our village has, and I’ve never seen anyone step on a landmine.
Q: Have you ever gone for forced labour?
A: Yes. Sometimes they force us to go for 4 or 5 days but other times they’ve demanded that we go for 1 or 2 months. They don’t really tell us exactly. If we go for only one day we don’t need to take rice with us, but if we go for many days we have to take our rice. When I went for several weeks we had to bring our own food. We had to carry their rice and our own food. If they tell us we must go for 3 days but then they force us to stay longer they give us food, but it’s not enough.
Q: How many people go each time?
A: Sometimes 40 or 50 people and sometimes only 10 or 20. Both men and women must go. Every village must provide people in this way. The people who go must carry rice and many other kinds of food. We don’t have to carry ammunition now, it’s mostly just food. Women must carry 10 viss [16 kg / 35 lb] and the men must carry 15 to 20viss. When they went to Bu Sah Kee, which took 2 days, they forced each person to carry 1 sack of rice [a sack of rice weighs 50 kg]. When they returned they all felt a lot of pain in their bodies.
Q: When the villagers are tired, do the Burmese give them medicine?
A: Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
Q: Do the Burmese ever capture villagers and force them to follow them?
A: Yes, they always capture people in other villages. Last month they arrested 5 or 6 people from Kaw Thay Der village but I didn’t hear that they were killed. They tied them up and beat them. The Burmese forced them to carry things for them for over a week. After that they released them.
Q: Have they killed any of the villagers who are staying outside of the villages, such as those staying in the betelnut plantations?
A: Here they haven’t killed anyone, but when they see people out there they capture them and then release them. Sometimes they force them to carry. They haven’t captured any of the people from my village.
Q: Where is the Burmese camp?
A: Their camp is in Kler Lah, a 20 minute walk from my village. There are 60 to 70 soldiers there and their troop number is #30 [Infantry Battalion #30].
Q: Do the Burmese ever take or destroy the belongings that villagers have hidden in their fields?
A: Yes. If they see it they either take it or destroy it. They take the rice and burn the farmfield huts. During the hot season last year, when they saw the villagers’ farmfield huts near Kler Lah village they burned them down. The owner wasn’t home at the time, he’s a betelnut grower. When the Burmese came to our village to capture villagers to be porters, the villagers were not in their houses so the Burmese caught their chickens.
Q: Do they drive villagers out of their villages?
A: Yes. Recently they drove villagers out of Klay Soe Kee and Ko Pler Der villages in Than Daung township. Ko Pler Der is a 2 hour walk from our village, and Klay Soe Kee is over one hour away on foot. They forced them to Kler Lah. They told the villagers they had a deadline for moving, and if they didn’t move by then they would burn their houses. When they arrived at Kler Lah they had to build their own houses with bamboo. The people who were staying nearby helped them to cut the bamboo. They could only build small houses. There are many bamboo trees they could use, but because the Burmese have been forcing the villagers to cut them there are fewer now. In the past they also forced out the villagers from Ga Mu Der village [to Kler Lah], and the villagers there still haven’t returned.
Q: How many houses are there in Kler Lah?
A: There are over 300 houses there. The water supply in the village is good. The Burmese are encamped on the hill above the village.
NAME: "Saw Muh Htoo" SEX: M AGE: 42 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 3 children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
["Saw Muh Htoo"’s village has 20 to 30 households.]
Q: Who is the village headman?
A: Now we don’t have a village headman. The old people in the village organise things together as they can. Our village is under the control of the SPDC.
Q: Do the villagers in your village have to pay porter fees?
A: Yes. The amount depends on the number of people they are demanding. For each person we must pay 4,000 Kyats [if they don’t go to work for the Burmese] so if they demand 5 people the village must pay 20,000 Kyats. Sometimes they ask for 4 people from each village, and sometimes they demand people for ‘emergencies’ [ad hoc forced labour carrying rations, etc.]. But usually they demand 5 people. The Burmese don’t come and capture our people to be porters because we always pay the fees. If we pay the fees we don’t have to go. If we can’t give them all of the fees when they ask for them, we can collect the money and give it to them later when we have it all. Sometimes our work doesn’t provide us the money when we need it. We only get money when we can sell our betelnut, we have no other way to get money. However, this month we have already given the 20,000 Kyats that they demanded. I don’t know how much we still owe them [from before], but they just tried to force 5 people to go with them and carry their rations. They dared not go because those who have gone to carry things in the past have met dangerous situations and have been injured. Those 5 people only had to pay 2,000 Kyats each not to go, because now there are few people in the village [to collect money from].
Q: Can you tell me about the dangerous situations and how people got injured?
A: Sometimes battles occur and people get injured or they step on landmines. No one in our village has stepped on landmines but I’ve heard of people in other villages stepping on landmines, though that was a long time ago.
Q: Have the Burmese ever forced the villagers to do other labour?
A: Yes. If we don’t go we give them money. The cost is the same as I said before, 4,000 Kyats per person. We send it to the village headman in Kler Lah.
Q: Do they demand things like rice, fishpaste, salt or livestock when they come to the village?
A: Yes, whenever they enter the village they demand those of the villagers. Sometimes they come to the village and beat the ducks and chickens. They did that last year.
Q: Do the Burmese ever write letters to the villagers?
A: Yes, they do. When they write a letter it is to tell the village headman to go and meet with them in Kler Lah village, where they have their camp. Kler Lah is a 20 minute walk from our village and Infantry Battalion #30 stays there. In the past I went to one of these meetings and they told us about carrying things for them and working together.
Q: Do you have a hospital in your village?
A: No. If the villagers are sick they must go to the public hospital in Kler Lah which is headed by the military. Sometimes we require treatment in the hospital so they treat us. Sometimes we must pay but sometimes they help us by not asking for money if we can’t give it.
Q: Have you heard of the Burmese ever beating or killing villagers?
A: I haven’t heard about that in this area but we’ve heard about those things happening in May Daw Ko and Law Bi Lu villages in Taw Ta Tu township. That has happened in many villages. The people from those villages no longer live in their villages, they have gone to live in the forest. The Burmese soldiers are patrolling their area so they have to stay hidden.
Q: How do they get rice?
A: Sometimes they buy it. They have come to buy rice here before. We buy our rice in Kler Lah village for 2,800 Kyats per sack. Some people go to buy it in Taw Oo. We sell the rice to them [the displaced people] for the same price that we buy it for. When they come to buy it they are very afraid. If they make it to our village that means they haven’t met with the enemy [Burmese soldiers], but if they don’t make it to our village we know that they have met the enemy on the way. If the Burmese see the houses of those living in the jungle they burn the houses. If they hear that the Burmese may be coming they prepare their most valuable belongings in case they must flee. They leave the things that are of least use to them. The things that are left behind are either taken by the Burmese or burned.
Q: If the Burmese see the villagers’ paddy barns in the forest what do they do?
A: Sometimes they take it [the paddy] and other times they burn it. I haven’t heard of them burning any paddy barns in the forest around here but they usually do that. Last hot season [March-May 1998] they set the forest alight and it spread to the villagers’ plantations and destroyed them. I don’t know why, but they usually burn the forest when they come [possibly hoping to burn out the villagers hiding in the forest or their food supplies].
Q: Can the people in your village do their work?
A: Yes, we can work in our village. We can even go out of the village and do work there. Sometimes we even sleep in our farmfield huts, but when we do that we are afraid that they will capture us and force us to carry things. If they see us, they capture us.
Q: Have the Burmese forced any villagers to move to relocation sites?
A: Yes, the Burmese forced villagers from Klay Soe Kee and Ko Pler Der to stay in Kler Lah, and some also had to go to Taw Oo. They didn’t want to move but they didn’t dare tell the Burmese that. Some find other villages to stay in and don’t go to the relocation site. Most of the villagers went to stay in Kler Lah. Sometimes they return to their villages to work on their betelnut plantations. The distances from Kler Lah to their villages are 2 to 3 hours’ walk [to Klay Soe Kee]and 4 to 5 hours’ walk [to Ko Pler Der]. The Burmese don’t know they are returning to work in their villages but they go anyway.
NAME: "Naw Ghay Muh" SEX: F AGE: 25 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, no children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
["Naw Ghay Muh" is a betelnut farmer in her village, which has about 70 households.]
Q: Do the SPDC collect porter fees in xxxx village?
A: Yes, they collect fees often, I can’t even count how many times. I have had to pay also. I’ve had to pay once a week and once a month, sometimes we have to pay very often. They collect porter fees, 4,250 Kyats for each person that they want. They usually collect 18 villagers per month to porter for them and we must pay 4,250 Kyats for each person [the Army demands porters but the villagers won’t go, so they have to pay 4,250 Kyats per porter for the village tract authorities to hire replacements]. I haven’t had to pay yet this month but they have already asked me to pay.
Q: Do they demand that the villagers do other forced labour?
A: They often force the villagers to do labour. Sometimes they call them to do loh ah pay labour but then force them to porter. I have already gone to labour for them once this year, about 2 months ago, and I had to go 2 or 3 times last year. When I went 2 months ago, 7 people from my village went in total, 4 women and 3 men. Some of the girls were single, one was only 18 years old. They didn’t force pregnant women to go the time that we went.
Q: Did they tell you how many days you would have to go for?
A: They forced us to go for three days. Sometimes they force people to go for more than 3 days, sometimes one week, sometimes one month. When I went, I went for three days. I had to go to Kho Day village, which is a 5 hour walk from my village. When we went this last time they forced us to do other [Army camp] labour so we didn’t have to carry anything, but sometimes the men have to follow the Burmese and carry heavy things. They only force women to carry what they are able to. We carry a few of their things plus the rice we must bring. This year I haven’t had to carry things that are very heavy, but last year I had to carry until I couldn’t carry anymore. I didn’t see what the men had to carry because the men and the women had to do different things.
Q: When you were carrying for them did they force you to go in front of them or behind them?
A: Sometimes they forced us to go in front and sometimes they forced us to go behind. It depended on the situation. They were worried that we would flee but they didn’t use guns to guard us.
Q: While you were carrying things, if the food that you brought ran out did they give you food?
A: No, we had to buy more rice ourselves. They sold rice for 100 Kyats per bowl [about 2 kg / 4.4 lb] but sometimes they charged 270 Kyats per bowl.
Q: Have any of the villagers from your village stepped on landmines?
A: No people from our village have but I’ve heard of other people who have. I don’t know where they’re from or who they are.
Q: Have the Burmese killed any of the villagers in your village?
A: Yes, they killed a 30-year-old single man named Sah Mee. They killed him in Bu Sah Kee but I don’t remember when. The villagers buried him.
Q: Have the Burmese troops ever entered your village?
A: Yes. 100 soldiers entered the village and demanded food. They asked for chickens, pigs and fruit. They even asked for dogs. They asked me for one or two bowls of rice, they asked that of other villagers also. When they entered the village they stole the livestock and then slept in the village. They took 3 or 4 of my chickens and all of my eggs, and they also took my National brand radio that cost me 4,500 Kyats. That was last year. At that time they also took H---’s watch, which was worth 1,500 Kyats. Some of the [SPDC] troops that have come to the village have destroyed the villagers’ belongings. During the hot season [March-May 1998] they burned the cardamom gardens and destroyed the young durian fruit. That was outside of the village. They didn’t only destroy my garden, they destroyed those of many other villagers too. We couldn’t say anything because we were afraid. They destroyed all of the cardamom in the hot season before we could harvest it. I don’t know why they do these things.
Q: Have you heard if they have burned other villages?
A: Yes. They burned all the houses in Si Kheh Der, which is above Kler Lah village. There weren’t many houses there, and when they burned the houses the villagers were not in the village. The villagers didn’t stay to face the Burmese because they were afraid of them. This happened a while ago.
Q: Did you hear that the Burmese came to your village a few days ago?
A: Yes, but I don’t know the Battalion number of those soldiers. I saw all the soldiers threatening the villagers. We didn’t talk to them, we were too afraid.
Q: Have the SPDC soldiers ever held a meeting in your village?
A: Yes, they have called meetings twice. I didn’t go and I haven’t heard anything about the meetings, but the village headman would know about that.
NAME: "Naw Eh Htoo" SEX: F AGE: 52 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 1 child
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
[There are about 70 households in "Naw Eh Htoo"’s village.]
Q: Do you work on a farm?
A: Yes, my farm is not so far from my village. I go there to work everyday, they allow me to sleep in my farmfield hut. They allow all the villagers to work their fields.
Q: Have SPDC troops ever entered your village?
A: Yes, they’ve entered the village. They enter the village very often, the most recent time was a few days ago. When they enter the village, the villagers flee because they are afraid that they will be captured and have to work as porters. Even so, they still manage to capture people to be porters. Their camp is just over a mile away. Usually 5 to 10 soldiers come to the village and go to many houses. They often demand that we cook rice for them and they demand the villagers’ food. They have demanded rice of me also. I’ve cooked fishpaste and fried fishpaste for them. The villagers feed them and the village headman arranges it.
Q: Do the Burmese ever sleep in the village?
A: Yes, and they steal during the night. From my house they stole rice. I didn’t see that but my rice was missing, and I know that they stole it. They took more than 2 big tins of rice from me but that was last year. Their commander at that time was Major xxxx. They have already gone back [been rotated out and replaced by new troops].
Q: Do they take any of the villagers’ chickens and pigs?
A: Yes. I don’t know who they have stolen them from but I know that they always do it. They steal chickens and whatever they see, like radios, cassette players and watches.
Q: Do they destroy any belongings or food at the villagers’ farmfield huts?
A: Yes, they destroyed our tobacco. I didn’t hear about them destroying the villagers’ belongings, but in the upper villages [villages to the east, higher in the mountains] they destroy whatever they see, and if they see farmfield huts they burn them.
Q: Do the Burmese allow you to work at your farmfield huts?
A: Sometimes they allow us to do that but if they hear something [presumably reports of enemy troop movements], they give us problems.
Q: Have the SPDC ever come to the village and called a meeting?
A: Yes, but I have never gone. In the meetings they talk about carrying things for them and tell us to be united with them. Sometimes they call meetings about development [of the village]. The last meeting was 2 or 3 months ago, and that time the soldiers were from Infantry Battalion #48.
Q: Do the villagers here have to pay porter fees?
A: Yes. They say that we have to give porter fees regularly, and then when they arrest people to be porters they call that an ‘emergency’ or ‘urgent case’. If the villagers don’t want to go when they are urgently required they must pay 4,250 Kyats. Sometimes they require 4 or 5 people for ‘urgent’ duty and sometimes it’s only 2 or 3 people. The regular payment is for 18 people per month. Each house has to pay 500 Kyats. We collect our fees and send them to the village headman in Kler Lah village, his name is xxxx and he is xx years old, and then he sends it to the Burmese, to Infantry Battalion #30. I have to pay 1,000 Kyats this month but I haven’t paid it yet. As for people who can’t give the fees, the Burmese told us to send the names of the villagers who can’t pay and sometimes they force us to pay the amount later. The village headman arranges it for us. Most of the villagers can’t afford the fees, so most people haven’t been able to pay on at least 4 or 5 occasions.
Q: Do they force the villagers to work around the Burmese camp?
A: Those who go for forced labour have to carry rice. I’ve had to go also. They also forced the villagers to build a vehicle road to Bu Sah Kee. The villagers had to go everyday, and we had to sleep on the road. The villagers have to go to Bu Sah Kee very often [as porters]. When we go we have to take along our own food. The Burmese tell the villagers to go for 3 days but they have to go for 10 days or more. If the villagers run out of the rice that they brought they have to buy more rice from the soldiers. My son went with the Burmese and had to carry things for them. He is over 30 and married.
Q: Have you heard of the Burmese killing people near your village?
A: I’ve heard they kill villagers very often. Sometimes they also threaten the villagers.
Q: Have any of the villagers stepped on landmines?
A: Yes, three people from our village, Hsar Nee, Win Maung and Ko Moe Aung, have stepped on landmines. Hsar Nee is single and 30 years old, and the other two are over 50 years old. The SPDC soldiers didn’t take care of them so the other villagers that had gone to porter with them had to bury them.
Q: Have you heard whether they have forced any villagers to relocation sites?
A: Yes, they forced villagers from Klay Soe Kee, Der Doh, Kler Kaw Day and [Ko] Pler Der to Kler Lah. They were moved about 2 or 3 months ago. They gave the villagers 10 days to relocate. All of the villagers moved to Kler Lah, they didn’t dare to stay in their villages. Kler Lah has about 400 houses, and the Burmese are camped on the hill beside Kler Lah. After forcing them to move the Burmese didn’t help the villagers to build houses. Our village helped them by cutting bamboo for 2 or 3 days and sending it to them. The villagers [who had been forced to move] had to walk for 1 or 2 hours to a place where they could cut bamboo. Other villagers helped them to build the houses.
Q: Do they force the villagers in Kler Lah to be porters?
A: Yes, they capture them and then tie them up and send them to their camp. Some are sent to the frontline and some are forced to carry things to Bu Sah Kee. Those who don’t go for porter duty must hire someone to go in their place.
Q: Have the Burmese raped any women in your village?
A: They have raped girls in other villages and last year they raped a woman in my village when they came to the camp nearby. The Burmese have arrested 2 or 3 women in the village and called them to follow them to their camp and carry things. The time they arrested those women the rest of the villagers had fled the village to hide. Women sometimes have to go carrying things for 2 or 3 days or sometimes one week.
NAME: "Naw Tamla" SEX: F AGE: 20 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Single, lives with her large family
ADDRESS: Kler Lah village, Than Daung township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
["Naw Tamla" is a betelnut farmer in her village, which has over 300 households.]
Q: What kind of work do the villagers in Kler Lah usually do?
A: They work on betelnut plantations, peanut farms and cardamom gardens. The villagers can sell one viss [1.6 kg / 3.5 lb] of cardamom for 2,000 Kyats or more. The price for betelnut is 800 Kyats per viss and for peanuts it’s 180 Kyats per viss. The villagers have to go 37 miles by car to Taw Oo to buy rice and then bring it back to the village. The villagers in Kler Lah must pay 2,800 or 3,000 Kyats for one sack of rice, I don’t know how much it costs in Taw Oo [according to other villagers it is 2,000 Kyats per sack]. Sometimes the drivers who go to get the rice must bring back food for the Burmese soldiers, such as vegetables, fish and chickens. There are 4 gates [Army checkpoints] on the way, Paleh Wah Gate, Nwee See Ther  Gate, Lwee Milah [4-mile] gate, and T’See Ther Milah [13-mile] gate, and there is also a gate in Kler Lah village.
Q: Is Kler Lah village near the Burmese camp?
A: Yes, it’s less than an hour’s walk away. It’s very close. They are Infantry Battalion #30 and their commander is Myo Thein. They come to the village all the time, they usually come to each section of the village in groups of more than 10. I’ve seen them threatening the villagers.
Q: When they enter the village do they demand chickens or pigs?
A: Yes, they always do. I haven’t given them any, but they demand them of the village headman. One or two years ago the soldiers shot the pigs and chickens of the villagers outside the village without asking them and in some cases just threw them away, but I haven’t heard of that happening this year.
Q: Have the Burmese ever come to the village and called a meeting?
A: Yes, I have been to one of the meetings. When I went to the meeting they talked about building us a place of worship. They called the person who takes care of organising the village worship and I went together with him. They didn’t talk about anything else that time. They always call meetings to say what they need, such as porters.
Q: Does the SPDC force Kler Lah villagers to be porters?
A: Yes, but I have never had to go. They arrest the villagers and force them to porter. They are always forcing the villagers to porter for them.
Q: Do the villagers have to pay porter fees?
A: Yes. I have to pay porter fees, 1,000 Kyats per month.
Q: Have you heard if any villagers have stepped on landmines when they have been portering?
A: Yes, I saw a villager from Der Doh [who had stepped on a landmine]. The villagers take care of those who have stepped on landmines [the Burmese don’t care for them].
Q: Do they force the villagers to labour in their camp?
A: Yes, in the past I have gone to do forced labour also. They [the Army] ask the village headman and then he asks the villagers. Both the men and the women have to go and fence the camp, cut and carry bamboo and clear the grass around their camp. They demand that we work for a certain period of time and then we return to our homes in the afternoon for lunch. They don’t even give us tea. They also forced the villagers to build a car road but I never had to do that. The car road goes from Kler Lah to Paleh Wah, which is far. Sometimes a driver picked the villagers up and took them there by car [to work on the road] and then returned them to the village. The villagers had to take their own food when they went to work on the road.
Q: Have you heard whether the Burmese have forced villagers to relocation sites?
A: Yes, they have relocated villagers from Klay Soe Kee, Ko Pler Der, Bpeh Gkaw Der, and Der Doh villages to Kler Lah village. When they moved, the soldiers didn’t help them to move their things and the villagers had to cut bamboo [for building houses] themselves. The place where they get the bamboo is near the village. They were given one or two weeks to finish building their houses. Some villagers had problems moving and the Burmese said that if they didn’t move they were going to shoot at them.
Q: Has the Burmese burned the houses of those who have fled from their villages?
A: Yes, they burned Ko Go Der and Sho Ko villages, and they destroy things that villagers have hidden at their farms.
Q: Do the Burmese destroy any plantations?
A: They didn’t destroy them near the village, but I have seen them burn the forest and then the fire spreads to the villagers’ betelnut plantations and cardamom gardens. They didn’t burn the farmfield huts around here but I’ve heard that that they’ve destroyed the villagers’ paddy in other places this side of Ku Ler Der village.
NAME: "Naw Ghay Paw" SEX: F AGE: 48 Karen Christian farmer
ADDRESS: Kler Lah village, Than Daung township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
["Naw Ghay Paw" is a betelnut farmer in her village, which has over 300 households.]
Q: What is the primary occupation of the villagers here in Kler Lah?
A: Most of the people work on betelnut plantations and a few people drive their cars for a living. There are quite a few shops in Kler Lah also. The SPDC camp is very close to the village, it’s even within shouting distance.
Q: Have you ever seen the Burmese soldiers?
A: Yes, I see them very often because they come very often. The NCO’s [Non-Commissioned Officers, i.e. Corporals and Sergeants] are old but the soldiers are children, they are about 14 and 15 years old. A few people in the army have white hair, they’re NCO’s. All the officers and commanders are young. I would guess the oldest soldier to be 50 years old. They are from Infantry Battalion #30, and some of the troops are from the Na Pa Ka [Western Military Command] #234.
Q: When did they come to the village?
A: Their whole Battalion came last week on Sunday [13 September, 1998]. They didn’t capture anyone and they went towards Der Doh [Than Daung township] with a few Burman porters. The porters were both young and old, the eldest were 50 or 60 years old and the youngest were 12 and 14 years old. None of the porters were women. They have to carry ammunition and rations for the Burmese which are very heavy. We didn’t have to go with them.
Q: Do the SPDC collect taxes in your village?
A: No, but we must give them porter fees every month. Each house must pay 1,000 Kyats each month. They also collect taxes in the shops but I don’t know how much.
Q: Have you ever had to go for forced labour?
A: I haven’t gone but my only child has had to go for forced labour. She is 18 years old and single. Sometimes she has to carry things for them to Bu Sah Kee and sometimes to Si Kheh Der. They force the villagers to go for 3 or 4 days or even one week at a time. My daughter has had to go for one week. They had to carry rice, sugar, milk, shrimp paste and other things. The girls have to carry loads which are a bit lighter [than those carried by men], it was about 6 or 7 viss [approximately 10 kg or 23 lb]. When the villagers go they must take along their own food. If they finish their food while they are portering, the soldiers give them some food.
Q: Did the children complain when they came back from portering?
A: Yes. Every time they come back they say that it’s better if they only have to go once, because they say it’s very hard to do. On the way, sometimes it rains and other times the sun is very hot. As they are women, it’s hard for them to sleep on the way [for fear of rape].
Q: Did the Burmese tease or threaten them?
A: No, they didn’t because there were many people there.
Whenever they need to send food [rations], the villagers have to go. The soldiers go together with them. They force at least 20 to 40 people to go. They call for one person from every house. People have to go very often so they complain, but they don’t dare tell the Burmese that. They must go whether they can or not, but some people don’t go. If villagers complain or don’t go they [the Army] scold the village headman. When the villagers don’t go as porters they torture him. Last year[Infantry Battalion] #39 beat the village headman once when the villagers didn’t go. They beat him with a gun until they broke the butt of the gun. I don’t know how many times they hit him. Those troops are no longer staying here, they went back to town.
Q: Have any villagers stepped on landmines while portering to places such as Bu Sah Kee?
A: Yes, 3 men did. They gave them injections and took them to the government hospital in Kler Lah. They didn’t have to pay for treatment, but because there wasn’t enough medicine we had to go and buy medicine for them at the shop.
Q: Have they ever forced the villagers to build car roads?
A: Yes, if the car road is destroyed the villagers have to repair it. My daughter and other children, who are all students, have had to go and do that but I haven’t. My daughter has already gone to do that twice this year and each time she’s had to take her food with her. Last week she went to repair the road to the east of Klay Soe Kee, between Yay Tho Gyi and Yay Tho Lay. Another time she went to build a road at Paleh Wah. When they go, one person from each house must go. A driver takes them to where they are going and then they must dig and carry the dirt. The Burmese don’t even give the driver any petrol [they order him to transport the forced labourers but give him nothing].
Q: If the SPDC soldiers are attacked by KNLA soldiers, do they do anything?
A: They come back and hold a meeting to tell the villagers to live quietly. They told the village headman that if the villagers cause any problems they would close the way for them to get food.
Q: Do they [the Burmese soldiers] allow the villagers to work on their plantations and gardens?
A: Yes. They also allow them to sleep at their gardens.
Q: Have they ever asked the villagers to bring them pork, chicken, fruit or vegetables?
A: Yes. There are 7 cars in Kler Lah village [belonging to villagers] and whenever the drivers come back they must bring back food such as pork, chicken and vegetables. The drivers must get a letter of recommendation from Infantry Battalion #30 in the Burmese camp [before each trip]. Each letter costs 100 Kyats. In the past all the cars could go as often as they wished, but now they only allow one car to go each day.
Q: Have the Burmese ever come and slept in the village?
A: Yes, they come and sleep in the village twice a month. They bring their own rations with them but if that’s not enough food for them they ask for food from the villagers.
Q: Have you heard what the SPDC troops do to the villagers in villages that they don’t control?
A: I heard that they beat them. When they see villagers from Gklay Wah, Maw Ko Der, Oo Bper and Htee Hsah Bper they capture them and beat them, causing them a lot of pain. They usually do that.
Q: Do they take the villagers’ belongings, such as clothes, pots and plates?
A: Yes. They take everything that they see. They also take chickens and pigs. They have also killed and eaten people’s cattle.
NAME: "Pu Lay Ko" SEX: M AGE: 65 Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 3 children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Tantabin township INTERVIEWED: 9/98
["Pu Lay Ko" grows cardamom, peanuts and betelnut in his village, which has 50 households.]
Q: Is the Burmese camp near your village?
A: Not so near, it takes about 2 hours to walk there.
Q: Did the Burmese force the people in your village to relocate?
A: Yes. They said that we were in contact with and working for the KNU. They said that we must help them by portering and then they demanded that we give porter fees, but we couldn’t give them anything so they got angry with us and forced us to relocate. There are 50 houses in our village, and they gave us 15 days to get out. We could go any place we wanted, they never said we must go to a particular place. Some people went to Kler Lah and Taw Oo but some people didn’t move. I moved [to Taw Oo], but I still come back to collect cardamom and cut grass in my peanut garden. I also have a betelnut plantation. I have been back working here for a month. They didn’t order me to come back, but I am happy to stay here in the bamboo forest. If they knew that I’ve come back they would be angry. I must come secretly.
Q: When they forced you to relocate, did they help you to move?
A: A driver came to pick us up. We could take some of our things, but other things we hid in the forest. When we arrived in Taw Oo they didn’t prepare anything for us, we had to walk 2 hours to cut bamboo and build our houses ourselves. We had to carry the bamboo ourselves, they didn’t help us. As for me, I bought my house for 60,000 Kyats [he is 65 years old and not strong enough to build his own house], it is made of wood.
Q: Did you hear of the Burmese burning any villages?
A: Yes, they burned villages called Maw Ko Der and Blah Kee, on the other side of Gklay Wah. That is about 12 hours [walking time] from my village. The people there fled the villages.
Q: Have you heard if the Burmese enter other villages and abuse any villagers?
A: Yes, I heard about that happening about 5 years ago in Hsaw Wah Der. When they saw the villagers they killed two of them, Saw Raw Lay who was about 60 years old, and his daughter Naw Pu Pu. The villagers from Hsaw Wah Der don’t dare to stay in the village, so they fled and are living in the jungle now.
Q: When you were staying in xxxx[his home village], did they [SPDC soldiers] demand porter fees?
A: Yes, they demanded fees for porters and labourers every month. We had to give the fees to the village headman there. Sometimes they demanded 1,000 Kyats per month other times they demanded 500 Kyats per month. They also stole the villagers’ chickens, ducks and pigs. They didn’t take my belongings but they asked me for rice, salt, and fishpaste, and took 2 of my chickens. That happened about 6 or 7 months ago.
Q: How many days did they sleep in your village when they came?
A: They slept here 2 or 3 nights. They weren’t angry when they entered the village and they only asked for food when theirs wasn’t enough. Their commander was a fat man who looked pleasant. When they entered the village some of the villagers fled because they had captured people in the past for portering and the villagers were afraid to be porters. I had to go portering for a month 4 or 5 years ago. That time they told me I would have to go for 3 days but they forced me to carry rice for a whole month.
Q: Do they force the whole village to porter for them?
A: Not all the villagers go, only about half of the villagers go for portering duty.
Q: When you stay here, where do you buy rice?
A: I go to buy rice in Kler Lah Village. One sack of rice costs 3,000 Kyats there.
Q: Have you heard whether the Kler Lah villagers have to build a car road?
A: They always have to build car roads. Sometimes they have to go 2 or 3 times a month. When the road is destroyed [usually by the rains] they have to go 3 or 4 times per month.
Q: Must you pay fees when you are living in Taw Oo?
A: The village headman collects the money. Sometimes I have to give 50 Kyats and sometimes 100 Kyats. I have been staying in xxxx quarter of Taw Oo since about 7 months ago.
Q: When you are in Taw Oo, do the Burmese force the villagers to labour?
A: Yes, but I don’t know what they do because whenever they demand that I go one of my children goes in my place. My son Z--- has gone for me. He went for one day and had to work on a road that goes from Taw Oo towards the mountains. He has gone one time already, and he had to take his own food. Both men and women, including single women, have to go and dig the dirt [to repair damaged roads].
NAME: "Pi Muh Paw" SEX: F AGE: 50+ Karen Christian farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Pyu township INTERVIEWED: 1/99
["Pi Muh Paw"’s village is south of Toungoo on the west side of the Sittaung River in strongly SPDC-controlled area. She was interviewed just after arriving in Thailand with some refugees. Her husband and one son remained behind in their village.]
Q: What is your occupation when you are in your village?
A: Now my field has been confiscated so we have nothing. It is 16 acres. I can’t do anything now that it has been confiscated. My children are very sad about that. Since then your uncle has been planting a garden and our son works doing day labour. Uncle [her husband] is still alive and staying in our house, but he is not as strong as before. He is already old. I have only 4 children, but some are already married. One got married and lives in Taw Oo, another got married and lives in Nyaunglebin, and one son is single and lives in our house. He works so we can eat.
Q: Who confiscated your field?
A: A Burman villager. 16 acres. I pawned it to him for 64,000 Kyat, then later I gave him 64,000 Kyat to get it back. He took my money, but then he told us that our field still belongs to him. So I lost both my 64,000 Kyat and my field.
Q: Why don’t you take him to court?
A: It wouldn’t be easy for me to get it back even if I take him to court. The Burmese have a proverb that says, "Enough money will always win in court". The village headman tried to help us but we couldn’t get it back.
Q: In your village do you have to give taxes?
A: Aye hay hay!! Though now it’s better, if you compare it with past years. Now we have to pay only one time each cold season. They demanded that we give 100 Kyats [per family].
Q: Do the Burmese troops ever come to your village?
A: The Burmese Army camp is near our village but they just come sometimes, and when they come they meet only with our village headman. Our village headman is very good for us [he is good at negotiating with the military].
Q: Do you have to do loh ah pay [forced labour] working on roads or bridges?
A: No, we were just called to help by [Light Infantry Battalion] #439 and we went to help them once. We had to build buildings for them [at their camp], and we only had to go for one day. Uncle went because our son was not at home. We have to go at least once a year. For now we can still survive in our place like that, but we don’t know about the future.
Q: Do you have a school in your village?
A: We only have up to grade four. There is an SPDC primary school in our village but it is not on the Karen side. Our village has two sides, Karen side and Burman side, and the school is on the Burman side. The teachers are Burmans so there is no Karen taught in school. Our children and grandchildren have to go to the Burman side for school, but we teach them Karen in the evenings and at Sunday School.
Q: Do you have enough food to eat when you are in your village?
A: We have to eat but things are expensive. Chicken with the feathers still on is 400 Kyats per viss [1.6 kg / 3.5 lb]. Pork is also 400 Kyats.
Q: What kind of day labour does your son get?
A: Some farmers need people to reap paddy, sow beans or reap beans for them. Day labour is paid only 120 Kyats per day, and sometimes he has no work because there is not always work available.
We were living and satisfied in our place, but our brothers and sisters on the other side of the river have to live in fear because they are being put in a lot of trouble now [meaning the villagers in the hills of Toungoo District, east of the Sittaung River].
Q: Can you tell me again about the villagers who had to relocate?
A: I’ve only heard about that. I didn’t go to see for myself but the younger people who went there came back and told us. Lu Der, Pay Gaw Der, Ku Mu Der, Kaw Thay Der… I can’t recall every village, I have never been there. All of the villages had to relocate to Kler Lah which is a big town in the mountains. I heard that they had to relocate during harvest time this year [approximately November 1998]. We just heard about that, we didn’t see it because it’s very far from us. We are in Pyu township but they are in Taw Oo township, in the mountains. We have to live in fear when we hear about what is happening to the people on the other side of the river. We pray hard for them every morning at 5:00 a.m. at morning prayer service. We keep them as the top subject in our prayers and pray for them every morning. Our pastor goes to the church early in the morning at 5 a.m. to turn on the light, and we pray every morning.
Q: When did you come here?
A: I came here on Saturday [January 10, 1999] with these people. I came here to see my son because I thought that he was living here but he is not. He is 31 and single. I will stay here for two days and then go back to your uncle’s [her husband] because there is not enough food in the house. I have to go back. I will stay there until I get some money and then I will come back here with my son [her other son who lives at home with them]. It is difficult for us to work there to get food. You only get 120 [Kyat per day] for day labour so how can you eat? Here it is better, for a day’s work you can get enough food to eat. In our place, one day’s work will give you 120 Kyats but one bowl [8 small milktins, about 2 kg / 4.4 lb] of rice costs 70 to 100 Kyats, and you cannot live only on rice. So I couldn’t do anything.