KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP COMMENTARY, 1998 #2

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Published date:
Tuesday, November 24, 1998

There is no doubt that life is currently becoming worse for the vast majority of people in Burma, in both urban and rural areas. In urban areas, people are plagued by high inflation, rapidly increasing prices for basic commodities such as rice and basic foodstuffs, the tumbling value of the Kyat, wages which are not enough to feed oneself, corruption by all arms of the military and civil service, and the ever-present fear of arbitrary arrest for the slightest act or statement that betrays opposition to the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC) junta.

"Things are getting more difficult every day. Even the Burmese leaders capture each other and put each other in jail. If they can capture and imprison even the people who have authority, then how are the villagers supposed to tolerate them? That’s why the villagers are fleeing from Burma." - Dta La Ku elder (M, 44) from Dooplaya district (Report #98-09)

There is no doubt that life is currently becoming worse for the vast majority of people in Burma, in both urban and rural areas. In urban areas, people are plagued by high inflation, rapidly increasing prices for basic commodities such as rice and basic foodstuffs, the tumbling value of the Kyat, wages which are not enough to feed oneself, corruption by all arms of the military and civil service, and the ever-present fear of arbitrary arrest for the slightest act or statement that betrays opposition to the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC) junta.

"We were civil servants in Du Yaw, but we didn’t have enough to eat. … At the shop we had to pay 50 or 60 Kyats for one bowl, or over 1,000 Kyats for one big tin. The rice gets even more expensive in the rainy season. We couldn’t buy rice from the shop because the monthly salary they gave us wasn’t enough to buy rice. We had to do farming as well as teach at school, otherwise we wouldn’t have had enough to eat." - "Naw Ghay Wah" (F, 31), a schoolteacher from Pa’an township describing the difficulty of living there (Report #98-09)

The SPDC refuses to admit the disastrous state of the economy, trying to control the exchange rate by arresting and detaining money-changers, claiming the country has no rice shortage and trying to prove it by confiscating ever more rice from the farmers so that they can show increasing export figures, and hoping to attract further foreign debt relief, aid, and investment so that they can continue to prop up a system which is completely unsustainable. The current collapse of the Burmese economy may have come as a surprise to investors and governments who chose to believe the myth of Asia’s "economic miracle" and coddle dictatorships like the SPDC in search of short-term profits; however, it has come as no surprise to anyone who talks to villagers and townspeople about the realities of daily life under the SPDC. For years, activists pointing out the unsustainability of the SLORC/SPDC system have been ignored; and for the most part they continue to be ignored by governments and economists who claim that no one could have foreseen the current situation. The truth is that many people did.

"We call the factory the Sittaun Paper Factory. At the paper factory girls fold the paper and boys put the papers into the machine, they work step by step. There is no need to try one’s hardest. The pay is very low. They give only 1,000 Kyats for one month, or 30 Kyats for one day. How could we get enough to eat with that? Some of the workers were starving." - "Maung San Myint" (M, 45, Burman), Sittaun town, Mon State, describing living conditions in his home town (Annex to Report #98-08)

Most of the ‘growth’ in the urban Burmese economy which has been reported for years has been false, and has been built on a combination of money stemming from the narcotics trade and money extorted by the military in rural areas. There has been continual discussion of the role of narcotics money, but almost no one has even mentioned the role of the money stolen from rural farmers throughout the entire country by the Army; yet this could possibly amount to even more than the narcotics profits. Anyone reading KHRG reports will notice that villagers everywhere are forced to hand over money on a regular basis, as often as once per week, to local military officers and SPDC officials. Villagers are often even ‘graded’ based on their relative wealth and ‘assessed’ varying amounts, which usually total to all the cash that they could possibly obtain in the given time period, and more; many villagers have to sell livestock and valuables to come up with the money.

These ‘fees’ take on many names: porter fees, road-building fees, railway fees, pagoda fees, sports fees, development fees, firefighting fees, fees to avoid shifts of forced labour - the list goes on and on. The names are usually just excuses, because little or none of the money actually goes where the name would indicate. In total, small villages of 10 to 50 households have to hand over 10,000 to 30,000 Kyat per month, while bigger villages of 100 to 500 households can have to pay in the hundreds of thousands of Kyat each month. Where do all of these ‘fees’ go? They are not distributed among the rank and file soldiers, most of whom are teenage conscripts. The salary of a private in the SPDC Army is about US$2 per month, his officer steals half of it and he is forced to buy his own uniform out of the rest. The officers also often steal the rations for their units and sell these, leaving their soldiers to loot their food from the villagers. And it is these officers, particularly Company and Battalion commanders and above, who take all the ‘fees’. This is the main source of their loyalty to the SPDC. A Battalion-level officer can make millions of Kyat per year if posted in a rural area, just by extorting money from the surrounding villages, forcing villagers to do labour growing cash crops or logging, and selling military supplies which are supposed to go to his soldiers. Military officers have almost no expenses while in the field and almost all of this money, totalling billions of Kyat per month from all over Burma, is sent by officers to their families in Burma’s main towns and cities, where it can be used to start businesses - and create an illusion of economic growth.

"When they came in the hot season last year, they came with a bulldozer. They told the villagers how much food they had eaten in town and the cost of the fuel [for the bulldozer] and demanded that we pay for it. The Saw Hta villagers had to pay 100,000 [Kyat]. There are over 200 houses in Saw Hta village, and they came to collect taxes whenever they wanted. They taxed us once a month, but sometimes we had to pay twice a month. I have little money so I was only taxed 500 Kyats. Richer villagers had to pay 2 to 4 thousand Kyats [each time]. I suffered from having to porter and from paying the taxes of 500 Kyats. Each house had to pay that much. Those villagers who couldn’t give 500 Kyats were ordered to give 300 Kyats and those who couldn’t afford that had to spend a day and night in the stocks in the police jail. Some villagers went to do daily labour which paid 400 Kyats and then gave that to the Burmese." - Villager (M, 21) from Saw Hta (Azin) village, Dooplaya district (Report #98-09)

"…according to the agreement of the Kyaung Ywa village tract headmen and small village leaders, xxxx village is assessed (two thousand) for servants’ fees. Therefore, [you] are informed to come and pay this money at Kyaung Ywa village." - Text of a written SPDC order to a village in southern Dooplaya district, May 1998 (Report #98-09)

Those who wish to look beyond Rangoon and Mandalay, into the farming villages where over 80% of Burma’s people live, will see the real effect of this system. The agrarian economic base is being completely destroyed. This is the real cause of Burma’s economic crisis, much more than fallout from the Asian economic crisis or the crop-destroying floods of 1997. The entire rural countryside is being looted to finance a façade of economic improvement in the cities. Farmers throughout central Burma as well as the ethnic nationality areas are facing so much extortion, confiscation of their crops and looting of their livestock and other belongings that they can no longer sustain it. The floods of 1997, followed by the lack of rains in 1998 which have destroyed much of the crop once again, have just begun to bring the reality out into the open.

"After that, the Burmese came and persecuted the villagers. They took rice and paddy from us. They said that they didn’t have rice for themselves, but I don’t know why they didn’t just go back [to Rangoon] if they didn’t have any rice. They stayed in the village and rampaged." - "Pi San San" (F, 50) from Taw Oak village, southern Pa’an District (Report #98-08)

The situation is only likely to get worse, particularly because the SPDC is more focused on political and military control of the ethnic areas than on allowing the population to feed themselves. It is absurd that with a nationwide rice shortage going on, SPDC Battalions are systematically uprooting and destroying rice crops in Shan State, northern Karen State and Tenasserim Division, but according to the villagers that is precisely what they are doing. In areas where there is any form of resistance, the current approach of the SPDC is to conduct large-scale forced relocations of villagers, hunt out villagers who attempt to hide out in the hills, and systematically destroy their houses and food supplies so that there is no way they can support resistance forces.

The worst case is in Shan State, where the SPDC has forcibly relocated and destroyed approximately 1,500 villages since 1996, displacing as many as 300,000 rural villagers with the intent of undermining the Shan United Revolutionary Army, now known as the Shan State Army South. Villages were first moved to bigger villages, then these were moved in turn to more and more tightly controlled SPDC sites. This was followed by systematic massacres of villagers on several occasions. (For more details see "Killing the Shan", KHRG #98-03, 23/5/98, and "Dispossessed", Shan Human Rights Foundation, April 1998.) Tens of thousands of villagers fled to Thailand. Currently a steady stream of refugees continues to arrive in Thailand, but according to relief workers some of the new arrivals say that they’re fleeing not because they’re being ordered out of their villages, but rather because they’re being ordered from the relocation sites back to their villages. The military in the relocation site orders them to go home, but they know that other battalions are still patrolling the area of their villages shooting people on sight, so they have no choice but to flee the region altogether.

The situation in Karenni (Kayah) State, where about 200 villages have been forcibly relocated and destroyed since 1996, continues to steadily deteriorate as both people in the relocation sites and people hiding in the forests have been there for well over a year now with little or no food and no access to outside help. (See "A Struggle Just to Survive", KHRG #98-06, 12/6/98.)

"Some are starving to death. Many people die of sickness, especially in the rainy season from malaria and diarrhoea. They are also forced to work for the military doing things like carrying water, cutting bamboo, making fences and collecting firewood for the Army. Especially in the Second District, the Army goes to fight almost every week so the people are forced to carry their supplies and ammunition, and many people die as porters at the frontline. Now a lot of people who stay in the relocation sites are forced to be militia too, but not only people in the relocation sites have to do that. People from other villages are forced to do that too." - "Saw Kler" (M, 20+) from Mawchi town in Karenni, describing conditions in Mawchi forced relocation site in southern Karenni (Report #98-06)

"I decided that if I died everything would be over and that would be better than going back, because life is very bad in the relocation site. … The Burmese called the people who escaped to come back to the relocation site, but after we escaped we didn’t want to go back. When we were hiding there, if the Burmese ever saw some smoke [from a cookfire] they fired mortar shells at it. I was afraid because I saw many people killed by the Burmese, and we were afraid we would also be killed. … SLORC soldiers came and when they found villagers they shot at them. … They killed many people. We were really lucky to survive this long. I’m very, very lucky." - Villager (M, 50) from Daw Kraw Aw village, Karenni, talking about his escape from Shadaw forced relocation site in northern Karenni (Report #98-06)

Taungoo (Taw Oo) district forms the northern tip of Karen State, sandwiched between Karenni State to the east, Shan State to the north, and Pegu Division to the west. Much of this district is steep forested hills with small remote Karen villages. For several years these villages have also suffered destruction and forced labour as SLORC/SPDC troops tried to undermine the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in the area by wiping out village food supplies and forcing people to build a military access road into the area. Now that the SPDC Infantry Battalions are more strongly entrenched in the area the villagers were hoping for a respite; many of them in villages along the road even call their villages "Nyein Chan Yay" ("Peace") villages, having made an informal agreement with the local SPDC military that they will comply with all orders and demands if only their villages are not destroyed or forced to move. This includes villages such as Bawgali Gyi, Ye Tho Gyi, and Kaw Thay Der. However, these villages are facing increasingly heavy demands for porters and money by the SPDC battalions, and as they have no money to pay to avoid portering they are in a dilemma. At the same time, villages which are not seen as cooperating fully are being punished severely. In Saw Wah Der village SPDC troops recently chose all the nicest houses in the village and burned them, and all of the villagers now live in the forest in fear. Many of them lost their crop this year because SPDC troops started pushing a road through their ricefields which is to go to Mawchi in Karenni State. With all the troops in their fields the villagers didn’t dare to plant. Further east, SPDC Major Myo Myint could see the ricefields of Bu Sah Kee village from the camp of Infantry Battalion #26 which he commands, and the villagers there always flee into the forest when his troops approach; so in September he sent patrols out with orders to destroy the entire rice crop of the 60 families in the village. They uprooted, cut down or stomped down about half of the entire crop which was to support the village through the coming year, and the villagers there no longer know what they will do when they run out of rice. (see KHRG Information Update #98-U5, "Continuing Hardships for Villagers in Northern Karen Districts"; the situation in Taungoo District will be reported in further detail in an upcoming KHRG report.)

Southwest of Taungoo District in Nyaunglebin District, dozens of villages in the hills have been systematically wiped out since early 1997. In an SPDC attempt to undermine the KNLA in the area, villagers’ rice supplies were hunted out and destroyed. In August 1998, SPDC troops began burning more villages in Ler Doh township. Oo Ker Kee, Tee Nya P’Tay Kee, and Nah Kee villages have been burned in this operation by Light Infantry Battalions #364 and 365. At Oo Ker Kee village, SPDC troops occupied a nearby hill and then commenced shelling the village with mortars with no warning. After the villagers fled, the troops entered and looted the village, then burned it. The villagers from these 3 destroyed villages are now hiding in the forest with little or no rice to eat. Part of their crop was destroyed, and they are not expecting to obtain much from their fields this year. Even the fields which were not destroyed have suffered from the lack of rains this year.

The destruction of these villages without warning follows the pattern used to destroy well over 100 villages in Papun district and eastern Nyaunglebin district since early 1997. (See "Wholesale Destruction", KHRG, April 1998.) Papun District is bounded by Nyaunglebin District in the northwest, Thaton District in the southwest, and the Salween River and Thailand to the east. About 100 of the destroyed villages were ordered to move, but many of the villages never saw the order because the villagers always flee when SPDC troops approach. In response, the SPDC launched a campaign to simply destroy all villages without warning.

"The SLORC keep coming again and again, so we have to live in the forest. This year they’ve come into our village 4 times, and they’ve come near our village many more times than that. We have to run very often. At least once a month they come near our village so we can’t stay there. Now they’ve burned our houses, our rice barns and everything we had, so we have nothing. Every time they come they burn something. The first time they burned the houses and left 2 or 3 unburned, but they came and burned those the next time. The first time they came they burned any rice barns they saw, but they come many times until eventually they’ve found and burned every rice barn. After their fourth visit we’d lost everything, we didn’t even have any paddy left. … 26 houses. They burned every house, field hut, and buffalo shed, and also our church and our school. We had a middle school in Kheh Pa Hta, up to 7th Standard." - Villager (M, 43) from Kheh Pa Hta village in Papun district, interviewed when he had just fled into the forest from a SLORC patrol ("Wholesale Destruction", Report #98-01)

The situation in northern Papun District remains very similar to what it was earlier in the year. Most villages have already been completely burned and destroyed, but SPDC patrols continue going through the area to burn any trace of villages which still remain, food supplies, and the shelters of villagers who are hiding in the forest. These patrols have reportedly mined and booby-trapped the burned remains of some villages, because they know that villagers are in hiding nearby and that they frequently return to scavenge for food, belongings and materials in the burned ruins of their villages. Villagers sighted in the region are sometimes taken as porters, but are more frequently shot or otherwise executed on sight. The vast majority of villagers are living in small clusters of shelters and lean-to’s hidden deep in the forests and high in the hills, trying to access their old hillside rice fields or to clear small new ones in the hills. These fields have not yielded much, especially with the lack of rain this past rainy season. In September, SPDC patrols were sent through Lu Thaw township to destroy rice crops where possible, and much of the crop was cut down with machetes or stomped down by the troops. Villagers in hiding in the forest are living primarily on roots and jungle leaves. Even in areas where SPDC troops seldom arrive, such as Day Pu Noh area, there is almost no rice available and villagers are surviving on rice soup, sharing around whatever rice they can find or buy from town. Villagers in this region are much closer to Thailand than those in Taungoo and Nyaunglebin districts, but most of them do not want to go because of their very close attachment to their land, their extreme fear of landmines and SPDC troops along the escape routes, and their fear of abuse and forced repatriation by Thai troops which they know may await them on arrival at the border.

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

Pa’an district forms much of the heartland of central Karen State, but villagers here are finding it very hard to survive because of a steady increase in extortion of cash and materials by all of the SPDC troops in the region. In the eastern part of the district, farmers seen in their fields by patrols are frequently grabbed as porters; to avoid this, people who see patrols usually try to run, and then the soldiers shoot them. Many of these troops are fighting the KNLA in the east of the district, and in the process they have started to order the forced relocation of villages. On the east side of the Dawna mountains, SPDC troops burned and destroyed Meh Lah Ah, Meh Keh, Tha Pwih Hser, Po Ti Pwa and Noh Aw Pu villages in September, and looted and terrorised several other villages until everyone in the area fled for the hills or for Thailand. In southeastern Pa’an district they told the people of several villages that they are all to be forced to relocate as soon as the harvest is complete. However, much of the harvest is already being lost because people are fleeing the increased extortion and forced portering.

"After the date of issue of this order, it is warned that the Army will go around clearing the area and should any village or small huts in the paddy fields be found still standing, they will all be dismantled and destroyed." - Text of written order from SPDC Infantry Battalion #104 to several villages in southern Pa’an district ordering them to move (Report #98-08)

"Three groups of soldiers came to the village with about 100 soldiers in each group. About 300 soldiers came to the village altogether. When the first group of Burmese entered the village, they burned many of the houses and then they continued on to another village. Then another group came and burned down more of the village. They burned down many houses in many villages. First they burned Meh Keh, then Tha Pwih Hser, then Po Ti Pwa, and then Meh Lah Ah village. … They took the newest clothing from our houses and then burned everything else. They arrived less than a month ago, within the last 18 days." - "Saw Joseph" (M, 34), Meh Keh village, northern Pa’an district, describing the destruction of his village in September 1998 by SPDC troops (Report #98-08)

"…both the Burmese and the DKBA said that after we finish our harvest they would force us to relocate to Htee Wah Blaw K’Waw Bu. They said that if we ran to the jungle they would sweep us up like a broom. The commander of the DKBA, Thein Shwe, said, ‘If we see you in the jungle when we come, you will be in our gunsights.’" - "Pi San San" (F, 50), Taw Oak village, southern Pa’an District; the harvest will be finished in December 1998 (Report #98-08)

"We barely escaped, just after we ran out of the village a bomb exploded behind us in Meh Lah Ah. … We didn’t even think to take our pigs and chickens. We could only take what we were wearing and a small bag." - Woman from Meh Lah Ah village, northern Pa’an district, describing the SPDC destruction of her village in September 1998 (Report #98-08)

The KNLA, SPDC and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) are all using landmines intensively throughout the area and many villagers are being wounded or killed by these. In southeastern Pa’an district SPDC and DKBA columns are now taking women and children specifically to march in front of their columns to detonate landmines. People from the small village of Taw Oak say that in their village alone 6 people have been killed by landmines in the past year, most of them while being used as human minesweepers by SPDC troops. At the same time as the SPDC and DKBA continue to demand porters more often and use them as minesweepers, they are demanding as much as 700 Kyat per month extortion money from each family, as well as other standard fees. As a result the villagers have no more money to pay to get out of the portering assignments, but they don’t dare go as human minesweepers so they are fleeing their villages. (See "Uncertainty, Fear and Flight", KHRG #98-08, 18/11/98.)

"The Burmese forced people in our village to be porters, and in other villages they forced everyone, even the old women and the children. They force people to go as porters and to go in front of them to clear landmines. Many women and children have died when they went as porters. … Now the villagers who are still there are giving them money, but if the soldiers go fighting they still gather the women and children to go in front of them to set off the landmines. If the Kaw Thoo Lei [KNLA] shoot at them the bullets will hurt the women and children, but if we don’t go in front of them they torture the villagers." - "Naw Lah Say" (F, 25), Taw Oak village, southern Pa’an district (Report #98-08)

"Every time they entered the village they forced villagers to go as porters, and some villagers didn’t dare go as porters. Some of those who went as porters died, and some got wounded or lost their legs and hands. Six people died as porters last year. Yeh Paw Ta, and Naw Hser’s mother. Naw Hser’s mother was 54, and I don’t know how old Yay Paw Ta was, I think he was over 40. Also Naw Sghu, she was just over 30. Dta Oh, he was 30 years old. And Naw Hser Paw - she was 18 years old. Her husband’s name is Hsa Ler Lah. She was carrying her small baby daughter, who was only one or two months old. When she stepped on the landmine she died together with her baby, and a girl and a boy lost their legs - Ma Leh Kyo and Pa Roh. … All of them were from Taw Oak village. They also killed Pa Mu Dah, who was 15 years old, and Set Lay. He was about 40. He was married with no children, but his wife is pregnant. Another one they killed was Maung Thaung Ngeh. He was 30 and married. The Burmese killed his wife as well. Her name was Naw Ga May, she was about 25. They had 2 children, both daughters. They’ve killed all those people just this hot season [between March and August 1998]." - "Saw Tha Wah" (M, 42), Taw Oak village, southern Pa’an district (Report #98-08)

Just south of Pa’an district is Dooplaya district, extending to the southern tip of Karen State with extensive fertile plains in the west and mountains in the east. Much of this region was controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU) until the SLORC mounted a major military offensive and overran most of it in early 1997. The KNLA continues to conduct guerrilla activities there, and the SPDC is systematically working to consolidate total control over the region. To do this they conduct sporadic forced relocations in areas of central and far southern Dooplaya whenever KNLA activity becomes frequent. They also impose heavy restrictions on the Karen rice farmers who populate the region; those who live in farmfield huts or houses far from their villages have been forced to move into the centre of their villages, and no one is allowed to be outside of villages without an SPDC pass. In most places these passes only allow villagers to leave the village in the morning and return by sunset, making it extremely difficult for people whose fields are one or two hours’ walk from the village. Rice farming is labour intensive and during the period from June to November people need to spend most of their time living in their farmfield huts, but the SPDC has prohibited this. Farmers going to their fields are only allowed to take tiny amounts of rice to eat with them so that they will have none they could give to KNLA troops; however, the amount allowed is usually less than they need even to feed themselves while working. Even with a pass to be in the fields, farmers spotted by passing SPDC patrols are frequently taken as porters.

"They [the villagers] can’t stay in their field huts because when they go to their farms they must get a pass that only lasts for one day’s work. If they don’t have a pass then they [SPDC soldiers] treat them as their enemy. … The villagers had to give the Burmese some rice even though they [the soldiers] already received some rice from town [their rations]. Now in Kyaikdon area they have taken some fields. The Burmese are supervising these confiscated fields and forcing the villagers to work often on the fields. The Burmese have established a paddy plantation at Kyaikdon but it is the villagers who have to do all the work on it." - Karen relief worker who visited central Dooplaya from July-September 1998 (Report #98-09)

"(M)any people are sick, they are coughing a lot. Some also have diarrhoea. They can’t find any medicine. Two people have already died, a 2-year-old girl died ten days ago and another child died about a month ago. They both died of diarrhoea, which they’d had for almost two months. They wouldn’t have died if they’d had medicine. In the past, children in Kyo G’Lee [area] who had medicine didn’t die from this." - Villager from eastern Dooplaya district describing conditions since the SPDC occupation (Report #98-09)

Their ability to support themselves also suffers because in addition to their farming work they must do rotating shifts of forced labour at army camps, as porters, and upgrading the road network through the area for the military. They are also forced to pay extortion money and often see their livestock, fruit trees and vegetable gardens looted by SPDC troops but cannot dare say anything about it. As the SPDC entrenches its control over the area, the patterns of extortion and demands for rotating forced labour become more systematic, and steadily heavier on the villagers. Some flee to become internally displaced, but it is not as easy to hide in the plains and forests of Dooplaya as it is in the remote hills of Papun or Taungoo district. Many have fled to Thailand, but it is very difficult to get admitted to refugee camps in Thailand without being forcibly repatriated by the Thai Army. Most of the people simply stay in their villages or flee from one village to the next, trying to find a place where they can survive. (See "Dooplaya Under the SPDC", KHRG #98-09, 23/11/98.)

"You the headperson are informed to send 5 permanent servants with their own rice to arrive today for the use of Frontline #208 Light Infantry Battalion, Column 2, and prepare to rotate the servants every 5 days." - Text of written SPDC order to a village in western Dooplaya, July 1998 (Report #98-09)

"They ordered the Kwih Kler villagers to go to their camp every day, their camp was there. They forced 2 villagers to do sentry duty around their camp. Even though the villagers had a lot of work to do they forced them to help them. They only called men to help, but if there were no men in the house a woman had to go. The women were forced to clean their camp. The women also had to clean [wipe and polish] the gate that was in the fence surrounding the camp. The men were forced to clear and dig out mud from the bunkers. … When I was digging I got a cold with a bad cough and chest pain. My body was in a lot of pain and I had to take penicillin. … I also had to do sentry duty twice for one day and a night each time. They didn’t give me food and I had to sleep at the camp in the evening. I could see my house from their camp but they still forced us to sleep on the ground at the gate of their camp…" - Villager (M, 25) from central Dooplaya district (Report #98-09)

"When they were forcing you to porter, did they say anything to you?"

"Yes, they said to us, ‘Nga Lo Ma Tha!’ [‘I fucked your mother and you are the child!’], ‘Kway Ma Tha!’ [‘Son of a bitch!’], and ‘You are a lazy porter and if I kick you, you’ll go flying!’" - Villager (M, 21) from Saw Hta (Azin) village, central Dooplaya (Report #98-09)

In Tenasserim Division, which forms the southernmost leg of Burma, the KNU controlled a lot of territory until the SLORC mounted an offensive in early 1997 at the same time as the Dooplaya offensive. They succeeded in taking away the KNU’s control over territory, but they have not been very successful in establishing any control of their own because of the rugged terrain of much of the region and the strong resistance put up by the KNLA and other associated armies. According to KNU sources in Tenasserim, the SPDC is now forcing many hill villages to relocate to sites near the vehicle roads or their garrisons, but most villagers are not obeying and are trying to stay in the forest in the hills near their villages. They report that some villages have been shelled, and that recently SPDC troops have been going through the hills in some areas destroying rice crops when they can and sometimes shooting at farmers working in their fields.

"I don’t think the Burmese will make peace. If the KNLA gives their guns to the Burmese, then the Burmese will only persecute us more easily and abuse us until we’re lost." - Village elder (M, 58) from Meh Kreh village, northeastern Pa’an District (Report #98-08)

For all of the SPDC’s rhetoric about increasing rice production and exports, it is clear that they are doing everything they can to wipe out rice production in any part of the country where they are not completely in control, apparently without realising that they will never gain complete control as long as they continue to alienate the people in this way. In areas where they are in control, confiscation of ever-increasing quotas of rice from farmers for only 10 to 20 percent of market price, combined with steady demands for extortion money and forced labour, are making it very difficult for farmers to continue. In many cases, particularly in bad crop years like 1997 and 1998, the quotas demanded of them exceed their entire crop, so they must buy rice on the open market just to sell it to the SPDC for 10-20% of market price, then live on rice soup themselves. Facing situations like these, farmers throughout Burma are finding it harder every year to obtain enough seed paddy to grow a full crop. Many have to go into debt to the local SPDC authorities to do so, and when they cannot pay they lose their land, even if their failure to pay was caused by extortion demands by the local military.

"They asked me for money but I had no money because I was just a farmer. I only had money sometimes when I hired myself out to work. If I couldn’t give them money they said they’d hit me and kill me. So I had to borrow some money from another villager. If I couldn’t find the money, I had to go as a porter for them." - Villager (M) from Pah Klu village, southern Pa’an district, describing extortion by SPDC troops (Report #98-08)

"If we stay there we have no money to buy food. We had to find one Kyat or two Kyats, then use it to buy food, but whenever they asked for money we had to give it to them. The Burmese demanded money as taxes. We’d earn money for food but then we couldn’t buy any because we had to give it all to them, 2,000 Kyat, 3,000 Kyat, sometimes 4,000 or 5,000 Kyat every month. If we couldn’t pay them they threatened that they would come to burn our houses, drive us out of the village or do many other bad things." - "Naw Lah Say" (F, 25) from Taw Oak village, southern Pa’an district (Report #98-08)

"[You] are informed to send (30) logs, (6) inches in diameter and (8) feet in length, for repairs to the camp, to Kyaung Ywa camp before 25-1-98. If [you] fail to send [them], it will be the gentleman’s [i.e. your] responsibility alone." - Text of written SPDC order to a village in southern Dooplaya, January 1998 (Report #98-09)

The entire system is unsustainable. Those who look only at the cities, and possibly even the SPDC leadership itself, can choose to ignore what is happening in the rural areas if they like, and can try to explain the collapse of the Burmese economy and rocketing rice prices by looking at foreign stock exchanges when the real explanation is in the villages. The SPDC can continue trying to avoid urban uprisings by making the rural people do all of the forced labour, hand over their rice and pay most of the extortion money. But in the end Burma’s economy is based on agriculture, that economy is steadily being destroyed, and the people in the cities are already feeling the effects. For all of the SPDC’s intimidation and control, tensions have been rising in Rangoon and people have mounted demonstrations right in the face of the guns once again. People are becoming more angry and more desperate, and it remains to be seen how much more they are willing to take.

"I worked in my village but I couldn’t get any support. Burma is our country but nobody there treats us fairly when we work. When my children got sick, I had to buy medicine for them in the shop and treat them myself. When I stayed in Po Hsi Mu for the last two months I spent over 10,000 Kyats that way, and I realised I could not stay like that anymore. If I’d stayed there much longer my children would have died there, we all would have died there." - "Naw Ghay Wah" (F, 31), schoolteacher from Pa’an district who was ordered to move and become a teacher in Dooplaya after the SLORC occupation; she and her husband were both schoolteachers but found they couldn’t survive in either Pa’an or Dooplaya districts, so they fled to Thailand (Report #98-09)

"Right now we have to suffer from poverty, but we can survive. But if the problems or the poverty get any worse than they are right now, about all we can do is cut off our own heads and die. We already tried to run to the refugee camp, but then we had to come back here because the DKBA attacked the refugee camp." - "Pati Lah Say" (M, 43), Meh Kreh village, northeastern Pa’an District (Report #98-08)

"I would like to say that if the situation is good in the future I will tell you about the good things, but if the situation is bad I will tell you about the bad things. What I have told you is true and I hope that the situation will be better in the future. Now we villagers have difficult lives because the SPDC persecutes us. I would like to ask the foreign countries to please help us and to do whatever they can as soon as possible." - "Saw Win Than" (M, 50), a village elder from southern Dooplaya district (Report #98-09)