CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE

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CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE

Published date:
Wednesday, September 15, 1999

This report covers human rights abuses villagers in Thaton District face including heavy demands for forced labour, crop quotas and extortion money by SPDC troops.

 

The Suffering of Karen Villagers in Thaton District

 

An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
September 15, 1999 / KHRG #99-07

 

[Some details have been omitted or replaced by ‘xxxx’ for Internet distribution.]

This report looks at the human rights situation for Karen villagers living in Thaton District (known in Karen as Doo Tha Htoo), which includes part of northwestern Karen State and northern Mon State (click here to see the Karen districts map or the  Thaton District map). The western parts of this district, near the coast of the Gulf of Martaban, are under the strong control of Burma’s State Peace & Development Council (SPDC) military junta, and the villagers there face heavy demands for forced labour, crop quotas and extortion money by SPDC troops. The SPDC also has ‘de facto’ control over the eastern parts of the district, but in this area guerrilla units of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) are also active, as well as units of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) allied to the SPDC. The villagers are caught in the middle; not only do they have to hand over money and food to all three groups on a regular basis, but they are severely punished by the SPDC and the DKBA every time the KNLA takes any action. Rather than seek out and fight the KNLA, the SPDC forces in the area try to undermine the KNLA by stripping villagers of all of their belongings, detaining and torturing them on a regular basis, committing random killings and occasionally burning houses. These tactics are supposed to make it impossible for the villagers to support the KNLA, but the KNLA continues to operate. According to media reports and both KNU and SPDC sources, on September 5th the KNLA blew up and temporarily crippled a small gas pipeline near Bilin town in Thaton District, which is likely to lead to even further punishments and repression being inflicted on the villagers.

Of further concern is statements by some villagers that units of the SPDC’s ‘Sa Thon Lon Guerrilla Retaliation’ units may be appearing in Bilin Township. These special execution squads have already been responsible for dozens of systematic and brutal executions in Nyaunglebin and Toungoo Districts to the north, which are their main areas of operation [for more information see below under ‘The Short Pants’ as well as the report "Death Squads and Displacement: Systematic Executions, Destruction of Villages and the Flight of Villagers in Nyaunglebin District" (KHRG #99-04, 24/4/99)].

All of these forms of repression are leading many villagers in Thaton District to flee to other villages, or to spend their lives hiding in the forest whenever SPDC forces are around. A few are fleeing to become refugees in Thailand, but the trip is long and dangerous.

In order to produce this report, Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) researchers and field reporters have interviewed villagers in the SPDC-controlled areas, in the hill villages, in hiding in the forests and those who have fled to Thailand to become refugees. Their testimonies have been augmented by incident reports gathered by KHRG researchers in the region. The interviews were conducted between January and July 1999. Photographs which relate to the situation described in this report can be seen in KHRG Photo Set 99-B (August 18, 1999). Order documents sent to villages by SPDC and DKBA units in the area can be seen in "SPDC Orders to Villages: Set 99-B" (KHRG #99-03, 19/4/99). Excerpts from the latter report are used in the body of this report where noted. These reports and photos are available on this web site.

This report consists of several parts: this preface, an introduction with background, a detailed description of the situation including quotes from interviews, field reports and order documents, and finally the full text of the interviews and some of the field reports which were used in compiling the report.

Notes on the Text

In the text all names of those interviewed have been changed and some details have been omitted where necessary to protect people from retaliation. The captions under quotes used in the situation report include the interviewee’s (changed) name, gender, age and village, and a reference to the interview or field report number. These numbers can be used to find the full text of the interview or field report in the Interviews and Field Reports sections of the report.

The text often refers to villages, village tracts and townships. The SPDC has local administration, called Peace & Development Councils, at the village, village tract, township, and state/division levels. A village tract is a group of 5-25 villages centred on a large village. A township is a much larger area, administered from a central town. The Karen National Union (KNU) divides Thaton (Doo Tha Htoo) District into five townships: Kyaikto, Bilin, Thaton, Pa’an and Paung. The official townships used by the SPDC do not correspond to the Karen townships; in this report we have used the townships as defined by the Karen, though usually referring to them by their more familiar Burmese names. The SPDC does not recognise the existence of Thaton District, but only uses Townships, States and Divisions.

All numeric dates in this report are in dd/mm/yy format. In the interviews villagers often refer to ‘loh ah pay’; literally this is the traditional Burmese form of voluntary labour for the community, but the SPDC uses this name in most cases of forced labour, and to the villagers it has come to mean most forms of forced labour with the exception of long-term portering. SPDC officers often accuse villagers of being ‘nga pway’ (‘ringworm’); this is derogatory SPDC slang for the KNU and KNLA. 

Terms and Abbreviations

SPDC       State Peace & Development Council, military junta ruling Burma
PDC         Peace & Development Council, SPDC local-level administration
               (e.g. Village PDC [VPDC], Village Tract PDC, Township PDC [TPDC])
SLORC     State Law & Order Restoration Council, former name of the SPDC until Nov. 1997
KNU        Karen National Union, main Karen opposition group
KNLA      Karen National Liberation Army, army of the KNU
DKBA      Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, Karen group allied with SLORC/SPDC
IB            Infantry Battalion (SLORC/SPDC), usually about 500 soldiers fighting strength
LIB          Light Infantry Battalion (SLORC/SPDC), usually about 500 soldiers fighting strength
KNLA       Karen National Liberation Army, army of the KNU
Viss         Unit of weight measure; one viss is 1.6 kilograms or 3.5 pounds
Bowl/Pyi  Volume of rice equal to 8 small condensed milk tins; about 2 kilograms / 4.4 pounds
Kyat        Burmese currency; US$1=6 Kyat at official rate, 300+ Kyat at current market rate
loh ah pay Forced labour; literally it means traditional voluntary labour, but not under SPDC
nga pway ‘Ringworm’; derogatory SPDC slang for KNU/KNLA people

 

Table of Contents

[You can read this report sequentially or click on any topic below to go directly to that topic.]

Preface .................................................................................  1
Terms and Abbreviations ...........................................................  2
Table of Contents ..................................................................... 3
Map 1: Karen Districts ..............................................................  4
Map 2: Thaton District ..............................................................  5

I. Introduction ........................................................................ 6

II. Forces in the Area ............................................................... 8
        The SPDC and its Army ........................................................ 8
        The DKBA ....................................................................... 10
        The ‘Short Pants’ .............................................................. 13
        The KNLA ....................................................................... 14

III. Suffering of the Villagers ...................................................... 15
        Village Destruction and Relocation .......................................... 15
        Detention and Torture ........................................................ 16
        Killings .......................................................................... 19
        Forced Labour ................................................................. 21
        Looting, Taxes, Extortion, and Crop Quotas ............................... 25
        Curfews and ‘Letters of Recommendation’ ................................ 29
        Land Confiscation ............................................................. 30
        Schools and Health ............................................................ 30
        Internally Displaced People .................................................. 32
        Flight ........................................................................... 33

IV. Future of the Area ............................................................. 35

Interviews ............................................................................ 37
Field Reports in Addition to Interviews ......................................... 70

 

I. Introduction

Thaton District (known as Doo Tha Htoo in Karen) straddles the border of Karen State and northern Mon State, bounded in the east by the Salween and Yunzalin rivers, in the north by Nyaunglebin (Kler Lweh Htoo) District, in the west by the Gulf of Martaban, and in the south by the estuary of the Salween River at the town of Martaban. It consists of five townships: from north to south, Kyaikto, Bilin, Thaton, Pa’an, and Paung (note that Pa’an town is not in Pa’an township; the town lies on the east of the Salween River in Pa’an District, while Pa’an township is on the west bank of the Salween). Being close to the coastal road and railway lines, the western part of this district near the towns of Kyaikto, Bilin and Thaton is under quite heavy SPDC control. There is also a significant presence of Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) forces allied to the SPDC, particularly in eastern parts of the district. However, in the eastern and northeastern parts of the district, particularly the area of the upper Bilin and Donthami Rivers and the Salween River below Ka Ma Maung, there is extensive Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) activity.

The east and northeast of Thaton District have always been major areas of activity for the KNLA, and up until the early 1990’s they exerted de facto control over some parts of the region. Skirmishes were common between KNLA and SLORC (now known as SPDC) units, and the SLORC attempted to undermine the KNLA by harrassing and forcibly relocating the villagers. Undefended villages regularly suffered retaliatory attacks by SLORC forces; houses were burned, villagers shot on sight and villages forced to move. The largest single forced relocation occurred in 1992-1993, when over 50 villages were issued summary orders to relocate immediately to SLORC-controlled relocation sites, after which their villages were burned and people found there were killed or captured [see "Forced Relocation in Thaton District" (KHRG, 9/1/93), "The SLORC’s New Forced Relocation Campaign: Translations of Some SLORC Orders Received So Far" (KHRG, 8/1/93), and "Report from Thaton District" (KHRG, 10/3/93)]. Many people from these villages fled to KNU-controlled areas or to become refugees in Thailand.

Since that time many people have trickled back in to reform those villages, though others had to continue fleeing as SLORC gained more control over KNU territory; in the end many of them have become long-term refugees in Thailand. In 1991-92 and again in 1994-95, it was through Thaton District that the SLORC launched its major offensives attempting to capture the KNU headquarters at Manerplaw, which lies further east in Pa’an District adjacent to the Thai border. The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) was formed in December 1994 during the 1994-95 SLORC offensive. It immediately joined with SLORC and helped the regime to capture Manerplaw, after which Pa’an District and eastern Thaton District became the DKBA’s primary areas of operation. The DKBA’s headquarters at Myaing Gyi Ngu (a.k.a. Khaw Taw) lies on the eastern bank of the Salween River just above Ka Ma Maung, not far upriver from Pa’an township of Thaton District.

Since 1995 the KNLA has lost the de facto control it had over small parts of eastern Thaton District and has reorganised into small guerrilla units which are still very active in the area. The SLORC, and now the SPDC, have continued the campaign of harassment and retaliations against villagers in an attempt to undermine KNLA activities in the area. SPDC and DKBA units are now based in and around many more villages, and where villages prove hard to control they are forcibly relocated. In 1997 several Karen villages near the Bilin and Donthami rivers were forced to relocate to larger villages, though there has not yet been any repetition of the large-scale forced relocations which occurred in 1992-93. Many of those forcibly relocated in 1997 found it impossible to survive after being moved and have taken the risk of gradually trickling back without permission to reform their villages since then.

Throughout the district, SPDC troops intimidate the villagers by regularly detaining, torturing and occasionally executing village elders and ordinary villagers for any failure to comply with SPDC demands or for any suspected contact with the KNLA. They also use the constant threat of burning or relocating villages to keep the villagers in line, and they sometimes carry out that threat. At the same time they subject the villagers to constant demands for frontline porters, forced labour at Army camps, crop quotas, cash, food, livestock and building materials. In the eastern parts of the district, the SPDC is now using DKBA forces to do much of their fighting and suppression of the villagers for them, and villagers report that the tactics of the DKBA have become indistinguishable from those of the SPDC. Many people in the area now resort to living in hiding in the forest whenever SPDC or DKBA troops are around, only returning to their villages occasionally. Some have become permanently displaced in the forest, but only a few have managed to make the long and precarious flight to reach the Thai border as refugees.

In the meantime, the KNLA continues small-scale guerrilla operations against SPDC and DKBA forces, and it appears they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

 

II. Forces in the Area

The SPDC and its Army

"If the KNLA shoot at them, they torture the villagers. It seems very strange to me. When the KNLA shoot at them, they come to torture the villagers by beating them, forcing them to drink water [pouring gallons of water down their throats], and taking things from them. So we villagers told the KNLA soldiers that if the Burmese are near our village please don’t shoot at them. After that, when the KNLA shot at them near H--- village, they told the villagers that if the KNLA shot at them like that again they would throw 3 villagers into the river. When we heard about this we were very frightened." – "Naw Muh" (F, 46), xxxx village, Bilin Township, (Interview #10, 1/99)

As in other areas, the SPDC rules the area through Army battalions under the Regional Command, which work closely intertwined with the regional and local ‘Peace & Development Councils’; it is the Army battalions, however, which are really in command. Several battalions operate in the district, including Light Infantry Battalions #4, 8, 9, 308, 355, and 356, and Infantry Battalions #36, 96, 98, 108, and 231; several of these battalions are reportedly under the command of Light Infantry Division #44 in Kawkareik. Several new camps and posts have been added in villages throughout the district within the last 3-4 years; some of these are very small, only having 20 or 30 troops, while others are bases for Company-sized (100 or more) troops which patrol the local area. Troops at SPDC camps throughout the district are rotated in and out of the area regularly every 4-6 months, so villagers often have difficulty keeping track of which unit is in their area. The situation for the villagers can change radically with the rotation of the local soldiers, because some officers are ruthless and demanding while others are more lenient.

"[T]hey ask questions and they touch us with their guns. They force us to search for the KNU. They’ve come to a KNU place and there are KNU around, but they torture us instead. We always have to flee. When they came to our village they shot dead one of my cows and stole another. They always come and steal the villagers’ animals. They come and demand rice from the villagers, and the villagers have to give it to them." – "Saw Po Si" (M, 50+), xxxx village, Bilin Township (Interview #13, 2/99)

The battalions are supported by the local and regional ‘Peace & Development Councils’ (PDC’s), which exist at the State, District, Township, Village Tract and Village levels. Down to the Township and sometimes the Village Tract levels, these are made up of SPDC officials who follow orders from above and work closely with the local military. The local battalions and PDC’s usually issue demands for forced labour, cash, food and materials by sending written orders to the Village PDC Chairperson, who is then responsible for gathering people for forced labour or collecting money, food or materials from the villagers to meet the specified demand. Alternatively, SPDC troops simply arrive in the village, go to the Village PDC Chairperson and issue their orders to him or her. Usually the Chairperson divides the demands evenly between the households of the village, demanding a certain amount of money per house or having the households of the village rotate turns in sending forced labourers.

At the village level, the Village PDC is a group of villagers either appointed by the local battalions or chosen by the villagers and approved by the battalions. In many parts of Burma people vie to become Village PDC members because they can get relatively rich off the villagers; when SPDC Battalions and authorities make demands, they add a percentage when they pass these demands on to the villagers and then skim this percentage off the top for themselves. However, in Thaton District, particularly in the east and northeast of the district, no one wants to be Village PDC Chairperson. The villagers are poor and often cannot meet the heavy demands for forced labour, food, materials and cash, and when the demands cannot be met the Village PDC Chairperson is the first to be arrested and tortured. The Chairperson often has to try to pay off the Battalions out of his or her own savings or belongings in order to avoid arrest. This is especially true now that the number of battalions making demands in the area has increased at the same time that up to half of the population of many villages has fled the area. Moreover, whenever there is KNLA activity in the area the Chairperson is the first to be blamed. In order to fill the position of Village PDC Chairperson many villages have adopted a rotation system, appointing a new Chairperson every month or every few months. Many villages consistently choose women for this role, particularly elderly women, because women are less likely to be accused of being KNU members and tortured.

"If you are village headman for the Burmese [i.e. the SPDC-appointed Village PDC Chairman], you have to follow and obey them. When you don’t, they accuse you of helping Karen soldiers, and then if one or two [KNLA] people go and shoot at them they make problems for the village. They say that we didn’t inform them that KNLA people were staying in our village. They come and stay in our village many days and shoot and eat our chickens and pigs, then when they leave the village they shoot and kill all the livestock they see along their way." - "Saw Po Thu" (M, 36), xxxx village, Thaton township (Interview #6, 5/99)

"Each month a new village head is elected. We have to do it that way, we don’t have someone who always remains as village head. The village head has to change monthly because people don’t want to be village head, and the Burmese don’t want that [a permanent village head] either. Nobody dares to be a village head for 2 or 3 months."- "Naw Hser" (F, 51), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #2, 7/99)

In the areas of the district where the KNLA operates, the SPDC battalions force the villagers to report regularly on KNLA movements. The villagers usually lie or tell only part of the truth, but they must be careful because the battalions also use other more reliable informers, most of whom are Burmans, Mon and Karens from the plains to the west who come to the area to do logging. However, even when they hear of KNLA movements the SPDC commanders often use the information to avoid the KNLA rather than to fight them, because most commanders would rather focus their energies on making money while in the field and they do not want to take personal risks by fighting the KNLA. There are regular skirmishes when SPDC patrols on their way to and from the villages stumble on or are ambushed by KNLA units, but for the most part the SPDC battalions prefer to undermine the KNLA by threatening, harassing and attacking undefended civilian villages rather than seeking out and engaging the enemy.

"The ‘patrol’ women have to report to the camp commander about whether or not any Kaw Thoo Lei have come to the village each day. … Sometimes they tell him that the KNLA have come and headed someplace and that there are 200 or 300 of them, when really there were only 0 to 80 of them. Sometimes people tell them but they don’t give chase, they just say to the women ‘Let them go, let them go’. Most of the time he says, ‘It’s enough to inform us about it, as long as we know it’s no problem’." - "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxx village, Bilin township (Interview #1, 7/99)

"[T]he Burmese soldiers were shooting at each other [by mistake]. Then the next morning they punished the xxxx villagers for it. They demanded 100 viss [160 kg / 352 lb] of pork. The villagers couldn’t give them that much, so we collected 300 Kyat from each household and gave it to the Burmese instead of the pork. The whole village of xxxx had to give money to them. … He [the Company Commander] called him [the village headman], slapped his face and kicked him. Then he forced him to lie down and stood on his back with big jungle boots. [Second woman]: They said if we didn’t give it, they would kill the village headman the next morning. Then the villagers had to collect the money and give it to them, and they released the headman." – "Naw Wah Paw" (F, 30), xxxx village, Bilin Township (Interview #15, 1/99)

"They just want the villagers to suffer. They think that if they treat us like that then we won’t be able to do anything against them." – "Saw Ghay" (M, 36), xxxx village, Bilin Township (Interview #12, 1/99)


The DKBA

"The Burmese [troops around her village] are now staying quietly. They don’t disturb us, because they have put their work in the hands of the DKBA. The Burmese are staying in their own place, and the DKBA have been given authority by the Burmese so they can do whatever they want to do. The villagers can’t dare say anything. In the past the Burmese also had a camp in the village, but none of the villagers were fleeing. But since the DKBA started the villagers have had to flee to escape. They force us to do a lot. We had to give them leaves and shaved bamboo ties, because they had families but they had no leaves or things to build houses. We had to go and build their houses for them in the village." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)

Thaton District is one of the main areas of operation of the DKBA, particularly the eastern part of the district near the Salween River. The main DKBA commander near the Salween is Captain Bo Than Htun of the DKBA’s #333 Brigade. Their numbers are small, but they appear to be spread in groups of 10 to 20 throughout the region. They have some small camps, but in some villages they have confiscated land in and around the village and forced the villagers to build houses for them and their families. One woman from a village on the west bank of the Salween River told KHRG that the DKBA had taken farmfields, including part of her family’s own, from several villagers and divided them up among DKBA families, and that there are now 20 DKBA families living scattered among the 100 families of her village.

"There is not a camp, they stay in their houses with their wives and children. They’re staying in the eastern part of the village, in the western part, and also in the centre. They don’t all stay together; each house is in a different part. There are about 20 families of them. … [T]hey give the villagers’ land to their wives and children so they can stay there. They don’t ask the villagers. They’ve occupied people’s land by force, then they give it to their soldiers and their families. They are giving out much of our land [to their soldiers]. Soon they will give away the land around our house. When they built the motor road, it crossed my father’s field. It’s a long narrow field along the river. Now my father can’t plant there anymore because they [the DKBA] have shared out that land for their houses. There is an Indian in the village whose field they have divided up and shared out to DKBA families. He didn’t even get a piece of his field. He wanted his family to stay there, but the DKBA wouldn’t allow him to stay." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township, describing land confiscation by the DKBA (Interview #7, 7/99)

Most of the DKBA soldiers are not former KNLA members, because most of the KNLA soldiers who originally formed the DKBA have already deserted back to civilian life or defected back to the KNLA. Most of the DKBA soldiers are former villagers, some of whom were previously loosely connected to Karen National Defence Organisation (KNDO, a wing of the KNU) village militias, who have joined during the 4½ years since the DKBA was founded. The DKBA forces do not usually get along well with the SPDC Battalions, but in this area they often work together and the DKBA soldiers still receive all of their rations, ammunition and supplies from the SPDC Army. Villagers in Pa’an township have described to KHRG how they have been used as porters when DKBA units along the Salween River go to Ohn Daw, an SPDC Army camp above Ka Ma Maung, each month to receive their monthly rations such as rice, salt and cooking oil.

"[T]here is one DKBA who married one of our neighbours. He trades cattle and buffaloes and his animals came and ate our vegetables, so my brother told him about it. He became very angry and he said my brother is stupid, that ‘he is exaggerating and is being disrespectful to me’. Then he called my brother over and tried to slam his head on a rock. My mother stopped him and told him, ‘Nephew, don’t do that, we are Karen people, we should not be unfriendly, we should love each other’. And he said, ‘Hey, we need to love each other? We should stay unfriendly. I don’t know what love is.’ Then he grabbed the ladder from my mother’s house and threw it away." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an twp. (Interview #7, 7/99)

 

 

"They came to the village and summoned me. They were DKBA soldiers. Their commander was Bo Than Htun, and he had over 10 soldiers and a 2ndLieutenant. They summoned me at 9 p.m. and accused me of helping the KNU and collecting taxes for them. I told them I don’t collect taxes or do anything for them. Then they covered and tied my head until I couldn’t breathe, and they started interrogating me. I shouted, I told them ‘If you do this to me I will die! If you have questions then ask me, I will explain clearly to you!’" - "Pu Hla Maung" (M, 50), xxxx village, Thaton township (Interview #5, 4/99)

"On the 25th of April 1999. They came to arrest me at night, at 10 p.m. … P--- and M--- [DKBA commanders] came with about 20 DKBA soldiers. They are #333 [Brigade]. … They covered and tied my head. Then they interrogated me and accused me of contacting the Kaw Thoo Lei, feeding them and collecting taxes for them. I said I didn’t know anything, but they said I must know because people had already told them about it. So I told them that Shar Gu [a KNLA commander] had come, and that after the people gave them some rice they left the village. I told them the truth. They nearly killed me. They tied my sarong around my head until I couldn’t breathe or speak, and they didn’t beat me but they stood on my chest on one foot. Then they poked me with a gun." - "Saw Hsay Hsay" (M, 26), xxxx village, Thaton township (Interview #8, 5/99)

"Sometimes they scold us. Sometimes they say, ‘You are staying in this village. If you don’t like us to force you, then leave the village.’ The villagers are angry with them because the DKBA have power and do not respect the villagers. I know many of them [DKBA]: Maung Shwe Aye, Klu Gyi, and another who’s now dead, Maung Ghaw. Their commander is Bo Than Htun. They patrol in groups of just 10 or 20 people. … They demand things but more than that, they also steal. Even if you know about it you can’t dare say anything. When they come to our houses to steal we can hear the steps of their boots, but if we come down out of the house they run away. … If we grow fruit or vegetables we don’t get to eat them, they come and pick them before we can and take them as their own. If you complain to them they say, ‘Who are you to dare speak to us?’ These words are painful to our ears and make our hearts beat faster."- "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township, describing DKBA activities around her village (Interview #7, 7/99)

According to villagers along the western side of the Salween River south of Ka Ma Maung, this year the SPDC Battalions have spent most of their time around their camp at Ka Ma Maung and have largely left control of this part of Pa’an township to the local DKBA. Villagers in the area say they seldom see the SPDC troops these days and that it is the DKBA who are always patrolling the area, arresting, torturing and killing villagers suspected of contact with the KNU, and demanding their forced labour, money and other contributions. They say that the only thing the SPDC appears to be doing in the area is building a road up the west side of the Salween from Myaing Galay (see below under ‘Forced Labour’).

"They said, ‘No one can say this is their land, this is DKBA land.’ Another of them is Maw Nga. He is very bad. When we were milling our sugar cane he did not come to ask us for some. If he said ‘Uncle, Aunt, Sister’ and asked for some we would be happy to give it, because we are all humans, all the same. But they are not the same as us. He came and broke our sugar cane and then took it back to his commander and soldiers. Then they ate it together. They didn’t ask the owner, instead they destroyed the fence around the sugar cane plantation, then they broke off the sugar cane and when they couldn’t carry any more, they fired off their guns. These are Karen people!" - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)

There are no reports at the moment of the DKBA restricting freedom of religion in the area, nor is it their usual policy to do so. Most incidents of religious repression by the DKBA in the past have been the initiatives of local DKBA officers, not a systematic policy. Most of the Karen villagers in Thaton District are Buddhist, with Animist and Christian minorities. For the most part, they do not like the DKBA because they see the DKBA soldiers doing all the same things as the SPDC soldiers, even executing innocent villagers. Some villagers interviewed told KHRG that seeing the DKBA act this way makes them especially angry and sad, because these are Karen abusing and killing Karen.

"I think about how in the time of the Burmese, they forced our father to do ‘loh ah pay’ and our brother to go as a porter, and sometimes they came back and they didn’t even look human. They were dirty and ragged, and sometimes my father said, ‘The Burmese are no good, they didn’t even feed us rice’. I looked at our father and I was sad, and it hurt my heart. As for the DKBA, they demand everything with anger. If we do good things they still refuse to see any good in us. They are always looking for fault, they are always aggressive. If anyone talks back to them they say we are their enemies. They demand things, and if we don’t do it then they accuse us of being their enemies." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxxvillage, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)


The ‘Short Pants’

"The DKBA also come, and the Short Pants group comes as well. The Short Pants group is very strong. They come to our village from the direction of K--- and M---. My cousin was returning from town when she met them. They told her, ‘You are a very beautiful woman’. She said ‘I am beautiful because I am Karen’. Then they tried to grab her, and my cousin ran away. They followed her to her house, and then they said to her, ‘You should join the Kaw Thoo Lei’ [said sarcastically as a threat to accuse her]. Then they called her parents down, slapped her mother’s face once and punched her father’s face once." - "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxx village, Bilin township (Interview #1, 7/99)

One of the villagers interviewed for this report in Bilin township mentioned the arrival of the ‘Short Pants’ group in the area of his village. This is the first report that KHRG has obtained of this group operating in Thaton District, and it has not yet been confirmed. However, if the villager was correct this is a very serious development. The ‘Short Pants’ [‘Baw Bi Doh’] is a name given by villagers to a special SPDC unit which began operating to the north in Nyaunglebin District in September 1998. Known more formally as the Sa Thon Lon Dam Byan Byaut Kya (Bureau of Special Investigations Guerrilla Retaliation) units, these are the SPDC’s new execution squads. Reportedly under the direction of SPDC Secretary-1 Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt and reporting to him through Military Intelligence #3 in Toungoo, they number about 200 men, handpicked from operational battalions in Nyaunglebin District and given special training. Operating in squads of 5 to 10 soldiers, they move between the villages of Nyaunglebin District executing everyone on their ‘list’, which includes anyone who is suspected of ever having had any contact whatsoever with the KNU/KNLA. They operate covertly but speak openly to villagers of their purpose, and their methods are deliberately brutal in order to intimidate the villagers; they usually cut the throats of their victims, then often behead them. They have executed anywhere from 30 to over 100 villagers in Nyaunglebin District since their inception. The clear intention is to deliver the message to villagers that if they have even the slightest contact with the KNU or KNLA they will die for it, if not now then 10 or 20 years from now. [For more information on this group see "Death Squads and Displacement: Systematic Executions, Destruction of Villages and the Flight of Villagers in Nyaunglebin District" (KHRG #99-04, 24/4/99).]

The SPDC Guerrilla Retaliation squads have already expanded their area of operations from Nyaunglebin District up into southern Toungoo District, and for several months there have been rumours and unconfirmed reports that one or more small groups of them had been brought into Pa’an District. According to these unconfirmed reports, they had arrived in Pa’an District but had not yet begun operations. This is the first report of them appearing in Thaton District, and the villager interviewed made no mention of any executions. However, his description of how they tried to grab his cousin and then chased her home and beat her parents is completely consistent with dozens of accounts of their behaviour in Nyaunglebin District, where they have regularly committed rape, sexual harassment and abuse of women, and in some cases have forced women to marry them by threatening their families and villages.

The KNLA

"We don’t have any trouble from them [KNLA], but once a year they come and ask for taxes for the year. It is Karen country, so the villagers give the tax. But if the DKBA knew about that, they would make trouble for the villagers." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)

The KNLA is still very active in Thaton District, particularly in the eastern and northeastern parts of the district: the Salween River below Ka Ma Maung as well as the Yunzalin, Donthami and Bilin River watersheds. They operate in small guerrilla columns, laying low much of the time but springing ambushes on SPDC and DKBA troops on the move as well as military vehicles on the roads and boats carrying soldiers or military supplies on the rivers. Many of the skirmishes are not planned, and occur when KNLA and SPDC or DKBA units stumble on each other along pathways or in villages.

Whenever fighting of any kind occurs, SPDC and/or DKBA forces inflict punishment on the nearby villages. This usually includes heading for a village and grabbing the first villagers they see, interrogating them under torture and sometimes executing them. If the village elders are suspected of not having reported KNLA movements in the area they are also detained and tortured. On some occasions the nearby villages are partly burned or ordered to relocate. In response to all of these punishments, the elders of many villages have requested the KNLA not to attack the SPDC or DKBA near their villages. In some cases the KNLA respects these requests, but in other cases it does not.

The KNLA also demands tax money and food from all villages. The tax is usually collected on a yearly basis, and food much more often than that. There are very few reports of the KNLA physically abusing villagers to make them pay, because the KNLA prefers to keep the villagers on its side. Many of the KNLA soldiers and officers are from the local villages themselves, and the vast majority of villagers are sympathetic to the KNU/KNLA. However, the taxes and demands put the villagers in a difficult position, both because they are barely surviving themselves and have little or nothing to give, and because they face heavy punishments such as torture or execution whenever the SPDC and DKBA forces find out they have given food or money to the KNLA. Sometimes one or two KNLA soldiers are in a village to get food or visit relatives when SPDC or DKBA units arrive, and if they are sighted the entire village is punished. In September 1998, an SPDC Column saw one KNLA soldier run out of Kyu Kee village, and the commander immediately ordered his soldiers to loot and burn all the houses of the village.

"The Karen soldiers had asked her to collect food in our village. They asked for ‘ah gyay’ [‘help fees’]. She told the headman, and he said he didn’t dare do it at that time, that she’d have to wait for a while. Then she went and showed the [KNLA] letter to the DKBA, and the DKBA told her, ‘You are looking to become our enemy. You can go and stay on the outside if you like, but we don’t want to hear of any collection and taxes like this in the village.’ … She said to them, ‘Before you were living outside [when they were with the KNLA] and we had to feed you like this. Now you are staying here so you need to be understanding about this, because when you yourselves were outside you received our food and ate it too.’ But after she said that to them, they tied her up. They took her to the other side of the Khoh Loh Kloh [Salween River], and they shot her dead. She died for nothing. That was three years ago. Her name was Naw Khu. She was from Noh Aw La village. She was a village head." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)

 

III. Suffering of the Villagers

Village Destruction and Relocation

"They forced the other villages to our village. Lay Kaw Tee village and Tee Pa Doh Kee village. They brought their belongings and their houses. The Burmese drove them from their villages, that’s why they came to our village. They gave them 5 days to move. I don’t know why. They didn’t stay long. Now they have gone back to their villages." – "Naw Hser" (F, 51), xxxx village, Pa’an Township (Interview #2, 7/99)

In most areas where the SPDC is having difficulty bringing villagers under control, they use the forced relocation and destruction of villages as their main weapon. However, in Thaton District the Army has seldom resorted to these since it last relocated groups of villages along the Bilin and Donthami Rivers in 1997. It appears that the military in the area feels that it has enough control to be able to clamp down on villagers without having to destroy their villages. Most of the villages which have been forced to relocate over the past several years have now re-established themselves, at least in part. However, the threat of village destruction and relocation is always held over the head of the villagers, and if KNLA activity in the area continues at its present level it is likely that further forced relocations will occur in the future. It is also likely that the burning of houses will continue to be used as a punishment for KNLA activity near any village. SPDC and DKBA units are always making this threat.

"On September 11th 1998, SPDC soldiers from Column 1 of Frontline #98 Infantry Battalion based at Meh Prih Kee camp entered Kyu Kee village in Bilin Township. They saw one KNLA soldier running away from the foot of the church, so they summoned the lay pastor and village teacher and asked her who it was who had fled from the base of the church. She told them it was a KNLA soldier. Then they accused her of working with the KNU. SPDC Commander Aung Kyaw Htun then gave the order to his soldiers to call everyone in the village down out of their houses. The soldiers then looted everything from the houses, including clothing, blankets and utensils, and then burned down the church and all the houses in the village. They also shot dead all the pigs, chickens and other livestock which they saw in the village, and then returned to their camp. The villagers were left with nothing but the clothes on their bodies, not even any cookpots, and no way of knowing how they would survive in the future. Some of them have gone to stay in other villages, and others have fled to live in the jungle." – Field report from KHRG Field Reporter (Field Report #FR7)


Detention and Torture

"They tied me up and hurt me. They beat me with a stick and punched me. My teeth still hurt now because of their punches. The Commander in charge of the troops, the Battalion Commander, was drinking alcohol while he was beating me. … I can’t count all the times that they punched me. They beat me with a stick. They tied me up and beat me on my head and my legs. They said I am Nga Pway [‘ringworm’, derogatory SPDC slang for KNU/KNLA]. I said I am not Nga Pway. They tied my legs, hands and neck. At night they tied my hands behind my back, beat and punched me, and then held me down in the river until I lost consciousness. When I regained consciousness, all the water came out of my nose. They asked me, ‘Do you have a gun?’ I said I didn’t have a gun, I am a villager and I have nothing, and I always went as a porter when asked." – "Saw K’Ler" (M, 38), xxxxvillage, Bilin Township, describing his detention for 10 days by SPDC troops (Interview #14, 1/99)

Currently the main method being used by SPDC and DKBA units in the district to intimidate villagers and prevent them from helping the KNLA is the arbitrary detention and torture of people in the villages. Usually this occurs when SPDC or DKBA troops have encountered the KNLA or when they have heard that the KNLA has passed through a village or received aid from villagers. It can also occur when a village fails to comply with an order such as a demand for forced labourers, cash, food or materials. Usually the first people to be detained are the Village PDC Chairperson and other village elders. Sometimes SPDC or DKBA troops on the move grab and detain a farmer for no apparent reason, simply because he is out in the fields or forest away from the village and they think he looks like he could be a KNLA soldier, or because they want some information.

"They entered the village at 9 p.m. There were about 70 soldiers, and they arrested me while I was pounding paddy. They asked me, ‘Have any Karen soldiers come to the village?’ I said, ‘Sometimes they enter the village.’ Then he asked me, ‘When Karen soldiers come do they eat and drink, and whose field do they stay in?’ I couldn’t answer him so he beat me. The one who beat me was a commander with 3 stars [Captain]. He beat me with a wooden stick as thick as my wrist, and over an armspan long. He hit me 3 times on the head, and the skin on my scalp was broken so he stopped hitting me there. Then he started beating my shins about 20 or 30 times. After that they tied me up with my hands behind my back and sutured my head. They sutured my head 3 times. After that I couldn’t walk for 10 days." - "Saw Thay Htoo" (M, 35), xxxx village, Thaton township, describing his beating by SPDC troops in March 1999 (Interview #4, 4/99)

In the event of battles, as soon as the shooting is over the first act of the SPDC or DKBA column is usually to head for the nearest village to inflict retaliatory punishment on the villagers. On their way, they often grab the first farmers they see and accuse them of being Karen soldiers. On arrival at the village, they sometimes begin firing off their guns or looting houses before seeking to detain the village leaders and others.

"They took things by force from the villagers and shot and killed our poultry. They shot and killed M---’s pig but they didn’t give him any money for it. … [T]hey called for me and came to arrest me at 3 a.m. There were 30 soldiers with one commander. They arrested 5 of us. They didn’t do anything to me, but they did to my friend Maung T---. They tied him up, beat and punched him, then they hung him upside down and beat him with a bamboo stick." – "Saw Htoo Kyaw" (M, 33), xxxx village, Bilin Township (Interview #16, 1/99)

If a village fails to comply with an order the order is usually repeated or sent again several times, each time in more threatening language. After a few times, the officers either summon the village chairperson to the camp or take an armed column to the village. The village is usually looted and the Chairperson and others are detained.

Those who are detained are immediately accused of being Karen soldiers, and the captors often also demand that he or she hand over guns, bullets, radios or other military hardware, even when it is obvious that the person is not a soldier and has no such equipment. Sometimes the beating begins before any questions are even asked and before the villager even knows why they are being detained. As the torture continues the methods tend to become more brutal; villagers interviewed for this report described being hung upside down, punched, slapped, kicked, hit on the head and body with rifle barrels and rifle butts, and beaten on various parts of the body with bamboo rods or wooden sticks. One area of the body which is frequently beaten is the shins, which is extremely painful; after a heavy beating on the shins, villagers have said that they could not walk for several days. Some villagers were forced to lay down on their backs or their stomachs while soldiers stood on them in Army boots, had their heads held underwater, or had their heads wrapped so tightly in their sarongs that they couldn’t breathe. Another method reported by the villagers involves being forced to lay on their backs and having their nose held shut while litres of water are poured into their mouths; in gasping for air, the person cannot stop gulping the water. If this torture is continued the belly becomes distended and the stomach can burst, killing the victim, though none of the victims interviewed were forced to gulp that much. Detainees are frequently touched, poked or slapped with bayonet blades. One villager interviewed described how SPDC troops poked him with a bayonet, slapped his face with the flat of a bayonet blade, and then put a bayonet in his mouth and shook it around [see Interview #11]. After being beaten or tortured, detainees are often tied to a post with their hands behind their backs in a sitting or standing position and left like that overnight or for periods of up to 12 hours.

"After they arrested me they took me to the village and interrogated me. They told me, ‘Your brain is hard [you are stubborn, you won’t speak] so I must give you some water to drink’. Then they grabbed me and forced me to lay down, and made me drink water. I couldn’t drink it. They asked me, ‘Do you have a gun?’ Then they held my nose closed and poured water into my mouth. I couldn’t suffer it so I told them I would talk. I said I have no gun, I am a villager and have no gun. Then he closed my nose and did it again. He did it 6 or 7 times, until I was about to die. Then he said my answers were strange. He tied me to the post of the monastery, and he told me I’d better think about it and that I’d have to drink more water. One of the commanders came to interrogate me and slapped my face. They punched me one time, and when they brought me back to the monastery they slapped me. After interrogating us, they took me to the hall, and they tied my hands to a post behind my back. I couldn’t lay down and sleep, I had to stay like that all night until morning. In the morning, villagers brought rice for us. Some of the others could eat, but not me because of the way I was tied. M--- [another villager] fed rice to me with a spoon. I had to eat like that." – "Saw Ghay" (M, 36), xxxx village, Bilin Township (Interview #12, 1/99)

"The first time they captured me in my hill field. They boxed me in the face. I only remember four punches, and then I fell unconscious. When I woke up I felt my face in pain. I also noticed that they must have kicked me many times with jungle boots on both sides of my body, because when I woke up my sides were aching and I couldn’t breathe easily. Then a Burmese came up to me, I think he was a corporal because he had a pistol. He shouted at the soldiers who were torturing me to stop. By the time he came, they had already tied me up. I’d already been hit on my head, my chest and my back, and my face and body were red with the blood flowing from my head. The one who came with the pistol told the soldiers who were torturing me, ‘You should ask if he’s a good person or a bad person first.’" - "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxx village, Bilin township (Interview #1, 7/99)

"They come to the village very often. They came when they arrested and beat me, just 4 days ago. … When I came down out of the house, they beat and punched me. I don’t know how many times they hit me, 7, 8, over 10 times, and they hit me 3 times with a gun. Then they took me to the monastery. When we arrived at the monastery, they poked me with a bayonet, they beat me in the face with a bayonet and they put the bayonet in my mouth and shook it around. Then they tied my hands behind my back and I had to sleep like a dog or a pig. … They released me after 2 days. I had to give 3 baskets of rice and one pig." – "Saw Plaw" (M, 23), xxxx village, Bilin Township (Interview #11, 2/99)

 

"[T]hey beat one of the village women. … They hit her 30 or 40 times on her head. I saw them beat her. They beat her savagely. They beat her with the same size of stick that they used to beat me. They hit her with the end of the stick." - "Saw Thay Htoo" (M, 35), xxxx village, Thaton township, who witnessed SPDC troops beat a woman because they said they’d seen her dog near a group of KNLA soldiers and therefore she must be KNLA herself (Interview #4, 4/99)

"Then he accused me of contacting Kaw Thoo Lei. He hit my head with a gun barrel and my scalp was cut open. Look at the top of my head here and you will see the scar where he cut my head open. He hit it with a gun barrel. Then they hit me twice in the chest with a gun butt. He hit the back of my neck with the gun barrel and shouted, "Speak the truth!!" Then they pushed fire against my belly here, and it burned and the wound was there for a long time. … Then he released us, but he came to capture us again the next evening. I had already fled, the same evening that he released us. … After we ran, when we were staying at xxxx, I was informed that the Burmese had killed my elder brother and my younger brother. They captured the two of them and killed them. They killed my two brothers because of me."- "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxx village, Bilin township (Interview #1, 7/99)

Killings

"We’d been carrying for 3 days when they beat the first porter to death. They beat him to death at Dta Oo Nee village, on the streambank in front of peoples’ houses. The village women saw but they made no sound. The next day at 2 p.m. a battle occurred, and that evening they beat the other man to death at the edge of Ler Ga Dter village, because he couldn’t carry things anymore. The first man they killed was Doh Koh and the other was Mya Gyi. Doh Koh was about 40 years old and had a wife and 4 children. … I think Mya Gyi was my age. He also had a wife and 2 children." - "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxx village, Bilin township (Interview #1, 7/99)

Despite the fact that most villagers who are detained and tortured are not killed, there are still cases in Thaton District where innocent villagers have been killed on suspicion of having contact with the KNLA, and such cases will almost certainly continue to occur. Some torture victims have died after detention from the lasting effects of the torture or from disease brought on by weakness and the other effects of torture. Many villagers have also died during forced labour or from the after-effects of forced labour, particularly portering. Several villagers interviewed for this report saw other porters beaten or shot to death by SPDC troops, or left behind in remote areas when they were too sick to carry any further. This is a regular occurrence, particularly on long portering trips of 10 days or more in duration. One woman described to KHRG how her husband complained of chest pains on returning from forced labour as a porter, and soon after he died. He was over 50 years old.

"All the Burmese who are patrolling force the villagers to go – sometimes they go far, sometimes only nearby. The women also have to go. The oldest whom they force to go are age 40 or more, and the youngest are 14 or 15 years old – as long as you can carry 1 bowl of rice. I heard from my husband that if porters who were carrying heavy things fell down, the Burmese beat them with a stick, or kicked them with boots. … My husband was old, so he was tired after going as a porter and one time he became sick and died. After he came back [from portering] he told me his chest was in pain. He was in pain for many days until he couldn’t tolerate his suffering any more, and then he was dead. He was over 50 years old. He died this dry season. He died in January."- "Naw Hser" (F, 51), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #2, 7/99)

Troops on patrol are always ready to fire, and villagers sighted in their fields are always at risk. When villagers see SPDC troops approaching their fields their first instinct is often to run because they fear being interrogated and beaten or taken as a porter. However, when the troops see someone running they often open fire. Even if the person escapes, if his or her friends or family are left behind they are then interrogated about why the person ran. If there has been a skirmish with KNLA troops, SPDC soldiers often take shots at the next people they see in the fields, or enter a village and begin shooting in the air, and this also poses a constant danger for villagers.

The worst case of random killing this year in Thaton District occurred on March 7th in xxxx village of Thaton township. That day most people attended the cremation of an elderly woman at her daughter’s house. After dark, just after 9 p.m., the ceremonies were over but several women and children were still outside under the house while "Naw Paw Ler", the daughter of the woman who had died, was in the house putting her children to sleep. Suddenly about 30 troops from Light Infantry Battalion #xx entered the village and without warning started shooting at the people under the house. "Naw Paw Ler"’s younger sister, who was pregnant, fell with a bullet through her shoulder, and the troops then opened fire into the house itself. "Naw Paw Ler"’s small daughter, already asleep, was shot in the head and died, and she and her other child were hit and wounded. The shooting continued, and when it stopped 6 villagers were dead and 9 were wounded, some seriously. The six dead were Ma San Kaing (female, age 24), Naw P’Saw (female, age 17), Naw Du Paw (female, age 15), Ma Aye Aye (female, age 18), "Naw Ler Paw"’s daughter Ma Aye (female, age 5), and "Naw Ler Paw"’s brother Pa Kaw Naw (male, age 25). The nine wounded included six women aged 17 to 55, two boys aged 12 and 18, and a man aged 27. All were ordinary villagers. After stopping their fire, the troops turned and left the village. They never said anything to the villagers or gave any explanation. The following day when the wounded made their way to a town hospital, they found some of the SPDC soldiers already there, so there may have been a skirmish with the KNLA nearby and the shooting in the village may have been a punishment. The villagers could not give any reason for the shooting. The wounded spent 2 weeks in the hospital, where they had to pay for everything, and during that time the SPDC commander who had ordered the shooting came several times to shout at them, telling them that people in their village are stubborn, that their village is a ‘ringworm’ (KNLA) village, and that if all the villagers should die, "Good for them".

"My mother had died and we had just cremated her. Then in the evening they entered the village and they didn’t say anything, they just started to shoot their guns. They came and fired their guns near my house. They didn’t ask for food or alcohol, they asked nothing. … Many villagers were wounded. Eight villagers were wounded, and six villagers died. The Burmese shot and hit my younger sister first. She is 17 years old, and at the time she was under the house. Her name is A---, she was pregnant. Later when we were taking her and reached M---pagoda, she delivered her baby. The bullet hit her shoulder and came out through the other side. After she fell down, the Burmese fired into the house, TA! TA! TA! TA!! When they fired, one of my daughters was hit in her head and she died in our house. She was sleeping in the house, and the bullet went through her head. I stayed near her and kept her younger siblings near her. As for me, one shot hit my shoulder and another grazed my head. Most of those who got wounded under my house were children, because they were playing under the house and the Burmese fired there a lot. … Some of those who were wounded were B---’s daughter Naw P---, Pa K--- [a man], and S--- [a woman]. Pa K--- was hit in the leg. He is 23 years old. In my family we are 3 siblings [she has one brother and one sister], and all three of us were hit. My brother was killed. M--- [a woman], M--- [a woman], Naw T--- [a woman], and K--- [a man] were also wounded. M--- is 13 years old, and Naw T--- is 42. M--- is 16 years old, and K--- is 25. A--- [her younger sister mentioned above] is 17. Also my younger sister T---, she was 23 at the time, now she is 24." - "Naw Ler Paw" (F, 28), xxxx village, Thaton township, describing the massacre when SPDC troops from Light Infantry Battalion #xx entered her village and opened fire on March 7th 1999 (Interview #3, 5/99)

"When the Burmese saw us in the hospital, they said, ‘The villagers from xxxx village are stubborn. It’s a Nga Pway [‘ringworm’, i.e. KNU/KNLA] village. If they die, good for them.’ I was not happy to hear him talk like that, so I protested. He is an officer, and he often came to shout at us [in the hospital]. The other villagers were afraid and stayed quiet. He said ‘Nga Pway stay in your village’. I said, ‘There were no Nga Pway. After you shot at us, you went back. We saw you when you came into the village. All of you were Burmese.’" - "Naw Ler Paw" (F, 28), xxxx village, Thaton township (Interview #3, 5/99)

Forced Labour

"[T]hey always force people to go. The villagers have to plant sugar cane, cut wood and clear the forest for them. The villagers have to work very hard for them and never get a single coin of money. We have to pack rice from our house and take our own rice to eat. On top of that, they shout at us while we work. They guard us with guns and sometimes shout at us. They force us to go early in the morning, and let us come back at 4 p.m. … The youngest ones who go are 15 or 16 years old, and they also force people over 40 years old to go. … People who are 60 years old have to go, and those who are over 60 also have to go to do ‘loh ah pay’." - "Naw Ler Paw" (F, 28), xxxx village, Thaton township (Interview #3, 5/99)

Villagers in Thaton District face a heavy burden of forced labour. The nature of this forced labour varies throughout the district; villagers in the completely SPDC-controlled coastal areas in the west of the district face forced labour on roads, while those in the eastern parts of the district face more forced labour as porters and at SPDC Army camps. The Army usually obtains forced labourers by sending written orders to village heads or dictating demands to them at ‘meetings’; the village heads are then responsible for rotating the burden of forced labour among the people of their village. If the specified number of villagers does not arrive on time or if any of them leave before they are given permission to go, the village head and the village itself can face heavy punishments.

"They ordered the village headman to gather the villagers, and the village headman called us to go. The last time we went, they forced us to work in their camp. They forced us to carry bamboo and wood. They didn’t feed us. … Sometimes they force 20 or 30 villagers to go at a time. When I’ve gone there have also been many old people, some are 40 or 50 and some are nearly 60. We had to take our own rice, and while we were working they never allowed us to leave." – "Saw K’Ler" (M, 38), xxxx village, Bilin Township, (Interview #14, 1/99)

"U yyyy from xxxx village has returned without permission, so you yourself immediately send 15 viss [24 kg / 52 lb] of pork. Come yourself today with one person to take his place as a volunteer worker. If you cannot get pork, [you] must pay fine money of the value of the pork. You are informed that the village head and the village will be severely punished if they fail." - text of a written order sent to a village in Thaton District by the SPDC Army in December 1998 (Order #T6, "SPDC Orders to Villages: Set 99-B")

Portering is the most difficult and feared form of forced labour, and in the villages of eastern Thaton District it takes varying forms and is a constant burden. Both SPDC and DKBA units demand porters for their patrols on a rotating basis, and also take porters for ad hoc short-term portering duty carrying rations and supplies between Army camps; for example, the DKBA along the Salween force the villagers once per month to go with them to Ohn Daw, near Ka Ma Maung, to fetch and carry their rations back. These kinds of porters are demanded in written orders, or sometimes by sending troops to the village. When a demand is made the village head must decide who will fill the requirement, and those villagers must drop all work and other commitments immediately and go. Most village heads rotate the demands through all the households of the village, and when the turn for a household comes, that family must send a person regardless of how many people are in the family. Alternatively they can hire someone else to go in their place, but this costs 100 to 300 Kyat per day depending on the portering assignment, and many people do not have enough money after paying all of the other fees and taxes demanded of them. Even though villagers have to pay ‘porter fees’ regularly as well, this money is not actually used for porters and they must still go whenever porters are required. Troops on patrol also often grab villagers they encounter along their way and force them to follow them as porters.

"If they see us when we are tending our buffaloes, they order us to go with them. We complain to them that the buffaloes will eat the paddy, but they don’t listen to us. They told me to follow them for just a few minutes, but when the Burmese say ‘for a few minutes’, it takes a long time!"– "Saw Ghay" (M, 36), xxxx village, Bilin Township (Interview #12, 1/99)

For one or two days of portering villagers take along their own food, but sometimes the shift is much longer than was originally specified and they run out of food. In these cases they must beg food from villagers in the villages which the Column passes or from the soldiers themselves, though the soldiers are usually unwilling to give them more than a few tablespoons of rice per day. There are also longer term shifts of portering when troops are going on longer patrols, and this forced labour is particularly feared. Most villagers do whatever they can to try to pay instead of going, because it is on these trips that many porters are killed. Even so, some villagers are so short of money and food due to all the demands placed on them that they hire themselves out for 1,500 or 2,000 Kyat to take the place of people who have been ordered to go on these trips. On these portering trips, most villagers run out of food while some who are caught along the way by the soldiers have no food with them to begin with. The soldiers feed them next to nothing, allow them little or no rest and force them to carry loads of 30 to 50 kilograms. Porters who fall sick or are unable to carry are left behind, or in some cases killed by the soldiers. As porters die or escape, those remaining are forced to carry heavier and heavier loads. Even those who survive this type of portering sometimes die on their return home from illness brought on by exhaustion, malnutrition and wounds from beatings. They also face the risk of being wounded or killed during skirmishes.

"We laid down on our bellies among the soldiers. They were watching us; some were shooting and some were watching us. If we stood up to run they would have shot us dead." – "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxx village, Bilin township, describing what he and other porters did when battles occurred (Interview #1, 7/99)

"When portering, the Burmese force us to carry rice and other food. Sometimes they force us to carry weapons and bullets. We have to take our own food, and if it runs out we have to ask food from other people. Sometimes they [the soldiers] give some if they have enough, but usually they don’t and we have to ask for food from the houses in the villages we pass through."- "Naw Hser" (F, 51), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #2, 7/99)

"I had to go as a porter for them because my turn had come. If you don’t go for your turn, you must hire someone else [to go for you]. To hire people, you must give them 2,000 Kyat for 5 days of portering. I didn’t have the money to hire anyone. I had to carry a big basket with two pots in it, and two Army packs filled with rice. It was so heavy that it was hard for me to stand up with it. … They fed us 2 times each day, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. We only got 3 tablespoons each for each meal. They told us, ‘Eat this much because there are no rations for you. You should be thankful to get this much.’ We didn’t dare ask for more, because if we asked they kicked us. I got tired. Some people became giddy and sweaty and fell down but they still kept kicking them. They beat some porters to death. … When they were portering, their blood pressure got higher and higher until they became giddy, then they fell down. The soldiers yelled at them and they didn’t answer, so they beat them to death. They hit them with gun butts on their necks and backs a few times and then they died. They beat people to death heartlessly. They’re never afraid to beat people to death. … Everyone is living in hard times like I am. Some people are rich, but most are poor and have to do everything [demanded of them]. People who are rich take their money and hire people to go for their turn as porters. The price for one trip is supposed to be 2,000 Kyat, but if the rich people only offer us 1,500 Kyat then we have to go for them if we don’t have any rice to eat. If we don’t eat we can’t survive, so I went for that 1,500 Kyat and gave the money to my wife and children. While I was gone she had to give fees, buy medicine for her children and buy paddy from that money." - "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxx village, Bilin township (Interview #1, 7/99)

The villagers say that they also have to go for rotating shifts of forced labour at SPDC Army camps to build and maintain the camp’s buildings, fences and other defences. At xxxx village, where there is an SPDC Army camp, the villagers were forced not only to build a fence around the camp but around their village as well. Some villages are also forced to provide unarmed sentries along the motor roads; usually each village is responsible to guard the road halfway to the next village in each direction. The villagers have to rotate 24-hour shifts at each of the assigned sentry posts, and are supposed to report any activity on the road. If any landmines are subsequently found on the road or any fighting happens near the road, the village responsible for that section of road is punished.

"Tomorrow morning at 6 o’clock send 3 emergency servants from your village for repairing the camp. Send [them] without fail to repair the camp. It will be two nights long, so they must bring rations. Without fail. If [you] fail it will be the responsibility of the Chairpersons." - Text of a written order sent to a village in Thaton District by the SPDC Army in January 1999 (Order #T2, "SPDC Orders to Villages: Set 99-B")

"We had to fence our village, and we also had to build fences around their camp and work on the road. If several people stay in a house, then one person has to go from each house. They forced us to work from 8 a.m. until noon. … Whenever they need the villagers, they come to collect them. If people are sick, they force them to go when they become better." - "Naw Hser" (F, 51), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #2, 7/99)

"For ‘loh ah pay’ we have to go and work in the Army camp. … We had to go and slice bamboo into small pieces, then sharpen it into spikes for booby traps. Anyone who didn’t go was put in the stocks. They put you in the stocks and fine you five viss [8 kg / 17.5 lb] of chicken or five viss of alcohol. You have to give it, you cannot stay [in the village] if you don’t give it. They write a letter demanding one goat as the fine for anyone who escapes while portering, or 5 viss of alcohol for someone who didn’t go for ‘loh ah pay’." - "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxx village, Bilin township (Interview #1, 7/99)

"One person has to go and sleep at each place along the car road as a sentry, but there are 3 or 4 places between villages. One village has to send sentries to 4 places. They force 2 villagers to go to the road east of the village and 2 villagers to go to the road west of the village. There are 4 sentry huts. The DKBA said that people will try to put landmines on the road, so they force the villagers to stand sentry on it. The Burmese trucks come up the road to deliver the rations. They also come in the daytime. The villagers have to do sentry duty day and night." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)

Another form of forced labour is known as ‘patrol’. This involves women from the village going to the local SPDC camp every day to report whether or not there have been any KNLA movements in their area, and if so how many KNLA troops were involved, where they came from, where they went and so on. One villager from Bilin township told KHRG that 3 women per day must go to the SPDC camp for this each bearing a bundle of firewood, and that the Army insists that only women go for this labour. Once at the camp they are also used for any errands required by the officers.

"Each day 3 people must also go for ‘patrol’. Women must go for that, the men are not allowed to go. When they go, each of the ‘patrol’ people must take them a bundle of firewood. The ‘patrol’ women have to report to the camp commander about whether or not any Kaw Thoo Lei have come to the village each day. … The camp commander is kind, but still his heart is crooked because he is a Burman. Sometimes he shouts at the ‘patrol’ women, ‘Why don’t you inform us when Kaw Thoo Lei come? Do you like Kaw Thoo Lei? Do you like Nga Pway?’ … He threatens the women, ‘If you don’t inform us truthfully next time we will punish you severely.’ … He has already put many people in the stocks. He puts the women in the stocks if they arrive late for ‘patrol’. They are told to go for patrol at 10 a.m., and if you arrive later than that you will be in the stocks. … The women must talk sweetly to the Burmese. If they don’t speak sweetly the Burmese will beat them. They beat one woman from my village. Her name is M---. … [H]e beat her twice with a bamboo stick as thick as my hand, and she passed urine right then and there. He beat her on her back with the bamboo, Baun! Baun!! … Bwah!! M--- had to drink holy water [to heal herself] for many days when she got home after being beaten like that. She is almost 50 years old."- "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxx village, Bilin township (Interview #1, 7/99)

People in some villages report that they must also do forced labour growing crops for SPDC troops on farmland which has been confiscated from their village. According to the report of a KHRG field reporter, Light Infantry Battalion #8 has one such plantation in Thaton township on about 100 acres of confiscated land, and each day villagers must come from the villages of Ma Aye Cha, Ka Law Kher, Lah Aw Kher, Ma Ya Gone, Mo Kyaw Eh, Wah Lu, Noh Pa Leh, Kaw Kya Ther, and Kaw Ler to work on it. Land confiscation and forced labour farming has been on the increase throughout Burma since 1998, when the SPDC in Rangoon ordered its Army units in the field to produce more of their own food or take it from villagers.

Villagers throughout the region report having to regularly go for short shifts maintaining local roads. According to one woman whose village is on the western bank of the Salween River below Ka Ma Maung, the SPDC is also building a new road from Myaing Galay (directly across the river from Pa’an) up the western side of the Salween River to Ka Ma Maung. When completed, this road would be approximately 60 kilometres (40 miles) long. She reports that the SPDC has hired villagers in the area to do some of the work, paying 50 Kyat per day for road work and 100 Kyat per day for bridge work. These wages are impossible for a family to survive on. KHRG has not yet been able to obtain any reports on whether villagers on other parts of the route are also being paid or are being used as forced labour.

"They are building roads and bridges around Pa’an Township. They started at Myaing Galay and are coming step by step. At every river they build a bridge, so there are many bridges. They’ve hired villagers to do it for them, for building roads and bridges. Their aim is to send all their rations by truck. They hire people for 100 Kyat per day for bridge building, and 50 Kyat per day for road building. But as for sentries, they don’t hire us, we have to hire ourselves. If you don’t dare go as a sentry, you have to hire someone yourself." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxxvillage, Pa’an township, describing SPDC road-building along the western bank of the Salween River (Interview #7, 7/99)

According to the villagers, most DKBA units in the district are forcing villagers to do similar types of labour to those which the SPDC is demanding, including portering and camp labour, and is using similar methods to demand it, sometimes sending written orders and sometimes collecting people in their villages. Some villagers pointed out that as people flee their villages to other areas the burden of forced labour is becoming heavier on those who remain. Some villages have lost 30-50% of their population already, yet they must still provide the same numbers of forced labourers and the same amounts of extortion money, food and materials. One villager from Bilin township reported that in his village, this means that the women must go as porters much more than ever before, and that even widows with children to care for must now go as porters [see Interview #1].

"They do it this way: today they collect 4 or 5 people from this part of the village, then tomorrow they go and collect 4 or 5 people from another part of the village, and so on. When they get through the whole village they start again. They collect and force people by turns. Seven, eight, or 10 people at a time, and they have to take along their own food and go as porters." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township, describing how the DKBA takes forced labour in her village (Interview #7, 7/99)

"[T]hey force us to go for ‘loh ah pay’ building the motor road and their camp, digging trenches and fencing their camp. They also force us to go portering. Right now they’ve demanded 6 people. They got 5 people, and they collected money for the one they didn’t get." - "Saw Po Thu" (M, 36),xxxx village, Thaton township, talking about forced labour for the SPDC Army (Interview #6, 5/99)

"The above mentioned village, send without fail 10 men tomorrow at 0600 hours NOW to repair xxxx camp." - text of a written order sent to a village in Thaton District by the SPDC Army (Order #T3, "SPDC Orders to Villages: Set 99-B")

Looting, Taxes, Extortion, and Crop Quotas

"We worked in our ricefield and we planted sugar cane, but we could not eat because of all their demands. The government also demands ‘obligation’ rice. We only had a small rice field, and they demanded 6 baskets of paddy from my mother. The paddy all died, but we had to give this to them anyway. … The sugar cane was also damaged, but we had to pay ‘obligation’ on that as well. We didn’t have a single grain of paddy to eat, it had all died. But we had to give them paddy regardless. We couldn’t give them any, so we had to give them money instead. They forced us to give them 200 Kyat for each basket of paddy. We had to pay 1,200 Kyat in lieu of our 6 baskets of paddy. All the villagers who have a field have to pay. We have to give whatever they ask. If you don’t pay it, you can’t stay there. They will drive you out of the village." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)

In addition to the forced labour demanded of them, villagers in the district find it almost impossible to live with all the material demands made of them by all of the forces present in the area. The SPDC demands add up to the most and cause them the most suffering. All farmers who have land must pay crop quotas to the SPDC based on the amount of land they own, not on the amount of land they plant or the amount they harvest. Villagers complained to KHRG that even though their rice and sugar cane crops failed this past year due to droughts, they were forced to hand over their quotas of rice, cane and jaggery (slabs of crystallised sugar made by boiling cane juice) regardless. Those who could not gather enough produce to hand over had to pay cash instead, even if they did not have enough to eat for themselves. Failure to pay the quota can result in confiscation of your land and being driven out of the village by the Army. In addition, most of the quota collection officials are corrupt, demanding more than the real quota and paying out less than they are supposed to, even though the price they pay is already less than half of market price. One farmer complained that he regularly has to give over half of his entire rice crop to the Army and the officials without receiving any payment at all. When the quota collection officials visit the villages, the village head is also expected to feed them extravagantly, and after they leave the cost of this is collected from the villagers. One villager reported that the cost for this one meal amounts to 50 to 70 Kyat from every household in the village.

"When we work in our field and get 50 baskets [of paddy], we have to give them 25 baskets. Then there are only 25 baskets left for us, but we still must give taxes and fees so each year we never have enough rice left. Each year I had to borrow from others. There are many taxes, like taxes for pigs and taxes for goats. If they come to the village you can’t keep your livestock. They come to take one pig, and if the villagers cannot give them one pig then they fine the village head and torture him. We are just villagers, so we must give to the village head whenever he collects money from us. When we don’t have money to give we must sell things from our house." - "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxx village, Bilin township (Interview #1, 7/99)

"If you plant 5 ‘dter’ [the area of a large field] of sugar cane, you have to give them 1 ‘dter’. … This year we had to give them money [because the sugar cane crop failed]. I don’t know how much money it was for 1 ‘dter’, but my mother also had to give them 100 packets of jaggery. We couldn’t give it so we had to pay them. If we sold that much jaggery we would get 8,000 or 9,000 Kyat, but they demanded 5,000 Kyat from us because that is the government price. … We couldn’t eat, we had to pay them so much. … When they come to tax, we have to run and get it. If you have no money you have to find some you can borrow and give it to them. Many villagers borrowed money and are now in debt. The villagers have nothing to eat, but they still have to help the Burmese. They say that the place where we stay is government land. It’s as though we’re staying on their land so we have to pay tax to them." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)

"They also demand donations when their officials come to the village. They call it ‘sah kywe’ [‘eating tax’]. They come and eat food in our village, and after they go back we have to pay for them. We have to pay 50 or 60 Kyat each. Now in our village the DKBA are showing videos of their battles, and when you go to see it you have to pay 50 or 60 Kyat each night. Even if you don’t go to see it, you still have to pay. That’s why the women are very angry, but nobody dares to complain to them and everyone is keeping quiet." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)

The crop quotas are collected by SPDC officials each year, but the villagers must also face regular and arbitrary demands for rice, other foodstuffs, and livestock by every SPDC Army unit in their area. These demands usually come by written letter, and every household must contribute. When livestock is demanded, an animal belonging to one of the villagers must be sent and then all of the villagers must contribute money to reimburse the owner. Similar demands are also received for building materials such as wooden or bamboo posts, shaved bamboo ties, and roofing thatch. When interviewed, some villagers were in the process of gathering materials to meet SPDC demands for several hundred bamboo posts, or in one case 1,400 sheets of thatch roofing. To make thatch roofing, the villagers must gather a specific kind of leaves in the jungle and gather bamboo, then split the bamboo into sticks and shave some of it into ties. Each sheet requires making a frame from the bamboo sticks and attaching several leaves onto it with the bamboo ties. The process is labour-intensive, yet a typical SPDC order for one or two thousand roofing sheets will only allow the villagers three days to a week to comply.

"Now I am going to send thatch to the Burmese. We have to send seven bullock carts full of thatch. That is 1,400 sheets of thatch. … They demanded it from all the villages, like D---, K--, L---, L---, K---, and G---. They called the village heads from each village and ordered them to go and meet. They sent us a letter written in red ink. I said that the red pen is very hot for us, we’d better not rest, we have to go ‘on the hot’ [i.e. ‘hotfoot it’]. One of the women thought it was an emergency so she carried her child and went ‘on the hot’ to see them, but when she got there they just asked for thatch. … I think they will build a storehouse and fix their other roofs. The villagers from T--- and H--- are going every day now to build the storehouse." – "Naw Muh" (F, 46), xxxx village, Bilin Township, (Interview #10, 1/99)

"[T]he Burmese soldiers came to the village. They just came to the village last night … on the 3rd of May. They came to collect 2,000 pieces of thatch and 1,000 bamboo. They came in the evening and visited the village chairman. … We can get bamboo in our village, but there are no ‘ta la aw’ leaves for thatch in our village, so they forced us to give them money instead of thatch. We collected 70 Kyat and 5 bamboo from each household for them. They said the Brigadier had ordered them to collect it." - "Saw Po Thu" (M, 36), xxxx village, Thaton township (Interview #6, 5/99)

"[Y]ou are informed to send without fail 500 wooden planks, length 10 taun [cubits; 10 taun is about 5 metres / 15 feet], which must arrive on 22-11-98 for A’Su Chaung bridge. … Arrange ‘loh ah pay’ workers on the day of construction." - text of a written order sent to a village in Thaton District by the SPDC Army in November 1998; the villagers were given only 2 days to make and deliver the planks (Order #T12, "SPDC Orders to Villages: Set 99-B")

"[T]he villagers must send them whatever they’ve demanded, because it’s not good to wait until they come for it. If the villagers don’t give it until they come, then when they come they beat every villager." - "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxx village, Bilin township (Interview #1, 7/99)

Whenever an SPDC military column arrives at a village, the troops take livestock and other food as well as many of the villagers’ belongings. Those who live in villages adjacent to SPDC and DKBA camps complain that the soldiers are constantly coming in the night to steal their chickens and other belongings. Even in broad daylight, the soldiers regularly pick fruit from the trees and vegetables from the kitchen gardens without even asking the owners and with no intention to pay compensation. The villagers usually dare not say anything, because those who complain are often punched or threatened with an accusation of being a KNU sympathiser.

"[T] hey eat a lot of chickens and livestock in the village. They eat without paying. Sometimes they order the village to send it and we give it, and then sometimes they pay something, but usually they do not pay. They also steal it at night. We usually don’t dare complain to the camp commander. If people go and tell them they beat those people, so we don’t dare complain to them often." - "Naw Hser" (F, 51), xxxx village, Pa’an township, describing the looting of livestock by the SPDC troops based at her village (Interview #2, 7/99)

"When they steal our poultry we don’t dare complain to them. If you complain to them, they’ll say later that they met the KNLA near your village and had to shoot at them, and the bullets just happened to come right down through the roof of your house. That’s why nobody dares to tell them anything." – "Naw Muh" (F, 46), xxxx village, Bilin Township, (Interview #10, 1/99)

Although most villages are populated by subsistence farmers and there is no significant cash economy, the villagers also face heavy demands for cash from SPDC Army units. On average, a family needs to obtain 1,000 or more Kyat per month to pay all of the regular extortion fees demanded by the Army under various names such as ‘porter fees’ and ‘development fees’. This money simply goes into the pockets of the local officers, but the villagers have no choice but to pay it. In addition, they need money to hire people to take their place for forced labour if they are ill or if they need the time to work in their fields. Families must always be ready as well to contribute money to compensate those whose livestock are looted by the soldiers, and to pay ‘fines’ which are imposed on the village if porters from the village flee their duty or if a skirmish with the KNLA occurs in their area. One villager from Thaton township described how a DKBA commander came to the village and demanded 30,000 Kyat compensation from the village because one of his own soldiers had run away with all of the unit’s rations. He gave the villagers less than 3 hours to come up with the money, and the best that they could negotiate was that they pay him the next morning. Even then they could not raise the full amount.

"He demanded 30,000 Kyat the same night that he arrived at the village. He ordered us to pay it by 9 p.m. Some villagers went to see the monk and asked him to go and tell the DKBA that they had problems finding so much money at night. The monk went to the DKBA and 2 or 3 villagers went with him. The monk told him, ‘Bo Than Htun, the villagers can’t find this money in the night’. Bo Than Htun said, ‘This is not the business of a monk.’ Then the monk told him, ‘This is not my business, but the villagers came to me so I must tell you. You would be better to ask them in the daytime.’ Then he made an appointment to give him the money the next morning at 9 a.m. The villagers could only find 27,000 Kyat, they couldn’t pay 30,000 Kyat. … The villagers had to go into debt. Some had to pawn their pots and rings. They demanded it immediately, so we could not find the money. Some villagers had nothing to pawn, so they went to plead with the shopkeepers and the shopkeepers loaned them money. … If the villagers didn’t give it to them, they would beat and kill the villagers and burn their houses." - "Saw Aung Htoo" (M, 28), xxxx village, Thaton township, describing how a DKBA Captain demanded compensation from the villagers after a DKBA soldier defected with his unit’s rations (Interview #9, 5/99)

The DKBA in the region is known for making such arbitrary and exorbitant demands and for accompanying them with serious threats. Even so, the burden of their looting and demands amounts to less than the demands of the SPDC on most villages. Even after the villagers give everything they have to these two Armies, they must still pay yearly taxes and supply food to the KNLA. Though these demands amount to far less than those imposed by either the SPDC or the DKBA, it is still one additional burden which the villagers cannot bear.

"We cannot live without giving to the Burmese. They will kill us and burn the village. They told us they won’t eat our 4-legged animals but they will eat the humans. [Second woman]: They said they’ll cut off our heads and hang them in front of our [village] leaders." – "Naw Wah Paw" (F, 30),xxxx village, Bilin Township (Interview #15, 1/99)

"They won’t like it. They’ll come to the village and torture us. They’ll accuse us of joining the Nga Pway [‘Ringworms’, derogatory SPDC name for KNU/KNLA]. If they give us an order and we don’t go at once, they accuse us of joining the Nga Pway and they say it was the Nga Pway who didn’t allow us to go. They say ‘If the Nga Pway can control you they will, but we will also control you as much as we can’." – "Naw Muh" (F, 46),xxxx village, Bilin Township, describing what happens if the villagers fail to send materials demanded by the SPDC camp (Interview #10, 1/99)

Curfews and ‘Letters of Recommendation’

"From your village, children, men and all the villagers are absolutely (absolutely) not allowed out of the village on September 27 / 28 / 29, Thadin Kyut Hla Zan 7 / 8 / 9 [the corresponding Burmese calendar dates]. Don’t go at all for looking after your cattle, buffaloes, farm affairs or picking vegetables. Inform the village that they will be shot and arrested if the Columns find out [that they have left the village]." - written order sent to a village in Thaton District by the SPDC Army in September 1998 (Order #T1, "SPDC Orders to Villages: Set 99-B")

Forced labour and work gathering materials to meet SPDC demands takes a great deal of working time away from the villagers, but in the villages of eastern and northeastern Thaton District they also complain of military-imposed curfews which make it difficult to tend their fields. People in villages near SPDC military camps are not allowed to leave their villages until after 8 a.m. and must return by 4 p.m. in some villages, 6 p.m. in others. Villagers are used to spending much of the growing season living in their ‘deh’, the simple huts they build in their farmfields, because their farming methods are labour intensive and many of them work fields which are several miles from their village. The curfews prevent them from doing this and make it very difficult for them to produce a full crop, which they desperately need because of all the demands placed upon them. In some villages the villagers can pay 20 Kyat to get a ‘letter of recommendation’ signed by the village head which allows them to sleep in their deh for one or two nights; in the letter, the village head guarantees that the person is a farmer from his village and has no contact with the opposition. However, villagers using these letters are taking a risk because they are not always accepted by SPDC and DKBA patrols, who view any villager staying in his or her deh with extreme suspicion.

"Whenever you want to go to the forest, you have to get a letter of recommendation. You have to pay 20 Kyat for each one. I don’t know if the DKBA or the village head takes that money. You have to go and get it from the village head. After he writes the letter, he gives it to the villager. If the DKBA sees them in the jungle they ask, ‘Where do you live?’ In xxxx [her village]. ‘Do you have your letter?’ The villagers show them. If the villagers have no letter, they can kill them." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)

"We don’t have enough time to work. They don’t allow us to go out [of the village] until 8 a.m., and we must come back by 4 p.m. on time. They won’t let the villagers work any extra time. I don’t know what they’d do if you’re late. The Burmese camp is right there, so they won’t let us stay out for extra time."- "Naw Hser" (F, 51), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #2, 7/99)

Land Confiscation

"[O]ur parents have land, but when the Burmese built the road they built it right through the middle of our field. We are greedy for our land too, because we earn our lives from it. We told them to build it through the village or across the river instead. But they said, ‘Don’t say anything. It’s not your land, it’s government land. You don’t need to say anything, the government can do as they like.’" - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxxvillage, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)

According to the official law in Burma all land is the property of the State, and the SPDC troops in the district constantly remind the villagers that "this is not your land, it’s government land". This argument is used whenever the Army wishes to take land or produce for its own purposes. Some of the SPDC Battalions in Thaton District have been confiscating villagers’ farmland in order to use it to produce food for the Battalion. Not only have the villagers been paid no compensation whatever, but they are thereafter forced to work on the land growing crops for the Army. One of the worst cases of this has occurred in Thaton township, where Light Infantry Battalion #8 has confiscated approximately 100 acres of land and is currently using the people of nine villages in the area as forced labour to work it [see above under ‘Forced Labour’].

DKBA units have also confiscated land in Pa’an township and settled the families of DKBA soldiers on it, in some cases even forcing local villagers to provide building materials and forced labour to build their houses [see above under ‘The DKBA’, and Interview #7]. A woman from Pa’an township also reported that the new SPDC road from Myaing Galay to Ka Ma Maung was built right through the length of her father’s sugar cane field without any compensation being paid, and that when her family complained they were given the usual argument that "It’s not your land, it’s government land". Her father’s field follows the riverbank and is long and narrow, and by traversing its entire length the road and its embankment have rendered the entire field unusable.

Schools and Health

"I have a small brother, and at that time he had gone to find frogs in the fields. He is 15 years old, a young boy. He went to find frogs every night. He was trying to get money to buy his reading books. My mother told him not to go that night because it was very dark and there was thunder, but he wanted to get money and study in the school, so he went to find frogs. At that time, one of them [DKBA] whom we call Maung Shwe Aye went and demanded frogs from the villagers who were gathering them in the fields around xxxx. He stole 8 frogs from each of the adults and from those who had many frogs, and he took 5 frogs from each of the children like my younger brother. He pointed his gun at people while he robbed them. He made the sound of the gun bolt, ‘Klaw Kla, Klaw Kla’, and he said, ‘Do you know what this is?’ My brother only had 10 frogs but he stole 5 frogs from him. Then my brother was afraid and came back. If they didn’t give him the frogs he would have done something to them, because he was drunk." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)

With each year, fewer and fewer children in Thaton District are able to go to school. Schools up to 8th or 10th Standard (middle or high school) level still exist in major villages and towns, but these can be a significant distance from most villages and each year fewer and fewer villagers can afford to send their children there; to do so, they must be able to pay for the school fees, all educational materials, and the cost of having their child stay near the school if it is far away. After paying all of the extortion, crop quotas and taxes demanded by the SPDC Army and other groups, most villagers have no money left whatsoever; even just to pay all of the extortion they often have to sell household belongings and livestock. In addition, families which are struggling to survive need their children to help at home. It is often the children or adolescents who are sent to fill quotas for forced labour so that their parents can continue working in the fields.

In the past many villages have pooled their resources and built their own schools to give at least primary level education to their children right in the village. These schools usually go up to 2nd or 4th Standard (Grade 2 or 4), but in some cases they go higher. Those in the village who have had the most education either volunteer or are pressed into teaching and the villagers support them with some rice and a small amount of money; sometimes they teach part time and still work a small farm. However, villagers in Thaton District report that since the beginning of this year the SPDC military has been ordering these schools closed. Habitually suspicious of anything which is not directly controlled by the Army or the SPDC, the officers have told the villagers that they must hire SPDC-sanctioned teachers from town if they still want to keep their schools open. The villagers say there is no way they can afford the salaries of these teachers, so their village schools are closing. With their closure, many village children are losing their only chance for education.

"She can speak Burmese because she finished Grade 8 in Burmese school. After she finished Grade 8, she taught in our village school for 2 years. Then she had to stop teaching because the Burmese said that people in the forest villages should not teach. Our school went up to Grade 9, but starting this year the Burmese won’t allow the teachers to teach. They said villagers must go and get teachers from town if they want to teach in the villages. As for us, we couldn’t hire those teachers because they want a lot of salary. They won’t come to our village. Our village is small. At first there were 70 households, but many people have fled so now there are only 30 households left. There is still a school building, but no one can study. So none of my children can go to school, instead they take care of buffaloes in the rain all the time." - "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxxvillage, Bilin township (Interview #1, 7/99)

Health care is also severely lacking in the villages of Thaton District. Medicines can be difficult and expensive to obtain, often only available by travelling to town or from travelling medicine sellers, and most villagers have little knowledge of the difference between various modern medicines. Many of them know paracetamol and quinine but nothing else, and most of them believe that if someone is wounded or seriously ill the best medicine to buy is an ‘injection’, without knowing what they are injecting. Most people do not have enough money to buy more than a few tablets of modern medicine so they largely rely on traditional herbal and spiritual remedies. These are usually the best for minor ailments but are often not enough on their own to treat serious illness, gunshot wounds or the after-effects of serious torture. Villagers also have the option of going to the clinics or small hospitals which exist in the big villages and towns of the area, though it can be very difficult for someone who is wounded or seriously ill to get there. Once they are there, they must provide all of their own food and pay their hospital fees, including all medicines, every day. The villagers who were wounded when SPDC troops opened fire in xxxx village of Thaton township [see above under ‘Killings’] say they spent 14 days in hospital and had to pay 1,000 to 4,000 Kyat each day, depending on what treatment they were given on that day. Many villagers simply cannot pay this, or have to sell everything they own and go deeply into debt to pay it.

"I went to get treatment in xxxx hospital. They fed us nothing there, we had to bring it all from home. The nurse at the hospital gave us injections, 2 or 3 injections each day. We had to pay them. Some days, we had to pay over 2,000 Kyat for one day. Some days 2,000 Kyat, some days over 1,000 Kyat, and some days 3,000 to 4,000 Kyat. All the patients have to pay like this." - "Naw Ler Paw" (F, 28), xxxx village, Thaton township (Interview #3, 5/99)

Internally Displaced People

"We fled to stay in the jungle because the SPDC came and tortured us. They asked me questions and beat me. They often beat us. If they didn’t beat us, people would dare to stay in the village." – "Saw Po Si" (M, 50+), xxxx village, Bilin Township (Interview #13, 2/99)

Many villagers are so afraid of the arbitrary detention, beatings and torture that they fear ever encountering SPDC troops, so they flee into the forest whenever they hear that an SPDC column is in their area. Others have had to flee because they can no longer do all the forced labour and pay all of the fees. For many of these people life is now a matter of running back and forth, spending much of their time living in the forest or their fields, where they must always be on the lookout for SPDC or DKBA columns, and sneaking back to stay in their villages for brief periods when they think it is safe. If they are found in the forest or living in their field hut they face almost certain arrest, interrogation and torture as suspected KNLA supporters, and they may be shot on sight, taken as porters or executed. While living outside the village most of them still try to work their family fields, but they have no access to schools, medicines or the help and support of other villagers. They have to move often to dodge patrols and this can make it very difficult to grow a sufficient crop. As a result, many have little or nothing to eat other than what they can collect in the forest. It is more difficult for villagers to remain hidden in Thaton District than in an area such as Papun District, because the terrain here is less rugged and the SPDC and DKBA are much more in control. Otherwise, more villagers would probably choose the option of living in hiding, but as it is most of them still try to survive in their villages or flee to entirely different areas. The number of people currently in hiding in Thaton District is difficult to estimate, but most likely numbers a few thousand.

"There are children, old people, and many villagers living in the jungle. They have already been staying there for over 4 years. Since the DKBA began working together with the SLORC and SPDC, they have fled from the north, up to the source of the xxxx river. They tortured the villagers until the villagers could not suffer it any more, so they fled and are staying in the jungle until now. The villagers are staying in the jungle very poorly. They are sick but they can’t get medicine. The villagers who have fled are from xxxx, xxxx, xxxx, xxxx and xxxx villages." – written report by KHRG field researcher (Field Report #FR8, 2/99)

There have been some efforts to deliver some help to these displaced people and to the people in the villages who are the worst off, mostly in the form of rice and money to buy food and pay off debt. Most of these efforts have been delivered by agencies originally set up by the KNU, and the villagers have benefitted from this help. However, according to reports from KHRG field reporters the SPDC military in some areas has become aware of these efforts and has begun punishing the villagers for it. On May 19th 1999, troops from SPDC Light Infantry Battalion #355 demanded rice and other food from Ta Rer Kee village in Bilin township and the commander told the villagers they would be increasing their demands now that they knew the villagers were supposedly receiving money from the KNU. On May 22nd, the same troops arrested and beat to death Saw Bah Yay, the village head of Naw K’Toh village in Bilin township, accusing him of failing to report that the KNU had given money to his villagers. Three days later, the same troops detained a villager named Saw Nu Nu from Naw K’Toh village on his way to his fields, interrogated him about money allegedly given to the villagers by the KNU, and tortured him to death [for more details on these events see Field Reports #FR4-FR6 in the Field Reports section below].

Flight

"When we were coming here we had to flee secretly because their camp is right at our village. They wouldn’t allow us to come here. If they saw us, they would ask ‘Where are you going?’ and we couldn’t dare tell them that we were coming here. First each family had to flee into the jungle, and then we had to come here secretly."- "Naw Hser" (F, 51), xxxx village, Pa’an township, after arriving in Thailand as a refugee (Interview #2, 7/99)

Anyone who cannot pay all the demands or do the forced labour has little choice but to flee the village, and many also flee after being arrested and tortured or in fear of being tortured. While some manage to live internally displaced for months or even years, for villagers whose fields are near SPDC or DKBA camps this is next to impossible. Many villagers who do attempt to live in hiding eventually find that they cannot produce enough food to support themselves. In the end, many villagers find that their only option is to leave their land and their village and flee elsewhere.

The first choice for most of these people is to flee to the homes of relatives in other villages not so far away. They may have relatives in a village which is further from an SPDC camp and therefore faces fewer demands, or in a large village where there is a certain amount of safety in numbers. If this is not possible, people often move westward into the coastal plains, becoming itinerant labourers in the large villages there, in towns like Thaton, Bilin or Kyaikto, or even further away in cities like Moulmein or Rangoon. When fleeing, villagers usually gravitate toward any place where they have some kind of contact, such as a distant relative or even just a friend from their village who already lives there.

"[S]ome villages are forced to do things a lot and some villages aren’t forced as much, so they’ve gone to stay at those kinds of villages. Some also go to stay with their relatives in other villages. But no one dares to stay in farmfield huts." - "Naw Mu Mu Wah" (F, 29), xxxx village, Pa’an township (Interview #7, 7/99)

Some villagers know of relatives or people from their village who have already fled eastward to refugee camps in Thailand, so this is where they choose to flee. This is the most difficult option, so very few villagers have made this choice so far. Most of them do not know the way, and can only get to the border if Karen soldiers are headed that way or other villagers know the way. The journey can take 4 days to several weeks, depending on whether the family has children and belongings and how often they have to detour or lay low to avoid SPDC or DKBA forces. The villagers themselves say that if the SPDC or DKBA knew they were heading to Thailand they would stop them. Because of this, most of them carry few or no belongings, so they can tell any troops they encounter that they are just on their way somewhere to visit a relative. They need money to pay for road or river transport, buy food, pay off any checkpoints they encounter, and sometimes to hire a guide for part of the journey. Only a few families per month from Thaton District manage to make the journey and arrive in refugee camps in Thailand, but it is becoming an increasingly steady trickle.

"We came as only one family. Before we came here, others asked to follow us. I told them ‘Don’t come with us. If you want to go, go later one by one.’ If we came in a group and the Burmese saw us, they wouldn’t allow us to come here. We had to come secretly." - "Naw Hser" (F, 51), xxxxvillage, Pa’an township, after arriving in Thailand (Interview #2, 7/99)

"If I told you everything in detail it would take a whole day and night and we still wouldn’t be finished, because the Burmese made problems for us in every way. We just had to tolerate it because we had nowhere else to go, until I found the soldiers who were headed this way and so I followed them. I knew that I could not stay in the village anymore. I knew that they would make problems for me again and again until in the end they would kill me, and my wife and children would be left alone and in trouble. That is why I came here. If I died there, my wife and children would face problems with food, taxes and forced labour. The widows in our village all have to pay taxes and go as porters, all of them. Because there are now few people left in our village, the women also have to go as porters. … It took us 6 days to come here. We walked the whole way, and twice we had to walk through the night." - "Saw Eh Htoo" (M, 37), xxxx village, Bilin township, after his arrival in Thailand (Interview #1, 7/99)

 

IV. Future of the Area

"I am so thankful for all your help, the food and everything else you gave when our Battalion was in xxxx. I hope that all of you will understand and forgive us for what we said, ordered of you and did to you. These were our duties and were done under orders. I do apologise for our previous deeds. Actually, we and all of you are brothers and sisters." - text of a letter dated December 1998 from an SPDC Army Captain to villagers in Thaton District after he had been rotated out of the region (Order #T39, "SPDC Orders to Villages: Set 99-B")

There is no sign that all of the demands for forced labour, extortion money, materials and crop quotas imposed upon the villagers are about to decrease. If anything, the trend in other Karen regions would indicate that the SPDC will only continue to increase militarisation of the area and the villagers will face even heavier demands as a result. The future of villagers in this area will also depend on the amount of activity conducted by the KNLA; assuming that the KNLA continues to operate there as at present, it is likely that the SPDC will continue to arbitrarily detain, torture and execute villagers, use them as porters under brutal conditions, and may eventually clamp down further on the villagers by conducting further forced relocations. There are no indications that the KNLA plans to cut back on its guerrilla operations in the region, and it definitely has the ability to continue these for the foreseeable future. The villagers will most likely continue to ask the KNLA not to attack SPDC or DKBA units near their villages, but even if the KNLA does not actively seek confrontation with the SPDC or the DKBA, skirmishes will occur and the villagers will be forced to pay the price.

Another factor which will play a strong role in determining the future of the villagers will be the relationships between the DKBA and the SPDC and between the DKBA and the KNU. The DKBA and the SPDC have never trusted each other, and in fact many DKBA members openly state that they hate the SPDC. However, they are completely reliant on the SPDC for arms, ammunition, food and logistical support, not to mention that the SPDC could capture and disarm most of the DKBA in one quick surprise sweep should it decide to do so. At the same time, the DKBA is useful to the SPDC in several ways: as guides and informers, to do some of the dirty work in the villages, as a front to attack refugee camps and other sites in Thailand, and because they pit Karen against Karen. The SPDC and DKBA tolerate each other because they are useful to each other, but it is not a smooth relationship. The DKBA was formed in December 1994, and since 1996 the SLORC/SPDC has gradually cut down the material support given; the salaries paid to DKBA soldiers and officers were cut and then eliminated, the rations given to non-DKBA families at the DKBA’s headquarters were eliminated, arms and ammunition supplies were cut back to a minimum, and food rations to DKBA soldiers and their families were cut back. The SPDC even threatened to cut all food support to the DKBA by December 1998, but this has not happened. In Thaton District, SPDC units still use DKBA soldiers as before, and the DKBA appears to have been given limited control over some parts of Pa’an Township along the Salween River. Given the SPDC’s distrust of the DKBA, it is unlikely that they will be given control over more areas like this. DKBA units operating on their own in Thaton District behave very much like SPDC Army units, though this could change if relations between the two groups deteriorate. The DKBA has a weak command structure and very little idea of where it wants to go politically anymore, and this makes it volatile.

At present, DKBA and KNLA units in the area fight each other regularly, and there is little sign of any improvement in relations. However, some higher-level KNU leaders have recently become more open to the idea of talks with the DKBA, and some factions within the DKBA have always wanted this to happen. If the KNU and the DKBA were able to forge even the beginnings of an agreement, this would greatly strengthen the hand of the KNU/KNLA in Thaton District, but it would certainly cause the SPDC to turn against the DKBA. The result for the villagers would probably be an escalation of the civil war in the region, widespread forced relocations by the SPDC and a general increase in SPDC repression and the internal displacement and flight of villagers.

It is also very important to watch the region for any further evidence of the possible presence of ‘Short Pants’ Guerrilla Retaliation units [see above under ‘The Short Pants’]. If it is true that these units are about to begin operations in Thaton District and if they operate as execution squads as they are doing further north in Nyaunglebin District, villagers throughout the district will begin scattering in fear. In Nyaunglebin District many have fled eastward into the hills, but the villagers of Thaton District do not have this option so their situation would be even more desperate.

Even under present conditions, an increasing number of people are likely to flee their villages to the plains, to internal displacement, and to Thailand as refugees over the next year. Some villagers interviewed for this report say that their villages have already lost 30-70% of their population, and this trend is only likely to continue. In Bilin township, SPDC troops have now begun trying to block outside aid from reaching internally displaced villagers by demanding more from villages and torturing village leaders who are supposedly responsible [see above under ‘Internally Displaced People’], and if this continues it will become even more difficult for people to live in hiding without fleeing to other areas. Most villagers will still try to brave it out in their villages for as long as they can, particularly in the western parts of the district, but it is hard to say just how much longer most of them can continue to suffer as they are now.

"My mother and father are dead, and now my brother is also dead. I have only one younger sister. The Burmese shot to kill. Now my relatives are almost all gone. If they do this for much longer, all of my relatives will be gone. They’ve done this to us, and still they accuse us that we are ‘Tha Bone’ [‘rebels’]. Even while we were going to get treatment in hospital, they were still accusing us of being ‘Tha Bone’." - "Naw Ler Paw" (F, 28), xxxx village, Thaton township, who lost a daughter and a brother and was wounded herself in a massacre by SPDC troops on March 7th 1999 (Interview #3, 5/99)

 

Interviews

#1.

NAME:      "Saw Eh Htoo"           SEX: M          AGE: 37      Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Married with 5 children aged 1 to 14
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Bilin township                           INTERVIEWED: 7/99

["Saw Eh Htoo" arrived in Thailand as a refugee in June 1999.]

Q: When did you arrive here?
A: I arrived here in June. We came on foot. We passed xxxx and then came through the forest above xxxx, and then we followed the [KNLA] soldiers. We didn’t know how to get here, but the soldiers brought us step by step.

Before I fled, the Burmese accused me of contacting the Kaw Thoo Lei [KNU/KNLA]. The first time they captured me in my hill field. They boxed me in the face. I only remember four punches, and then I fell unconscious. When I woke up I felt my face in pain. I also noticed that they must have kicked me many times with jungle boots on both sides of my body, because when I woke up my sides were aching and I couldn’t breathe easily. Then a Burmese came up to me, I think he was a corporal because he had a pistol. He shouted at the soldiers who were torturing me to stop. By the time he came, they had already tied me up. I’d already been hit on my head, my chest and my back, and my face and body were red with the blood flowing from my head. The one who came with the pistol told the soldiers who were torturing me, "You should ask if he’s a good person or a bad person first." The soldiers had asked me questions while they were torturing me, and I answered them but they didn’t believe me.

Then he [the NCO with the pistol] came to me and asked me slowly. He asked, "Have you seen any Kaw Thoo Lei?" I told him, "I haven’t seen anyone. I’m staying in my hill field and cutting weeds. I have no time to go to other people’s hill fields, because the weeds are very thick in my field."

In the time between the first time they captured me and the second time, I went as a porter for them two or three times. I had to go as a porter for them because my turn had come. If you don’t go for your turn, you must hire someone else [to go for you]. To hire people, you must give them 2,000 Kyat for 5 days of portering. I didn’t have the money to hire anyone. I had to carry a big basket with two pots in it, and two Army packs filled with rice. It was so heavy that it was hard for me to stand up with it. I think it must have been 50 viss [80 kg / 175 lb, no doubt an exaggeration] because they also put in some fishpaste, salt and beans. My shoulders were wounded here. There were many porters, but I didn’t count them. They gave us rice but not enough. They fed us 2 times each day, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. We only got 3 tablespoons each for each meal. They told us, "Eat this much because there are no rations for you. You should be thankful to get this much." We didn’t dare ask for more, because if we asked they kicked us. I got tired. Some people became giddy and sweaty and fell down but they still kept kicking them. They beat some porters to death. When I was a porter that time, they said that Bo Myint Thein [a KNLA commander] shot at them. Battles occurred two times, and they beat two porters to death. The porters were already carrying heavy things, but when their soldiers got wounded and could not carry things they forced the porters to carry more and more. We couldn’t bear to carry it but we had to. The two porters whom they killed were not healthy. Even back in their houses [in the village] sometimes they couldn’t do anything because they got headaches and started to sweat. When they were portering, their blood pressure got higher and higher until they became giddy, then they fell down. The soldiers yelled at them and they didn’t answer, so they beat them to death. They hit them with gun butts on their necks and backs a few times and then they died. They beat people to death heartlessly. They’re never afraid to beat people to death.

Q: What did you do when the battles occurred?
A: We laid down on our bellies among the soldiers. They were watching us; some were shooting and some were watching us. If we stood up to run they would have shot us dead.

Q: How long was that trip?
A: I had to carry for 10 days because they couldn’t find people to replace us. We’d been carrying for 3 days when they beat the first porter to death. They beat him to death at Dta Oo Nee village, on the streambank in front of peoples’ houses. The village women saw but they made no sound. The next day at 2 p.m. a battle occurred, and that evening they beat the other man to death at the edge of Ler Ga Dter village, because he couldn’t carry things anymore. The first man they killed was Doh Koh and the other was Mya Gyi. Doh Koh was about 40 years old and had a wife and 4 children. He had many children before, but some of them died and only 4 are left. The eldest is 10, and the others are still small, the youngest is one year old. I think Mya Gyi was my age. He also had a wife and 2 children. The eldest is 2 years old, and the other is not even one year old.

Q: How will their wives and children survive?
A: I don’t know how they will live, because each one of us has to struggle for ourselves. Mya Gyi’s wife is staying with her parents. Doh Koh’s wife doesn’t have parents anymore, but she still has an aunt and an elder sister. Each person has to struggle for themselves. Everyone is living in hard times like I am. Some people are rich, but most are poor and have to do everything [demanded of them]. People who are rich take their money and hire people to go for their turn as porters. The price for one trip is supposed to be 2,000 Kyat, but if the rich people only offer us 1,500 Kyat then we have to go for them if we don’t have any rice to eat. If we don’t eat we can’t survive, so I went for that 1,500 Kyat and gave the money to my wife and children. While I was gone she had to give fees, buy medicine for her children and buy paddy from that money. One basket of paddy costs 1,000 Kyat, so she only got one basket. I went as a porter for 5 days that time, and when I came back the paddy was gone again because they had to pound it and eat it.

They also force us to give them taxes. The DKBA also come, and the Short Pants group comes as well. The Short Pants group is very strong. They come to our village from the direction of K--- and M---. My cousin was returning from town when she met them. They told her, "You are a very beautiful woman". She said "I am beautiful because I am Karen". Then they tried to grab her, and my cousin ran away. They followed her to her house, and then they said to her, "You should join the Kaw Thoo Lei". Then they called her parents down, slapped her mother’s face once and punched her father’s face once.

Q: Does your cousin speak Burmese?
A: She can speak Burmese because she finished Grade 8 in Burmese school. After she finished Grade 8, she taught in our village school for 2 years. Then she had to stop teaching because the Burmese said that people in the forest villages should not teach. Our school went up to Grade 9, but starting this year the Burmese won’t allow the teachers to teach. They said villagers must go and get teachers from town if they want to teach in the villages. As for us, we couldn’t hire those teachers because they want a lot of salary. They won’t come to our village. Our village is small. At first there were 70 households, but many people have fled so now there are only 30 households left. There is still a school building, but no one can study. So none of my children can go to school, instead they take care of buffaloes in the rain all the time.

Q: How much would it cost to hire a teacher from town?
A: We didn’t go to town because we knew we couldn’t hire them. We’d have to give each teacher 8,000 Kyat each month, and we heard that they must also give some of their salary to the Burmese soldiers. I don’t know for sure, I just heard about it. I cannot read or write so I don’t know very much.

When we work in our field and get 50 baskets [of paddy], we have to give them 25 baskets. Then there are only 25 baskets left for us, but we still must give taxes and fees so each year we never have enough rice left. Each year I had to borrow from others. There are many taxes, like taxes for pigs and taxes for goats. If they come to the village you can’t keep your livestock. They come to take one pig, and if the villagers cannot give them one pig then they fine the village head and torture him. We are just villagers, so we must give to the village head whenever he collects money from us. When we don’t have money to give we must sell things from our house. I knew that nothing good would happen for us in our village and I heard one of my cousins was here, so we came here.

Q: What did you have to do for loh ah pay?
A: For loh ah pay we have to go and work in the Army camp. They don’t have a camp in xxxx, but they have a camp in T---. I think they are #xxx [Infantry Battalion]but I don’t know. We had to go and slice bamboo into small pieces, then sharpen it into spikes for booby traps. Anyone who didn’t go was put in the stocks. They put you in the stocks and fine you five viss [8 kg / 17.5 lb] of chicken or five viss of alcohol. You have to give it, you cannot stay [in the village] if you don’t give it. They write a letter demanding one goat as the fine for anyone who escapes while portering, or 5 viss of alcohol for someone who didn’t go for loh ah pay. Then the villagers must send them whatever they’ve demanded, because it’s not good to wait until they come for it. If the villagers don’t give it until they come, then when they come they beat every villager. Each day 3 people must also go for ‘patrol’. Women must go for that, the men are not allowed to go. When they go, each of the ‘patrol’ people must take them a bundle of firewood. The ‘patrol’ women have to report to the camp commander about whether or not any Kaw Thoo Lei have come to the village each day. They have to go before noon. Most of the time the women lie to them. Sometimes the Kaw Thoo Lei come but the women tell them that they didn’t come. If only 2 or 3 Kaw Thoo Lei come it is no problem, the ‘patrol’ women don’t tell them, but if 70 or 80 come then the ‘patrol’ women must go and inform them about where they’re headed. If they are headed to L--- or T---, the women must tell them that the KNLA are headed to L--- or T---, because the Burmese also have their spies to go and check. If the women see those spies, they know that they need to tell the truth.

People know who their spies are. One is a Karen from below [the plains] who has come to do logging. There are also many Mon and Burmans who come to do logging. If they see Karen soldiers they go and inform the Burmese commander, so if the villagers see one of those people they know they need to tell the commander the truth. However, if the KNLA are headed to L--- they tell him that they are headed to T---, and if they are headed to P--- the villagers tell him they were headed to H---. If the Burmese say that they didn’t see them there, the ‘patrol’ women can say, "We can’t help it if you didn’t see them. We saw them pass our village and watched them until they disappeared, but we dared not follow them so we can’t say exactly where they went." Sometimes they tell him that the KNLA have come and headed someplace and that there are 200 or 300 of them, when really there were only 0 to 80 of them. Sometimes people tell them but they don’t give chase, they just say to the women "Let them go, let them go". Most of the time he says, "It’s enough to inform us about it, as long as we know it’s no problem". The camp commander is kind, but still his heart is crooked because he is a Burman. Sometimes he shouts at the ‘patrol’ women, "Why don’t you inform us when Kaw Thoo Lei come? Do you like Kaw Thoo Lei? Do you like Nga Pway?" They always call Kaw Thoo Lei the Nga Pway [‘ringworm’]. He threatens the women, "If you don’t inform us truthfully next time we will punish you severely." If you can make him happy he is kind, but if you cannot make him happy he is crooked. He has already put many people in the stocks. He puts the women in the stocks if they arrive late for ‘patrol’. They are told to go for patrol at 10 a.m., and if you arrive later than that you will be in the stocks. Some women go early in the morning and wait near the Army camp, then at 10 a.m. they enter the Army camp and tell the Burmese commander, "Ah, Son! Mother has arrived just now."

The women must talk sweetly to the Burmese. If they don’t speak sweetly the Burmese will beat them. They beat one woman from my village. Her name is M---. She arrived at the Army camp early in the morning and went to visit T--- at her house because it was not 10 a.m. yet. At 10 a.m. she entered the camp and said "Son! I’ve arrived here just now." The Burmese asked her, "Mother! Did you really just arrive now?" and she answered, "Yes, Mother doesn’t lie to you". He looked at her and smiled and she thought everything was alright, but then he called "Come here!" She went to him, and he beat her twice with a bamboo stick as thick as my hand, and she passed urine right then and there. He beat her on her back with the bamboo, Baun! Baun!! Then he told her, "You arrived early in the morning, and I saw you but didn’t call you. You headed to someone’s house. I saw that, so why did you lie to me like this? You came for patrol early in the morning, why did you say that you just came now?" Bwah!! M--- had to drink holy water [to heal herself] for many days when she got home after being beaten like that. She is almost 50 years old. She’s the same age as my mother’s youngest sister.

Q: What about the second time they captured you?
A: The second time they captured me at the edge of the village when I was coming back from my hill field. I was coming back at 4 p.m., because in our village we are not allowed to be out after 6 p.m. – if we walk in the dark, they shoot at us with their guns. When I was coming back, they saw me at the edge of the village and stopped me. He asked me in Burmese, "Where have you come from?" I said, "I am coming from my hill field". Then he asked, "Is that true?" I told him "Yes." Just then my brothers came back from fishing with a net. He forced us to sit down together. He asked my brothers and they told him, "We’re coming back from net fishing". My elder brother pointed at me and said, "That is my brother, he just came from his hill field". Then he accused me of contacting Kaw Thoo Lei. He hit my head with a gun barrel and my scalp was cut open. Look at the top of my head here and you will see the scar where he cut my head open. He hit it with a gun barrel. Then they hit me twice in the chest with a gun butt. He hit the back of my neck with the gun barrel and shouted, "Speak the truth!!" Then they pushed fire against my belly here, and it burned and the wound was there for a long time. It’s just healed after I’ve been here for a month, you can see the scar.

Q: When did they do this to you?
A: About 3 months ago [April 1999], but I didn’t note the date. My elder brother told them, "This is my younger brother who has come back from his hill field. He is not working for Kaw Thoo Lei". Then he released us, but he came to capture us again the next evening. I had already fled, the same evening that he released us. After they accused me like that I thought, "This is not good for me", so I gathered my wife and some of our children and we ran. I didn’t dare confront them again, I was still in shock from the first time they had tortured me. I decided that live or die, we would flee. We met Karen soldiers at xxxx and I asked them, "Is anyone going to the east?" They told me that there were some Karen soldiers coming this way, and we came with them. The first night after we left xxxx, we arrived above xxxx and cooked and ate there, we waited there until dark and then left again. We had to cross that area at night because the DKBA often go that way. We also crossed the Khoh Loh Kloh [Salween River] at night, and it was in flood so I was very afraid in the boat. After we ran, when we were staying at xxxx, I was informed that the Burmese had killed my elder brother and my younger brother. They captured the two of them and killed them. They killed my two brothers because of me. My mother and father ran to xxxx at the same time that we fled. I don’t know how they will live there.

Q: Which Battalion were these soldiers from?
A: I don’t know their number, but on one shoulder they had a picture of a dog’s head, and on the other shoulder they had a picture of two sticks in a round string[he is illiterate, so this could have been their double-digit Division number; "22" in Burmese characters would look the most like "two sticks"].

Q: How old was your elder brother?
A: He was 39 years old, 2 years older than I am. His name was K’Baw Htoo. He had a wife and children. He has 5 children who are still alive, but several of his children died already. The eldest is now 16 years old, and the youngest is 2. They didn’t do anything to his family, just to him. I hope his wife will go to my parents, otherwise I think it will be very difficult for her to live.

Q: What about your younger brother?
A: He was 18 years old. His name was Tha Gu. He was single.

Q: Why haven’t you brought all of your children here?
A: Because we couldn’t carry all of them. I left the 3 biggest children with their grandparents, my mother and father, and then we came with the 2 smallest children. My eldest daughter is 14 years old, she can already take care of buffaloes very well. My second daughter is 8, and my son is still small, he is only 6 years old. My youngest is just over a year old, and the other is 3. I couldn’t bring all of them because we were following the [KNLA] soldiers [the soldiers move quickly and often have to lay low]. Before we ran I told my parents, "Father, mother, I will flee now because I dare not stay here anymore. If I stay here the Burmese will do something to me." That was why we ran. After I ran, the Burmese said I must be a rebel so they killed my elder brother and my younger brother.

If I told you everything in detail it would take a whole day and night and we still wouldn’t be finished, because the Burmese made problems for us in every way. We just had to tolerate it because we had nowhere else to go, until I found the soldiers who were headed this way and so I followed them. I knew that I could not stay in the village anymore. I knew that they would make problems for me again and again until in the end they would kill me, and my wife and children would be left alone and in trouble. That is why I came here. If I died there, my wife and children would face problems with food, taxes and forced labour. The widows in our village all have to pay taxes and go as porters, all of them. Because there are now few people left in our village, the women also have to go as porters. Women also have to go on ‘patrol’ duty. [Forced labour at the army camp, as sentries and messengers.] Some of the widows were left with a bullock cart and team when their husbands died, so they sold them and use the money to pay taxes, porter fees and loh ah pay fees.

It took us 6 days to come here. We walked the whole way, and twice we had to walk through the night. We came and listened [laid low and watched for SPDC troops] on the way. The Karen soldiers were coming this way so we came with them. They told me I should become a soldier, but I told them I don’t dare become a soldier. I have a wife and children so I have responsibilities to them. I arrived here on June 20th. I don’t dare go back now. I don’t even know the way to go back, but I hope to be able to go and get my children. If we know for sure we can stay here and we get some food, then maybe I can go back to get my children.

 

#2.

NAME:      "Naw Hser"         SEX: F        AGE: 51               Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Widow, two sons aged 8 and 22
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Pa’an township                         INTERVIEWED: 7/99

["Naw Hser" was interviewed two months after arriving in Thailand as a refugee.]

Q: How many people are in your family?
A: There are 5 of us, including 2 ‘nieces’. I have two sons, one is already married, then my daughter-in-law and my sister. They are like my children. We came here together.

Q: Can you tell me why you came here?
A: I will tell you why we came here, it is because the Burmese forced us to do many things and hire many things [pay for people to go in their place for forced labour, etc.], and I couldn’t stand it anymore so I fled and came here. We had to do many things like loh ah pay and portering, even if you didn’t want to do it you had to do it. We had to carry things and pay them too.

Q: Did you ever go yourself?
A: Yes. When my husband was alive he had to go whether he wanted to or not. If he couldn’t go we had to hire someone to go for him, and now we don’t have any money to hire anyone anymore. To hire one porter cost us 5,000 Kyat, or sometimes 2,000 Kyat or 1,500 Kyat. Sometimes it was for 10 days, sometimes for 5 days, depending on whether it was for a long distance or a short distance. The Burmese are staying in our village so they didn’t come to collect us, but we had to send people by turns.

Q: How many houses are in your village?
A: In the eastern part of the village we have 50 houses. Each month a new village head is elected. We have to do it that way, we don’t have someone who always remains as village head. The village head has to change monthly because people don’t want to be village head, and the Burmese don’t want that [a permanent village head] either. Nobody dares to be a village head for 2 or 3 months. [Villagers are afraid of being village head because the village head is held responsible for sending forced labourers, money and materials to the SPDC troops. Village heads are constantly being summoned to the Army camp and are beaten or tortured for any failure to meet the demands, and they must often meet part of these demands out of their own pockets.]

Q: What do they force you to carry when you go as porters?
A: When portering, the Burmese force us to carry rice and other food. Sometimes they force us to carry weapons and bullets. We have to take our own food, and if it runs out we have to ask food from other people. Sometimes they [the soldiers] give some if they have enough, but usually they don’t and we have to ask for food from the houses in the villages we pass through. We would be in hunger and wouldn’t be able to carry on if we didn’t do this. All the Burmese who are patrolling force the villagers to go – sometimes they go far, sometimes only nearby. The women also have to go. The oldest whom they force to go are age 40 or more, and the youngest are 14 or 15 years old – as long as you can carry 1 bowl of rice. I heard from my husband that if porters who were carrying heavy things fell down, the Burmese beat them with a stick, or kicked them with boots.

Q: How did your husband die?
A: My husband was old, so he was tired after going as a porter and one time he became sick and died. After he came back [from portering] he told me his chest was in pain. He was in pain for many days until he couldn’t tolerate his suffering any more, and then he was dead. He was over 50 years old. He died this dry season. He died in January [1999] and I came here in May.

Q: Which Burmese troops forced him to go as a porter?
A: Many different Burmese troops come to force us so right now I don’t know which troop it is, but when my husband went it was Light Infantry Battalion #4. That was a while ago. They always change their troops every 4 to 6 months. We’ve also had to go more recently, but I don’t know what is happening there right now because I’ve already fled to come here.

Q: Where do the Burmese troops stay?
A: They stay in our village at xxxx. There are not so many of them, only 10 or 20. They have a commander at each camp, but I don’t dare ask his name. When we were coming here we had to flee secretly because their camp is right at our village. They wouldn’t allow us to come here. If they saw us, they would ask "Where are you going?" and we couldn’t dare tell them that we were coming here. First each family had to flee into the jungle, and then we had to come here secretly.

Q: Do they do other things in the village?
A: Yes, they eat a lot of chickens and livestock in the village. They eat without paying. Sometimes they order the village to send it and we give it, and then sometimes they pay something, but usually they do not pay. They also steal it at night. We usually don’t dare complain to the camp commander. If people go and tell them they beat those people, so we don’t dare complain to them often.

Q: How do people make a living in your village?
A: People there live as farmers and work the hillside fields. People who don’t have fields have to clear a place, make a hill field and earn their living that way. We don’t have enough time to work. They don’t allow us to go out [of the village] until 8 a.m., and we must come back by 4 p.m. on time. They won’t let the villagers work any extra time. I don’t know what they’d do if you’re late. The Burmese camp is right there, so they won’t let us stay out for extra time. If we want to go and sleep in our field hut, the men need a letter of recommendation but the women do not. The Burmese have to write the recommendation letter.

Q: Do the Burmese collect any rice from your village?
A: Yes, they demand rice from the villagers whenever their rations are not enough for them. If the villagers have no rice to give they can’t do anything. They demand 1 basket [of paddy] from each field because some of the hillfields are small and we can only plant 1 or 2 baskets of seed paddy in them. If we have a big hillfield then we also have to pay tax for it.

Q: Did they force the villagers to do anything except portering?
A: Yes, we had to do it. We had to fence our village, and we also had to build fences around their camp and work on the road. If several people stay in a house, then one person has to go from each house. They forced us to work from 8 a.m. until noon. They scold the villagers but they don’t beat them. Whenever they need the villagers, they come to collect them. If people are sick, they force them to go when they become better.

Q: Did you hear of the Burmese moving any villages?
A: They forced the other villages to our village. Lay Kaw Tee village and Tee Pa Doh Kee village. They brought their belongings and their houses. The Burmese drove them from their villages, that’s why they came to our village. They gave them 5 days to move. I don’t know why. They didn’t stay long. Now they have gone back to their villages.

Q: Do battles ever occur around your village?
A: Sometimes the KNLA attack them and battles occur. Battles occur at least once every 10 days.

Q: Have the Ko Per Baw [DKBA] ever come to your village?
A: The Ko Per Baw come and go often. If they want to eat, they demand food from the village headman. When they come to the village, they also force the villagers to do things. If they need men, they collect one or two in the village and force them to carry food or bullets.

Q: Where do they take them?
A: If they are going to Ka Ma Maung they force them to carry to Ka Ma Maung, if they are going to T---, they force them to carry to T---, and if they go to H--- then they have to carry to H---. To get to H--- we have to walk for one or two hours.

Q: Do you know the name of the DKBA who force the villagers?
A: I don’t know.
Second woman: What do you mean you don’t know? He is K--- and he is always forcing the villagers.
A: Sometimes he comes but not often – many of them come to the village, and sometimes K--- is with them. He is a DKBA commander.

Q: How many families came with you?
A: We came as only one family. Before we came here, others asked to follow us. I told them "Don’t come with us. If you want to go, go later one by one." If we came in a group and the Burmese saw us, they wouldn’t allow us to come here. We had to come secretly.
Second woman: Not only our family, some others also came in T’Gu Lah [March-April 1999].

Q: Have you been suffering like this for a long time?
A: Yes, since a long time ago. But this year we’ve had to suffer more, so we came here.

Q: How many days did it take you to come here?
A: We had to travel 4 days on the way. Now I will stay here forever. If the camp moves to a new place, we will have to move with the camp. I dare not go back. If the situation really, honestly gets better and all the people go back, I will go back. But if the others don’t go back, I won’t go back.

 

#3.

NAME:     "Naw Ler Paw"        SEX: F        AGE: 28             Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:   Married, three children aged 6 months to 6 years
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Thaton township                         INTERVIEWED: 5/99

["Naw Ler Paw" was interviewed after fleeing her village.]

Q: Have the SPDC troops ever arrived at your village?
A: The Burmese arrived at the village. Just a few days ago they arrived. They came in the evening, on the 6th waning day of Dta Baun [March 7th 1999]. It was a Sunday. When they were coming I didn’t hear anything. They came to shoot, and they didn’t let us know anything. They just started shooting.

My mother had died and we had just cremated her. Then in the evening they entered the village and they didn’t say anything, they just started to shoot their guns. They came and fired their guns near my house. They didn’t ask for food or alcohol, they asked nothing.

Q: Was anyone wounded?
A: Many villagers were wounded. Eight villagers were wounded, and six villagers died. The Burmese shot and hit my younger sister first. She is 17 years old, and at the time she was under the house. Her name is A---, she was pregnant. Later when we were taking her and reached M--- pagoda, she delivered her baby. The bullet hit her shoulder and came out through the other side. After she fell down, the Burmese fired into the house, TA! TA! TA! TA!! When they fired, one of my daughters was hit in her head and she died in our house. She was sleeping in the house, and the bullet went through her head. I stayed near her and kept her younger siblings near her. As for me, one shot hit my shoulder and another grazed my head. Most of those who got wounded under my house were children, because they were playing under the house and the Burmese fired there a lot.

Some of those who were wounded were B---’s daughter Naw P---, Pa K--- [a man], and S--- [a woman]. Pa K--- was hit in the leg. He is 23 years old. In my family we are 3 siblings [she has one brother and one sister], and all three of us were hit. My brother was killed. M--- [a woman], M--- [a woman], Naw T--- [a woman], and K---[a man] were also wounded. M--- is 13 years old, and Naw T--- is 42. M--- is 16 years old, and K--- is 25. A--- [her younger sister mentioned above] is 17. Also my younger sister T---, she was 23 at the time, now she is 24.

After the shooting stopped, people looked at the time and it was 9:30 p.m.

Q: Where did the SPDC soldiers go after that?
A: They went to S--- village. People call them Infantry Battalion #xx. They stay at xxxx Camp. There were about 30 soldiers including their commander. I don’t know the name of their commander, but when they came to shoot their commander came with them. He is a 2nd Lieutenant with one star.

Q: Do those SPDC soldiers ever force the villagers to do anything?
A: Yes, they always force people to go. The villagers have to plant sugar cane, cut wood and clear the forest for them. The villagers have to work very hard for them and never get a single coin of money. We have to pack rice from our house and take our own rice to eat. On top of that, they shout at us while we work. They guard us with guns and sometimes shout at us. They force us to go early in the morning, and let us come back at 4 p.m. They come to get the villagers in the morning.

Q: How old are those who go?
A: The youngest ones who go are 15 or 16 years old, and they also force people over 40 years old to go.
Second woman: I also have to go, and I am over 60 years old.
A: People who are 60 years old have to go, and those who are over 60 also have to go to do loh ah pay.

Q: How do you survive now?
A: We just go on and try to eat like this. My mother and father are dead, and now my brother is also dead. I have only one younger sister. The Burmese shot to kill. Now my relatives are almost all gone. If they do this for much longer, all of my relatives will be gone. They’ve done this to us, and still they accuse us that we are "Tha Bone" ["rebels"]. Even while we were going to get treatment in hospital, they were still accusing us of being "Tha Bone". I went to get treatment in xxxxhospital. They fed us nothing there, we had to bring it all from home. The nurse at the hospital gave us injections, 2 or 3 injections each day. We had to pay them. Some days, we had to pay over 2,000 Kyat for one day. Some days 2,000 Kyat, some days over 1,000 Kyat, and some days 3,000 to 4,000 Kyat. All the patients have to pay like this. If the disease is serious you have to pay more, if it’s not so serious you pay less.

Q: Did all the villagers who were wounded get cured?
A: Yes, they were all cured. We went to hospital on the 7th waning day of Dta Baun [March 8th 1999], on Monday. I don’t remember what day we came back. We had to stay in the hospital for 14 days.

After they finished shooting they didn’t say anything to the villagers, they left the village secretly. They arrived at the hospital 15 minutes before we did. A nurse came and said to us, "A group of Burmese just came to get treatment". We asked her, "Did they come a long time ago?" She said, "They just arrived 15 minutes ago". When she said that I knew. When the Burmese saw us in the hospital, they said, "The villagers from xxxx village are stubborn. It’s a Nga Pway [‘ringworm’, i.e. KNU/KNLA] village. If they die, good for them." I was not happy to hear him talk like that, so I protested. He is an officer, and he often came to shout at us[in the hospital]. The other villagers were afraid and stayed quiet. He said "Nga Pway stay in your village". I said, "There were no Nga Pway. After you shot at us, you went back. We saw you when you came into the village. All of you were Burmese."

[For additional details regarding the massacre described by "Naw Ler Paw" see below under "Field Reports" (Field Report #FR1). The SPDC troops never gave any reason for the massacre, though according to "Naw Ler Paw" some of them were at the hospital for treatment, so they may have had a skirmish with the KNLA near the village, and the massacre was their way of punishing the villagers.]

 

#4.

NAME:      "Saw Thay Htoo"        SEX: M        AGE: 35            Karen Animist farmer
FAMILY:    Married, had 5 children but 2 died; 3 surviving children aged 10-12
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Thaton township                           INTERVIEWED: 4/99

["Saw Thay Htoo" was interviewed near his village.]

Q: Have the SPDC troops ever come to your village?
A: Yes. Recently they have come one time to the village. They came before the water festival [which occurred in mid-April 1999]. When they came to the village there was shooting [they encountered the KNLA] and then the people [KNLA] fled, so they fined the villagers. They fined us 2½ baskets of rice and one pig.

Q: What would they do if you didn’t pay the fine?
A: They don’t like it if the villagers don’t pay. If we didn’t give it to them they would abuse the villagers. They’ve done that before. If villagers flee when they come, they fine us, and if porters flee and escape, they fine us for that too. Each person has to give 5 viss [8 kg / 17.5 lb] of pork.

Q: Have you ever gone portering?
A: I’ve always had to go portering! They don’t give food to the porters. The porters have to take along rice, salt, chillies and everything for themselves. Sometimes we sleep in villagers’ houses, and sometimes we sleep in the jungle. They guard us closely. Sometimes they kick the porters. When people get sick they don’t take care of them well. They give some medicine, and when porters can’t walk they leave them. One porter who got bad diarrhoea couldn’t climb the mountain, so they got annoyed and kicked him down the mountainside. He was a villager from Naw Yo Hta village. I don’t know his name. Then they gave him a bit of medicine and forced him to walk and carry a load again.

Q: Have the KNLA ever beaten you?
A: No, the KNLA never beat me. The SPDC tortured me though. On the 6th day of Dta Baun [March 7th 1999] they beat my head and broke the skin. They entered the village at 9 p.m. There were about 70 soldiers, and they arrested me while I was pounding paddy. They asked me, "Have any Karen soldiers come to the village?" I said, "Sometimes they enter the village." Then he asked me, "When Karen soldiers come do they eat and drink, and whose field do they stay in?" I couldn’t answer him so he beat me. The one who beat me was a commander with 3 stars [Captain]. He beat me with a wooden stick as thick as my wrist, and over an armspan long. He hit me 3 times on the head, and the skin on my scalp was broken so he stopped hitting me there. Then he started beating my shins about 20 or 30 times. After that they tied me up with my hands behind my back and sutured my head. They sutured my head 3 times. After that I couldn’t walk for 10 days. Then he told me to go and summon the village headman. Before I reached the village headman’s place, they left and went down to xxxx village. Five days later, they moved to another place and were replaced by new troops.

Q: When they beat you did they beat anyone else?
A: Before they beat me, they beat one of the village women. Her name is M---, she lives in T--- village. It was the same troops who beat me. That was when the Karen[soldiers] were celebrating Karen New Year [in January 1999]. The Burmese were going to shoot at them and they saw a dog, it was her dog. Later they went and asked M---, "This is your dog and it was there [at the KNLA celebration], so you also must have been there". She answered, "I didn’t go there, and this is not my dog either." Then the officer said, "This is your dog, and if you didn’t go then your husband must have been there". That’s why they beat her. They hit her on the head, but she had a wrap on her head [a towel or cloth which Karen women often wear wrapped around their heads like a turban, and which would have protected her a bit from the blows]. They hit her 30 or 40 times on her head. I saw them beat her. They beat her savagely. They beat her with the same size of stick that they used to beat me. They hit her with the end of the stick.

Q: Was she alright afterwards?
A: She suffered for many days. She had to smear the wounds with yellow spirit powder.

Q: Didn’t the SPDC take care of her?
A: No, they didn’t. I suffered for many days too, but they put a little medicine on my wound [when they sutured it]. Now my leg is also still in pain. He beat me on the shins, and I couldn’t walk until 10 days later.

Q: When the SPDC troops come to the village do they ever take anything from the villagers?
A: They always do that. They never ‘organise’ the villagers [this term translates as ‘organise’ and is commonly used in Burma; it means to rally people to support you, or in this case to implement a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign]. They just rob the villagers, they take things like our pots and plates, then they take the paddy from our paddy storage barns and pound it, then they eat it. They came in September [1998] and did all of that.

 

#5.

NAME:      "Pu Hla Maung"        SEX: M        AGE: 50            Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Married, 8 children aged under 1 year up to 23 years
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Thaton township                        INTERVIEWED: 5/99

["Pu Hla Maung" was interviewed near his village.]

Q: Have the SPDC or DKBA ever come to your village?
A: Yes. Now they are still staying in the village. They came to the village and summoned me. They were DKBA soldiers. Their commander was Bo Than Htun, and he had over 10 soldiers and a 2nd Lieutenant. They summoned me at 9 p.m. and accused me of helping the KNU and collecting taxes for them. I told them I don’t collect taxes or do anything for them. Then they covered and tied my head until I couldn’t breathe, and they started interrogating me. I shouted, I told them "If you do this to me I will die! If you have questions then ask me, I will explain clearly to you!" I shouted so loud that Aunty here heard it. Then they untied my head for a while and I told them, "I don’t collect taxes for them, but when they come and ask things from us, we give it to them. They have always been friendly with us because they are like our nephews. They come to our houses and visit us." Then they untied me and took me to K---’s brother-in-law’s house. There was no one there, so they took me to M--- village and forced me to show them T---’s house. They already knew which house it was. They called T--- out of his house and asked him questions. T--- told them, "They [KNLA] already left". Then they demanded a duck from T---, but he couldn’t find one so he gave them a chicken. They also forced him to bring 2 bottles of alcohol for them. Then they released me in M--- village and took T--- to guide the way for them.

They took one of my red hens. That hen has a small chick, and Aunty [his wife] told them, "Nephew, don’t take that one because she has a small chick". Then they said "Call that woman down and tie her up". But they didn’t call her down.

Q: Where did the DKBA go after releasing you?
A: They went back to K---. I heard that they also tortured P---, who lives in K---. They covered and tied his head and did the same that they had done to me. People from K--- said that they ordered him to give them 30,000 Kyat. I didn’t see it, I just heard from people there. I don’t dare go there. I’m afraid and I don’t dare sleep in my own house, I always have to go and sleep in other houses. I’m afraid they’ll come back and torture me again.

Q: Do people in your village ever have to do loh ah pay?
A: Sometimes we are forced to do it. If they need us to go, the villagers go. When people are going for one day, they don’t feed them. Now they’re not ordering us to go as porters, they only force the villagers to send [guide] them when they come. I’ve never gone for them.

 

#6.

NAME:      "Saw Po Thu"         SEX: M        AGE: 36            Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Married with 4 children aged 2-10
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Thaton township                        INTERVIEWED: 5/99

["Saw Po Thu" was interviewed near his village.]

Q: Have the SPDC soldiers ever come to your village?
A: Yes, the Burmese soldiers came to the village. They just came to the village last night. They came to sleep in xxxx village on the 3rd of May. They came to collect 2,000 pieces of thatch and 1,000 bamboo [each piece of thatch is several feet long, consisting of jungle leaves tied onto a frame of split bamboo; the 1,000 bamboo are long bamboo posts]. They came in the evening and visited the village chairman. The village chairman came to tell me. We can get bamboo in our village, but there are no ta la aw leaves for thatch in our village, so they forced us to give them money instead of thatch. We collected 70 Kyat and 5 bamboo from each household for them. They said the Brigadier had ordered them to collect it. We don’t know what it is for, they took it to their camp. Some villagers have no money, but they still had to give because they are afraid of the Burmese. If the villagers didn’t give it, the village head would have difficulties with the Burmese, so the villagers try to help the headman. Villagers here are afraid. If we don’t give they will do something, because our village is not far from town. So we can’t dare stay here without helping them.

Q: Where did these Burmese soldiers come from?
A: Usually only the senior village leaders go to the camp. Those who have gone to their camp told us that the Burmese have Battalion bases in Kyone Doh and Kawkareik. But these Burmese said they came from N---.

Q: Did you already give them the money and bamboo?
A: Now we are still collecting the money and bamboo, but in the next two or three days we will finish collecting it. Then we must give it to them. The village heads don’t dare take any for themselves. If you are village headman for the Burmese [i.e. the SPDC-appointed Village Peace & Development Council Chairman], you have to follow and obey them. When you don’t, they accuse you of helping Karen soldiers, and then if one or two [KNLA] people go and shoot at them they make problems for the village. They say that we didn’t inform them that KNLA people were staying in our village. They come and stay in our village many days and shoot and eat our chickens and pigs, then when they leave the village they shoot and kill all the livestock they see along their way.

Q: Do they ever do that?
A: If their commander is good, the soldiers will also be good. If their commander is not good then you’ll know about it. If they can’t take things from a house, they’ll make problems for the house owner. They ask rice from the villagers. They know that villagers keep rice in their houses, and if the villagers say they have no rice then they won’t believe it. They shoot and eat our poultry, and we can’t tell them not to. They don’t pay us any Kyat for that.

Q: Do they ever ask for loh ah pay?
A: Yes, they force us to go for loh ah pay building the motor road and their camp, digging trenches and fencing their camp. They also force us to go portering. Right now they’ve demanded 6 people. They got 5 people, and they collected money for the one they didn’t get.

 

#7.

NAME:      "Naw Mu Mu Wah"         SEX: F        AGE: 29        Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Married, 2 children aged 1 and 8
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Pa’an township                           INTERVIEWED: 7/99

["Naw Mu Mu Wah" was interviewed two months after arriving in Thailand as a refugee. Her village is on the western bank of the Salween River, not far downriver from Ka Ma Maung.]

Q: Do you remember the date when you arrived here?
A: We arrived here on the 14th of May, because we left to come here on May 13th. We had to sleep one night along the way.

Q: Why did you come here?
A: We came here because we had problems in our village. We had no time to do our own work, because the Burmese and the DKBA forced us to work for them. We had to go and build their houses, and they also forced us to carry their things. After we came back from carrying their things, we had no time to rest before they came to force us to do something else for them. My mother is old, and she told me, "Daughter, if you stay here you will have to work whenever they force you, but you have small children and no time for their work. If possible, wherever your husband wants you to stay, you should follow him." My husband felt that as long as he stayed in the village he’d have no time to do his own work. Then he had a problem, so we fled and came here. We came step by step and arrived here.

Q: Do the Burmese stay in your village?
A: Yes, we have Burmese [soldiers] in our village, but they don’t stay in our village. They stay in the Ka Ma Maung soldiers’ camp, but sometimes they come to the village to capture us.

Q: Do they come to capture porters?
A: They don’t capture ‘porters’, they capture us for ‘loh ah pay’. Because in Burmese language ‘pota’ [‘porter’] is very rude, so they call it ‘loh ah pay’ instead.

Q: What’s the difference between portering and loh ah pay?
A: If it’s portering we have to go for many days, like a week or a month, and it’s called ‘pota’. If it’s ‘loh ah pay’ we have to go for one day and come back the next morning. We also have to carry from xxxx to L--- and from xxxx to Ka Ma Maung and Ohn Daw. My husband went one time, and I also had to go one time. I went for loh ah pay, I never go for portering. Now in our village the Burmese only come sometimes to force the villagers because the DKBA are taking their place in the area, and the Burmese are going back. But the forced labour for the DKBA is increasing.

First they [DKBA] come to collect the villagers, but if they cannot gather us then they capture us. Their duty is to capture people – they have no rules or laws, so they do not respect the villagers. If they see people in a house they call you to come down, and if you are coming down slowly they pull you down and hurt you that way.

Q: Are the Burmese and the DKBA cooperating?
A: Yes, they do. When they travel they go together. If the Burmese are going somewhere, they ask one or two DKBA to go with them to show the way. It’s Karen area, so the DKBA know the way.

Q: Are the DKBA staying in your village?
A: Yes, they are staying in the village. There is not a camp, they stay in their houses with their wives and children. They’re staying in the eastern part of the village, in the western part, and also in the centre. They don’t all stay together; each house is in a different part. There are about 20 families of them.

Q: Is xxxx a big village?
A: It’s not big, but it’s long. It follows the Khoh Loh Kloh [Salween River], the houses are built along the banks of the river. It has around 100 houses, because many villagers have already fled so there are fewer than before. Some have gone to stay in other villages nearby, some have gone to stay in the plains [further west], and some have come to stay here [the refugee camp]. People who are rich can still stay there, they go and stay for a short time in each place.

Q: Why do people flee to other villages?
A: Because some villages are forced to do things a lot and some villages aren’t forced as much, so they’ve gone to stay at those kinds of villages. Some also go to stay with their relatives in other villages. But no one dares to stay in farmfield huts.

Q: How often do the DKBA collect forced labour in the village?
A: They do it this way: today they collect 4 or 5 people from this part of the village, then tomorrow they go and collect 4 or 5 people from another part of the village, and so on. When they get through the whole village they start again. They collect and force people by turns. Seven, eight, or 10 people at a time, and they have to take along their own food and go as porters. Usually they just have to sleep away one night and come back the next morning. Sometimes we have to sleep at M--- and sometimes at L---. Each person has to carry one or two big tins of rice [each big tin is 17 kg / 37 lb]. If there are few porters each person has to carry 2 tins, but if there are many porters each person has to carry 1 tin. Now we have to work for the DKBA, but sometimes the Burmese still demand loh ah pay repairing the fences of their camp when they are broken. The Burmese are at Ka Ma Maung soldiers’ camp. They still come through the village on their way downriver, and sometimes they take a villager to go as their guide. Sometimes they come to be sentries when their soldiers will go downriver by boat. People call it "Yay Khin" [‘water sentry’]. They go as sentries to Gu Gu river, Ler Bpu and between the villages. They are afraid that people will shoot at their boat.

Q: When they come to collect people, what do the DKBA do if people are sick or won’t go?
A: Sometimes they scold us. Sometimes they say, "You are staying in this village. If you don’t like us to force you, then leave the village." The villagers are angry with them because the DKBA have power and do not respect the villagers. I know many of them [DKBA]: Maung Shwe Aye, Klu Gyi, and another who’s now dead, Maung Ghaw. Their commander is Bo Than Htun. They patrol in groups of just 10 or 20 people.

Q: Do they take anything from the village?
A: They demand things but more than that, they also steal. Even if you know about it you can’t dare say anything. When they come to our houses to steal we can hear the steps of their boots, but if we come down out of the house they run away. Once they came to my house to steal hens early in the night. My mother and father weren’t at home, there were only myself, my younger brother, my children and my husband. He didn’t catch our hens because we ran down quickly out of the house. We think it is the DKBA doing this because no one ever did things like this in the village before. If we grow fruit or vegetables we don’t get to eat them, they come and pick them before we can and take them as their own. If you complain to them they say, "Who are you to dare speak to us?" These words are painful to our ears and make our hearts beat faster. [The villagers are especially upset about this because they are used to such behaviour from the Burmese, but the DKBA are Karen like themselves.]

They don’t like the villagers to complain to them. They said, "No one can say this is their land, this is DKBA land." Another of them is Maw Nga. He is very bad. When we were milling our sugar cane he did not come to ask us for some. If he said "Uncle, Aunt, Sister" and asked for some we would be happy to give it, because we are all humans, all the same. But they are not the same as us. He came and broke our sugar cane and then took it back to his commander and soldiers. Then they ate it together. They didn’t ask the owner, instead they destroyed the fence around the sugar cane plantation, then they broke off the sugar cane and when they couldn’t carry any more, they fired off their guns. These are Karen people! We have to be afraid of each other. That’s why I thought that as long as I stayed there nothing would change for me. They would only abuse us and give us pain, so it would be better to stay in another country.

Q: Do the DKBA ever beat the villagers?
A: Yes. When one of their groups was shooting some other place, another group came upriver to the village and asked the villagers "Who’s that shooting?" They thought that people from outside [KNLA] were shooting. People told them we didn’t know, because by that time of night all the young children were already asleep. They said, "Why don’t you know?" and beat them. One of the villagers was wounded on his hand. I heard that they beat 3 villagers. One was M---, he is over 30 years old. Another was U M---, he is over 40, and the other was T---, he is 30 or 40 years old. I don’t know how many times they hit them, but they were hurt on their hands and legs and they were all swollen up.

I will tell you another thing that happened before I came here. I have a small brother, and at that time he had gone to find frogs in the fields. He is 15 years old, a young boy. He went to find frogs every night. He was trying to get money to buy his reading books. My mother told him not to go that night because it was very dark and there was thunder, but he wanted to get money and study in the school, so he went to find frogs. At that time, one of them [DKBA] whom we call Maung Shwe Aye went and demanded frogs from the villagers who were gathering them in the fields around xxxx. He stole 8 frogs from each of the adults and from those who had many frogs, and he took 5 frogs from each of the children like my younger brother. He pointed his gun at people while he robbed them. He made the sound of the gun bolt, "Klaw Kla, Klaw Kla", and he said, "Do you know what this is?" My brother only had 10 frogs but he stole 5 frogs from him. Then my brother was afraid and came back. If they didn’t give him the frogs he would have done something to them, because he was drunk.

Whenever you want to go to the forest, you have to get a letter of recommendation. You have to pay 20 Kyat for each one. I don’t know if the DKBA or the village head takes that money. You have to go and get it from the village head. After he writes the letter, he gives it to the villager. If the DKBA sees them in the jungle they ask, "Where do you live?" In xxxx [her village]. "Do you have your letter?" The villagers show them. If the villagers have no letter, they can kill them.

Q: Do the villagers have to hire anyone for them?
A: Yes, for mee khin set tha [‘fire lookout’; actually unarmed sentry duty along the motor roads]. The villagers have to do loh ah pay in the night doing that. The women don’t dare go in the night, so they hire a man to go instead of them. Some women are widows, their husbands and sons have died or are away working, so they have to hire someone [the demand is for one person per house, even if only a lone widow lives there]. They hire them for 100 Kyat for a day and a night. One shift is a day and a night, 50 Kyat for the day and 50 Kyat for the night. If people are sick and we can’t hire anyone, we have to pay 150 or 200 Kyat [to the DKBA]. If they don’t go or hire someone, the DKBA come to threaten them. One person has to go and sleep at each place along the car road as a sentry, but there are 3 or 4 places between villages. One village has to send sentries to 4 places. They force 2 villagers to go to the road east of the village and 2 villagers to go to the road west of the village. There are 4 sentry huts. The DKBA said that people will try to put landmines on the road, so they force the villagers to stand sentry on it. The Burmese trucks come up the road to deliver the rations. They also come in the daytime. The villagers have to do sentry duty day and night. They don’t care even if you have no food to take with you.

Q: What about the families of the DKBA?
A: Their families are fed. They go and get food once a month, things like rice, salt and oil. They go and get it from the Burmese camp at Ka Ma Maung.

Q: For the loh ah pay, do they force women or men?
A: Both women and men. Even children the same age as my brother here [8 years old], sometimes if their parents are sick they have to go for their parents. I only had to go once, but my husband had to go more often. I had to go when my husband and my mother were both sick. It was in hot season, before the water festival [mid-April 1999]. More than 10 of us had to go, men and women. We had to carry rice for them. We had to go and get the rice from Ohn Daw, just above Ka Ma Maung, and we had to carry the rice to M---. It is more than 10 miles. It took until midday.

Q: Did they pay you for this?
A: No, and we had to take our own food. They ordered everyone who was carrying things to go in front of them and they followed us. They wanted to get there on time and they were also afraid [of KNLA ambush], so they wouldn’t allow us to take a rest. Some people were too tired and they left them along the way. They didn’t beat or kick them, just left them there with no one to care for them. They took the load from them and carried it. One of them was P---, he is 18 years old from our village. Later he came back to the village hungry and exhausted. They do many things like this to us. If you are going somewhere they stop you and make you go to work for them. We have to leave our own work to do their work. My father also had to go, and he is more than 50 years old. He always has to go because he has no one to go for him. I feel pity for my father. If you can’t go you have to hire someone for 300 Kyat, but if you can’t hire someone you have to go. 300 Kyat is for a long trip, when they force you to go and stay with them for 3 days.

Q: Do the soldiers guard the porters?
A: The porters have to go together with them, but there are few soldiers and many porters. The soldiers are all DKBA.

Q: Has anyone from your village died from portering?
A: Yes, a long time ago, maybe 2 years ago. He had to go as a porter in rainy season and he got dysentery. He’d already sent their things for them, but on his way back he died. The other villagers brought him back to the village, but he was already dead. We called him Saw Ploh Po. He was 40 years old.

The Burmese also killed a porter just about 1 year ago. He was Karen, his wife was from Kyaw Pa Tee Nee and he stayed there. His name was Pa Kyaw Paw. At that time the Burmese collected a porter from each house, so he went as a porter while his wife stayed at home with her babies and watched for her husband to return. But after one or two days her husband didn’t come back, and then she heard that the Burmese had killed her husband and thrown his body in the river. His body didn’t float downstream because they threw him in a whirlpool eddy, so his body stayed there. The villagers saw his body and brought it back, but by then the Burmese were already gone. People said that when he went as a porter he was wearing a cardigan, and the Burmese looked at his cardigan and liked it. The other porters said that the Burmese wanted to get his cardigan so they tortured him. The soldier called him apart, touched him with a knife while he was kept at gunpoint and said, "Are you a Karen soldier?" Pa Kyaw Paw said he was not, but the soldier said, "I have seen you one time at Taung Tho Lo. You look like a Karen soldier who attacked our camp at Taung Tho Lo, I recognised you at that time." Pa Kyaw Paw told him "I am not, I am a Karen who works on a farm". The Burmese didn’t believe him because he wanted his cardigan, so he abused him many ways. He kept saying "I am not a Karen soldier", but that night they ordered him to go with them. They ordered his friends [the other porters] to lie face down, then they took him down to the waterside and shot him dead. It was all for one shirt. That happened last year. It was the Burmese who stay at Ka Ter Tee.

Q: Do the DKBA ever force villages to move?
A: They don’t do that, but they give the villagers’ land to their wives and children so they can stay there. They don’t ask the villagers. They’ve occupied people’s land by force, then they give it to their soldiers and their families. They are giving out much of our land [to their soldiers]. Soon they will give away the land around our house.

When they built the motor road, it crossed my father’s field. It’s a long narrow field along the river. Now my father can’t plant there anymore because they [the DKBA] have shared out that land for their houses. There is an Indian in the village whose field they have divided up and shared out to DKBA families. He didn’t even get a piece of his field. He wanted his family to stay there, but the DKBA wouldn’t allow him to stay. The villagers call him P---. He lives in xxxx, but his fields are above Ka Ma Maung. His land is far from his home, so they have given it to their [DKBA] families. They didn’t pay anything.

Q: Hasn’t he complained to their leaders?
A: You can’t go and complain to them, because the DKBA has no rules. They occupy by force, there is no way to complain to them. If people complain the DKBA will abuse them, so people can’t dare complain and have to try to forget about it.

Q: What nationalities live in your village?
A: There are only one or two households of Indians and the rest are all Karen. But there are Christians as well as Buddhists. They do not forbid any religion. The DKBA only want there to be their own religion, but the Christians also want to keep their own religion. We don’t know when they’re going to divide us, but for now everyone can worship their own religion.

Q: In your village, what did you do for your living?
A: We worked in our ricefield and we planted sugar cane, but we could not eat because of all their demands. The government also demands ‘obligation’ rice. We only had a small rice field, and they demanded 6 baskets of paddy from my mother. The paddy all died, but we had to give this to them anyway. We had to find some to give to them. The sugar cane was also damaged, but we had to pay ‘obligation’ on that as well. [The weather has destroyed many crops over the past 2 years, alternating between droughts and floods.] We didn’t have a single grain of paddy to eat, it had all died. But we had to give them paddy regardless. We couldn’t give them any, so we had to give them money instead. They forced us to give them 200 Kyat for each basket of paddy. We had to pay 1,200 Kyat in lieu of our 6 baskets of paddy. All the villagers who have a field have to pay. We have to give whatever they ask. If you don’t pay it, you can’t stay there. They will drive you out of the village.

Q: Where do you have to pay this?
A: We have to give it to the tait sit yay mu [Divisional Commanders] who stay in town. They tax us for our land. The soldiers don’t come to collect it, the officials come to collect it.

Q: How much do they tax for sugar cane?
A: If you plant 5 dter [furlongs; 1 furlong is 220 yards, a standard measure for canefields though the width of the field is not specified] of sugar cane, you have to give them 1 dter. When my mother planted 7 dter last year, she had to give 1 dter. This year we had to give them money [because the sugar cane crop failed]. I don’t know how much money it was for 1 dter, but my mother also had to give them 100 packets of jaggery [slabs of brown crystallised sugar made from sugar cane; each leaf-wrapped packet weighs about 1 viss (1.6 kg / 3.5 lb)]. We couldn’t give it so we had to pay them. If we sold that much jaggery we would get 8,000 or 9,000 Kyat, but they demanded 5,000 Kyat from us because that is the government price. 100 viss of jaggery is 5,000 Kyat, 200 is 10,000 Kyat. She also had to pay for the hand-mill [to mill the cane]. We couldn’t eat, we had to pay them so much.

Q: How did you pay all of that?
A: I don’t know. When they come to tax, we have to run and get it. If you have no money you have to find some you can borrow and give it to them. Many villagers borrowed money and are now in debt. The villagers have nothing to eat, but they still have to help the Burmese. They say that the place where we stay is government land. It’s as though we’re staying on their land so we have to pay tax to them.

Q: Are there other taxes?
A: They also demand donations when their officials come to the village. They call it ‘sah kywe’ [‘eating tax’]. They come and eat food in our village, and after they go back we have to pay for them. We have to pay 50 or 60 Kyat each. Now in our village the DKBA are showing videos of their battles, and when you go to see it you have to pay 50 or 60 Kyat each night. Even if you don’t go to see it, you still have to pay. That’s why the women are very angry, but nobody dares to complain to them and everyone is keeping quiet. When we are talking we have to be careful. You can’t say anything bad about them. The DKBA don’t ask what we’re planting, but they pick it when it’s ripe. If we complain, they say "Who dares complain to me?" and they load their gun. As for us, even though we grow things we have nothing to eat, while they eat it right in front of us.

Q: What are the Burmese doing now?
A: They come and look around, they watch the villagers and the places, they patrol. They come for whatever reasons and stay at the village head’s house and we have to feed them with livestock and other food. After they go back the village head collects money to pay for it, 50 to 70 Kyat from each house. They are building roads and bridges around Pa’an Township. They started at Myaing Galay and are coming step by step. At every river they build a bridge, so there are many bridges. They’ve hired villagers to do it for them, for building roads and bridges. Their aim is to send all their rations by truck. They hire people for 100 Kyat per day for bridge building, and 50 Kyat per day for road building. But as for sentries, they don’t hire us, we have to hire ourselves. If you don’t dare go as a sentry, you have to hire someone yourself.

The Burmese [troops around her village] are now staying quietly. They don’t disturb us, because they have put their work in the hands of the DKBA. The Burmese are staying in their own place, and the DKBA have been given authority by the Burmese so they can do whatever they want to do. The villagers can’t dare say anything. In the past the Burmese also had a camp in the village, but none of the villagers were fleeing. But since the DKBA started the villagers have had to flee to escape. They force us to do a lot. We had to give them leaves and shaved bamboo ties, because they had families but they had no leaves or things to build houses. We had to go and build their houses for them in the village. Each household had to give a bundle of shaved bamboo ties.

Q: Do you think these problems will continue in the future?
A: I think so, because now no one dares to complain to them so they will only do it more and more in the future. In my opinion they will do all of these things more and more. As for people having to flee and run to escape, I think that will only get worse and worse.

Q: Do the DKBA staying in your village ever try to gain the support of the villagers?
A: No, they don’t. They just hold power because they have guns. If they are going to tell us something they load their guns first, and they load them again after they’ve said something. We don’t dare say anything to them. We have to stay under them.

Q: Don’t they have any plans to develop the village?
A: No, they don’t have that, they don’t talk like that. They only talk rudely. For example, there is one DKBA who married one of our neighbours. He trades cattle and buffaloes and his animals came and ate our vegetables, so my brother told him about it. He became very angry and he said my brother is stupid, that "he is exaggerating and is being disrespectful to me". Then he called my brother over and tried to slam his head on a rock. My mother stopped him and told him, "Nephew, don’t do that, we are Karen people, we should not be unfriendly, we should love each other". And he said, "Hey, we need to love each other? We should stay unfriendly. I don’t know what love is." Then he grabbed the ladder from my mother’s house and threw it away. [Karen houses are raised 1-2 metres above the ground on posts, and have a small bamboo ladder at the main entrance, i.e. the front steps of the house.]

Q: Do KNLA soldiers ever arrive in your village?
A: Karen soldiers arrived in the village not long ago, but we had already fled to come here. People who fled after us came and told us, "We don’t dare stay in the village, because Karen soldiers came and shot dead one of the DKBA on the hill outside the village." One DKBA died and another fled and escaped.

Q: Do the KNLA soldiers make trouble when they come to the village?
A: We don’t have any trouble from them, but once a year they come and ask for taxes for the year. It is Karen country, so the villagers give the tax. But if the DKBA knew about that, they would make trouble for the villagers. One time there was a woman who died. The DKBA killed her. The Karen soldiers had asked her to collect food in our village. They asked for ah gyay [‘help fees’]. She told the headman, and he said he didn’t dare do it at that time, that she’d have to wait for a while. Then she went and showed the [KNLA] letter to the DKBA, and the DKBA told her, "You are looking to become our enemy. You can go and stay on the outside if you like, but we don’t want to hear of any collection and taxes like this in the village." They used to stay together [with the KNLA] in the same place and eat together, but after they became DKBA they didn’t like to see any collection by the other side. She said to them, "Before you were living outside [when they were with the KNLA]and we had to feed you like this. Now you are staying here so you need to be understanding about this, because when you yourselves were outside you received our food and ate it too." But after she said that to them, they tied her up. They took her to the other side of the Khoh Loh Kloh [Salween River], and they shot her dead. She died for nothing. That was three years ago. Her name was Naw Khu. She was from Noh Aw La village. She was a village head.

Q: Who were those DKBA?
A: They were the DKBA who stayed there a long time ago. Now the DKBA who stay in the village are new, all of them are new. [At present, very few DKBA soldiers are former KNLA; most of them are villagers who joined well after the DKBA was formed, while almost all of the KNLA soldiers who first formed the DKBA have left.]

Q: How did you leave your village?
A: We had to flee secretly, because they don’t want us to flee. We fled in the night. When we came we brought only 3,000 Kyat. We reared a small pig and then we sold it to get money. We used all of that money on our way here. We went to Ka Ma Maung, then we took the boat to xxxx. We had to pay 200 Kyat per person to take the boat. Then we walked to xxxx, and we had to pay at all of the Burmese gates [checkpoints]. At xxxx we had to pay 50 Kyat for each of us, and when we arrived at xxxxwe had to pay 200 Kyat each. When we came along the path, we had no problems but we couldn’t start a fire [for fear of detection] and we had no light, so a lot of mosquitoes bit us.

Q: Was it your plan to come and stay here?
A: We couldn’t tolerate it in our village anymore, and I knew this place here was for refugees even though I didn’t know what it was called. Also, our uncle and aunt were already staying here. As far as I know, no one from our village can dare go back. Now that we’ve come here, they probably don’t want us to go back anymore. When the DKBA forced us to work they said "If you can’t tolerate staying here, you can go." I’m not going back, I don’t dare go back. If I went back they’d make trouble for me.

Q: How do you feel about the DKBA and the Burmese?
A: I think about how in the time of the Burmese, they forced our father to do loh ah pay and our brother to go as a porter, and sometimes they came back and they didn’t even look human. They were dirty and ragged, and sometimes my father said, "The Burmese are no good, they didn’t even feed us rice". I looked at our father and I was sad, and it hurt my heart. As for the DKBA, they demand everything with anger. If we do good things they still refuse to see any good in us. They are always looking for fault, they are always aggressive. If anyone talks back to them they say we are their enemies. They demand things, and if we don’t do it then they accuse us of being their enemies. Our parents decided they were too old to flee, but we felt that if we stayed there we would only have more and more problems, so we fled to escape like this.

If I can speak honestly about my feelings, sometimes we think that we want to loot things back from them as well. Because our parents have land, but when the Burmese built the road they built it right through the middle of our field. We are greedy for our land too, because we earn our lives from it. We told them to build it through the village or across the river instead. But they said, "Don’t say anything. It’s not your land, it’s government land. You don’t need to say anything, the government can do as they like." [In Burma, the written law decrees that all land is the property of the State.] They were not DKBA, they were Burmese. When we think about it, we feel hopeless. They give you no right to speak, yet they speak forcefully for their side.

Q: Do you know what the Burmese aim to do with the Karen people?
A: I don’t know about the Burmese. If the DKBA become fewer maybe they will come and stay again, if the DKBA increase maybe they will go back, or maybe not. Now they are not going back - they are staying there, but they are not taking any action. The DKBA is taking all the action, like patrolling and fighting, but the Burmese stay at their place and don’t patrol or fight much. The Burmese are looking at the situation. Whether they will go back or stay, I don’t know. But I think the situation will become worse and worse.

Q: If there is peace in Burma will you go back?
A: We will wait and watch. People here told us that if Burma gets peace they will send us back. If they send us we will go back, but if they do not send us we will stay here. As for us, we do not dare go back. If we have to stay and stay and if it is our own decision, maybe we will never go back.

 

#8.

NAME:      "Saw Hsay Hsay"         SEX: M         AGE: 26          Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Married, had one child but it died
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Thaton township                          INTERVIEWED: 5/99

["Saw Hsay Hsay" was interviewed near his village.]

Q: When did you say it was that the DKBA arrested you?
A: On the 25th of April 1999. They came to arrest me at night, at 10 p.m. They arrested me for giving food to the Kaw Thoo Lei [meaning KNU/KNLA]. P--- and M--- [DKBA commanders] came with about 20 DKBA soldiers. They are #333 [Brigade]. They stay at B---.

Q: When they arrested you what did they do?
A: They covered and tied my head. Then they interrogated me and accused me of contacting the Kaw Thoo Lei, feeding them and collecting taxes for them. I said I didn’t know anything, but they said I must know because people had already told them about it. So I told them that Shar Gu [a KNLA commander] had come, and that after the people gave them some rice they left the village. I told them the truth. They nearly killed me. They tied my sarong around my head until I couldn’t breathe or speak, and they didn’t beat me but they stood on my chest on one foot. Then they poked me with a gun.

Q: Have SPDC soldiers ever come to your village?
A: Yes, they took things when they came to the village. Now I don’t dare stay in the village anymore. I’ve come to stay with the Kaw Thoo Lei. I could never be happy under them [SPDC and DKBA].

 

#9.

NAME:      "Saw Aung Htoo"         SEX: M         AGE: 28         Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Married, one child aged 4 years
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Thaton township                          INTERVIEWED: 5/99

["Saw Aung Htoo" was interviewed near his village.]

Q: Have the SPDC or DKBA ever come to your village?
A: Yes, they came. They are DKBA. They came to the village and demanded money. They forced us to pay money for the rice they lost. Po Myint was DKBA, and when he went back [he defected to the KNLA] they said he had stolen and sold their rations. After a few days, they came to demand the money for that from the villagers.

Q: What happened to Po Myint?
A: One of his friends was responsible for rations. He asked Po Myint to help to transport the rations. Then his friend contacted the jungle people [KNLA] and fled, so Po Myint had to flee with him.

Q: Who demanded the money for that from the villagers?
A: Bo Than Htun. He is a commander with 3 stars [Captain]. He demanded 30,000 Kyat, only from our village. He demanded 30,000 Kyat the same night that he arrived at the village. He ordered us to pay it by 9 p.m. Some villagers went to see the monk and asked him to go and tell the DKBA that they had problems finding so much money at night. The monk went to the DKBA and 2 or 3 villagers went with him. The monk told him, "Bo Than Htun, the villagers can’t find this money in the night". Bo Than Htun said, "This is not the business of a monk." Then the monk told him, "This is not my business, but the villagers came to me so I must tell you. You would be better to ask them in the daytime." Then he made an appointment to give him the money the next morning at 9 a.m. The villagers could only find 27,000 Kyat, they couldn’t pay 30,000 Kyat.

Q: How did the villagers get that money?
A: The villagers had to go into debt. Some had to pawn their pots and rings. They demanded it immediately, so we could not find the money. Some villagers had nothing to pawn, so they went to plead with the shopkeepers and the shopkeepers loaned them money.

Q: What would happen if the villagers didn’t give them the money?
A: If the villagers didn’t give it to them, they would beat and kill the villagers and burn their houses.

Q: Do you know what they will do with that money?
A: I don’t know. After he took the money, he interrogated a villager and covered his head, then he left. He was about to beat the villager, but the villager pleaded with him. Before that, he was ready to kill him.

Q: When the SPDC troops come to the village, how do they treat the villagers?
A: Before, the Burmese were very cruel. I can’t recall the commander’s name, but he interrogated and beat many villagers. He beat one of the children until the child’s bone was broken. His name is Saw M--- and he is very young. He’s from B’Nweh Klah village. He had come to prepare a field and got drunk in the village. The Burmese were patrolling through the village and they called him down out of the house. He had drunk a lot, so they beat him. He hadn’t done anything, but the Burmese called him down, interrogated and beat him. They hit him two times with a gun. It was Company Commander Soe Aung from LIB #546. They came to the village and shot our pigs and chickens to eat, and they took our rice. Whenever they saw villagers on the pathways, they called them over and interrogated them.

 

#10.

NAME:      "Naw Muh"         SEX: F         AGE: 46              Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Widow with three children aged 13, 14 and 17
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Bilin Township                         INTERVIEWED: 1/99

["Naw Muh" was interviewed near her home village, when leaving with a train of bullock carts piled high with thatch roofing shingles.]

Q: Now where are you going?
A: Now I am going to send thatch to the Burmese. We have to send seven bullock carts full of thatch. That is 1,400 sheets of thatch.

Q: What will they use them for?
A: I don’t know, I think they will build a storehouse and fix their other roofs. The villagers from T--- and H--- are going every day now to build the storehouse.

Q: Which Battalion is that?
A: I didn’t ask the number of their Battalion. Burmese Division 44 stays in Kawkareik and they have 10 Battalions. Six of their battalions have already come here. They stay at their base for four months, then they come patrolling for two months. They change every 2 months. The Burmese who are staying at xxxx now are from #xxx[Infantry Battalion]. The camp commander’s name is S---, he is a Company Commander.

Q: Did they demand thatch from every village?
A: They demanded it from all the villages, like D---, K---, L---, L---, K---, and G---. They called the village heads from each village and ordered them to go and meet. They sent us a letter written in red ink. I said that the red pen is very hot for us, we’d better not rest, we have to go ‘on the hot’ [i.e. ‘hotfoot it’]. One of the women thought it was an emergency so she carried her child and went ‘on the hot’ to see them, but when she got there they just asked for thatch. It wasn’t important.

Q: What will they do if you don’t give it to them?
A: They won’t like it. They’ll come to the village and torture us. They’ll accuse us of joining the Nga Pway [‘Ringworms’, derogatory SPDC name for KNU/KNLA]. If they give us an order and we don’t go at once, they accuse us of joining the Nga Pway and they say it was the Nga Pway who didn’t allow us to go. They say "If the Nga Pway can control you they will, but we will also control you as much as we can".

Q: Is that why you must go to the Burmese camp now?
A: Yes, I must go. I am not happy to work for the Burmese. I am very afraid because it was the Burmese who killed my husband. He died by their hands. The Burmese ordered him to give them a bullet, but he said he had no bullet so how could he give it to them? Actually he did have a bullet. My husband was a KNU group leader. When the Burmese arrested him, he didn’t cause any problem for the other villagers because he didn’t tell them anything about the bullets. The Burmese told him that if he gave them something they would release him, but he said he had nothing so he couldn’t give them anything. I told him "If you don’t give them anything they’ll kill you." He said, "If they kill me, you will be left alone." I couldn’t give any answer to that.

Q: Do you know the name of the Burmese who killed your husband?
A: Major K---. They were #xxx [Infantry Battalion]. At that time, if people could give guns to the Burmese they were released. It was a long time ago, over 10 years ago. When he left us, our children were too small. I had to take care of our children.

Q: The Burmese who come now, do they ask the villagers to go as porters?
A: Yes. When the Burmese enter the village they demand rice for the porters, they take rice from the village. We want to complain to them but we dare not. Nobody in any of the villages dares complain to them. When the Strategic Commander called all the village heads to a meeting I said I would complain to him, but we dared not complain.

Q: Did the KNLA ever come to shoot in the village?
A: At that time, none of the Burmese had died yet. They said that if they died they would do many things to the villagers. But even at that time, they took and ate many things from the villagers. The Burmese don’t want the KNLA to shoot at them. If the KNLA shoot at them, they torture the villagers. It seems very strange to me. When the KNLA shoot at them, they come to torture the villagers by beating them, forcing them to drink water [pouring gallons of water down their throats while holding their noses closed], and taking things from them. So we villagers told the KNLA soldiers that if the Burmese are near our village please don’t shoot at them. After that, when the KNLA shot at them near H--- village, they told the villagers that if the KNLA shot at them like that again they would throw 3 villagers into the river. When we heard about this we were very frightened.

If you think about that carefully, it is they who have come to a KNLA region. If we dared, we would tell their leaders who stay in town, "Now your soldiers have come here to search for their enemy, so when the KNLA sees them of course they must shoot them". But when the KNLA shoots at them, they torture the villagers. They beat the villagers, force them to drink water, eat their chickens and take things from their villages. We can’t suffer it any more. We asked the KNLA not to shoot at them and to keep away from them and they do keep away from them, but sometimes they meet them and there is shooting, and after that the Burmese come to our village and eat a lot of our things. When they saw village men working they beat them and forced them to drink water. The Burmese killed my husband too. They interrogated 2 or 3 of my daughters, and they beat one of them on her legs. She said they beat her very painfully.

They take and eat a lot, and they also steal a lot when they don’t see the owner. When they steal our poultry we don’t dare complain to them. If you complain to them, they’ll say later that they met the KNLA near your village and had to shoot at them, and the bullets just happened to come right down through the roof of your house. That’s why nobody dares to tell them anything. The KNLA are moving sometimes and we worry that they’ll meet with the Burmese. The village headman of Y---, when the Burmese forced his villagers to go as porters and ordered them to take their own rice, he dared not complain to them. He said if he complained to them then later they would say they met the KNLA, and the shots would go right down into his village. This is all very difficult and dangerous for us. The villagers can’t make their living like this.

 

#11.

NAME:      "Saw Plaw"         SEX: M         AGE: 23            Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Married with four children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Bilin Township                        INTERVIEWED: 2/99

["Saw Plaw" was interviewed near his village.]

Q: Do SPDC soldiers ever come to your village?
A: They come to the village very often. They came when they arrested and beat me, just 4 days ago. They came in the daytime, at 3 p.m. I didn’t know they were coming. When they arrived, two responsible [KNU] people were in my house, the group leader and the militia leader. When they jumped down out of the house, the Burmese shot at them. Then they accused me of helping those people. When I came down out of the house, they beat and punched me. I don’t know how many times they hit me, 7, 8, over 10 times, and they hit me 3 times with a gun. Then they took me to the monastery. When we arrived at the monastery, they poked me with a bayonet, they beat me in the face with a bayonet and they put the bayonet in my mouth and shook it around. Then they tied my hands behind my back and I had to sleep like a dog or a pig.

Q: When did they release you?
A: They released me after 2 days. I had to give 3 baskets of rice and one pig. It wasn’t my own rice. The villagers gave it for me, then I had to buy rice to give back to them. It cost me 3,000 Kyat for one basket of rice, 9,000 Kyat altogether.

Q: How big was the pig?
A: 16 viss [25 kg / 55 lb]. It was worth 8,000 Kyat. They forced us to give it. They ordered me to give them a gun, and I said I had no gun, I only had one pig. I couldn’t find a gun for them because I’m not a soldier, I’m a villager.

Q: Did they arrest other people together with you?
A: They arrested 3 of us, but they only tortured me. They only hit my friend one time. His name is P---, he is 35 and married with 4 children.

Q: Why did they arrest him?
A: He was together with me in the house, so after those two [KNU] people left the house they arrested and tortured us. They also took things from my house. They took 2 big tins of sesame oil and all of our clothing, knives, spoons and our axe.

Q: Where did the soldiers go back to after beating you?
A: They went back to M---. Their uniforms said #xxx [Light Infantry Battalion] on them. I don’t know any of them.

Q: Now how do you make your living?
A: Now I can’t do anything. I am feeding my family like this. We stay together with our parents and eat together.

 

#12.

NAME:      "Saw Ghay"         SEX: M         AGE: 36               Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Married with four children aged 1 month to 8 years
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Bilin Township                            INTERVIEWED: 1/99

["Saw Ghay" was interviewed near his home village.]

Q: Have SPDC troops ever come to your village?
A: Yes, they came not long ago. They came a couple of months ago, but I wasn’t here because at that time I was sleeping out in the jungle.

Q: Do they ever make problems for the villagers?
A: Yes, they do. They also made problems for me when they arrested me. It was the military who arrested me. They came at the start of the paddy harvest [October-November 1998], in the month of Thadin Kyo. There were 6 Burmese soldiers. They have a camp at M---. They came and arrested us at night when we were sleeping. At that time we were sleeping in the forest, at our fields near the river. When they arrived at the steps of our farm hut, we woke up and saw the Burmese. Then they ordered us to come down to the ground. They interrogated me and punched me one or two times, and they touched my throat with a bayonet. I couldn’t do anything, because we are villagers and they can do whatever they like to us. They arrested 4 of us. The others were M---, K--- and P---. They are not married yet, they are all single. All of us are just villagers.

After they arrested me they took me to the village and interrogated me. They told me, "Your brain is hard [you are stubborn, you won’t speak] so I must give you some water to drink". Then they grabbed me and forced me to lay down, and made me drink water. I couldn’t drink it. They asked me, "Do you have a gun?" Then they held my nose closed and poured water into my mouth. [A traditional torture – the victim cannot breathe and so continues gulping the water while also suffocating. This form of torture can be continued until the belly becomes distended and the stomach bursts, killing the victim.] I couldn’t suffer it so I told them I would talk. I said I have no gun, I am a villager and have no gun. Then he closed my nose and did it again. He did it 6 or 7 times, until I was about to die. Then he said my answers were strange. He tied me to the post of the monastery, and he told me I’d better think about it and that I’d have to drink more water. One of the commanders came to interrogate me and slapped my face. They punched me one time, and when they brought me back to the monastery they slapped me. After interrogating us, they took me to the hall, and they tied my hands to a post behind my back. I couldn’t lay down and sleep, I had to stay like that all night until morning. In the morning, villagers brought rice for us. Some of the others could eat, but not me because of the way I was tied. M--- [another villager] fed rice to me with a spoon. I had to eat like that.

Q: Did your friends also suffer?
A: They beat one of the others 3 times – they hit him once on the head and the skin was broken. They punched P--- one time and hit him with a rifle butt, then they interrogated him, covered his head and forced him to drink water.

Q: When did they release you?
A: They arrested us at night around midnight, and they released us the next morning in the village.

Q: Why did they treat you like that if you are villagers?
A: I don’t know. They just want the villagers to suffer. They think that if they treat us like that then we won’t be able to do anything against them.

Q: Have you ever had to do loh ah pay or portering for them?
A: Since they arrested me I haven’t carried for them, but before that they called me 2 or 3 times when they were going back and forth and saw me along the way. If they see us when we are tending our buffaloes, they order us to go with them. We complain to them that the buffaloes will eat the paddy, but they don’t listen to us. They told me to follow them for just a few minutes, but when the Burmese say "for a few minutes", it takes a long time!

I never went as a porter for these troops [the ones who arrested him], but for other Burmese troops. When we stay in our village we eat whenever we want, 2 or 3 times a day. When we went portering and stayed with them, they fed us only twice. Sometimes they gave us enough rice and sometimes not enough. They never gave us hot rice, just cold rice. Sometimes they gave us fermented sesame oil, jackfruit curry or a bit of shrimp paste. In the jungle we had to sleep on the ground. They guarded us, and wouldn’t allow us to go to piss or shit. Usually 3 or 4 soldiers went in front with a [villager] guide, and then the porters had to go between the soldiers. But sometimes the villagers guiding them have to go in front of the soldiers. [The villagers are usually forced to march between the soldiers so they can’t escape, but if the troops suspect possible landmines or ambush they generally force the villagers and some villager porters to march in front.]

They also force people to go for loh ah pay all the time. The villagers have to go and sleep there for 3 days, the same as porters. They have to take their own rice. I’ve never gone for loh ah pay, because you have to go by bullock cart. [It’s too far and he has no cart, so he probably pays to avoid going.]

 

#13.

NAME:      "Saw Po Si"         SEX: M         AGE: 50+            Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Married with six children aged 19-30
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Bilin Township                           INTERVIEWED: 2/99

["Saw Po Si" was interviewed in the jungle, where he and his family are living in hiding.]

Q: Why are you staying in the jungle like this?
A: We fled to stay in the jungle because the SPDC came and tortured us. They asked me questions and beat me. They often beat us. If they didn’t beat us, people would dare to stay in the village.

Q: When did they beat you?
A: I don’t remember. They arrested me two times. One time when they met me on the path, they robbed 500 Kyat from me and then they released me and told me to flee. The next time they beat me and asked questions. They came in the full moon. It was just after Naw Moh Loh died. That time they hit me 5 times. They also hit N--- three times and T--- three times, and they forced us to lay down.

Q: Do these soldiers stay near here?
A: Now they are based at N---.

Q: Do they often treat people this way?
A: Yes, they ask questions and they touch us with their guns. They force us to search for the KNU. They’ve come to a KNU place and there are KNU around, but they torture us instead. We always have to flee. When they came to our village they shot dead one of my cows and stole another. They always come and steal the villagers’ animals. They come and demand rice from the villagers, and the villagers have to give it to them. They also demand porters, but the villagers don’t go anymore. Before the people went as porters, but they didn’t give enough rice so the porters took their own rice. They had to sleep under the trees, and they didn’t receive any medicine. When Maw Kee Ni Pa went as a porter and got sick, they didn’t give him any medicine. Then Maw Kee Ni Pa came back home and he died.

 

#14.

NAME:      "Saw K’Ler"         SEX: M         AGE: 38              Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Married with two children aged 10 and 12
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Bilin Township                           INTERVIEWED: 1/99

["Saw K’Ler" was interviewed near his village.]

Q: When did you say the Burmese arrested you?
A: I didn’t write down the date. It was after we had finished transplanting the paddy [in about July 1998]. I wasn’t doing anything, I had just gone to clear the grass from my fields.

Q: Did they arrest you in your field?
A: No, they arrested me in the Saw P---’s farmfield hut. I’d been cutting the grass in the heat, but then it rained so I decided to take shelter from the rain. After a short time the Burmese arrived there. It was in the middle of the day, after noon. There were about 40 or 50 soldiers together with 2 commanders. A Company Commander was in charge of the troops, and the other one may have been the Battalion Commander. People call him S---.

After they arrested us they dragged us to the village, then the next morning they took us to their camp and handed us over to some other troops. Those troops were in charge of the Battalion Commander who stays there, but I don’t know his name. They tied me up and hurt me. They beat me with a stick and punched me. My teeth still hurt now because of their punches. The Commander in charge of the troops, the Battalion Commander, was drinking alcohol while he was beating me.

Q: Why did they beat you?
A: Because they had seen one gun, that’s why they hurt me. Some people had a gun but I didn’t know about it, I don’t know whose gun it was. They found that gun in a hollow log very far from our place, then they brought it to our village to clean it. We don’t know whose gun it was.

Q: Did they arrest anyone else with you?
A: They also arrested Uncle P--- from our village. He is 42 years old. He is a Karen Buddhist farmer and he has 4 children. They tied and beat him too. The Burmese saw the gun in a hollow log near his farmfield hut so they arrested him. They released him after 6 or 7 days.

Q: How long did they keep you tied up?
A: Over 10 days. They said that we feed our friends [the KNLA]. I can’t count all the times that they punched me. They beat me with a stick. They tied me up and beat me on my head and my legs. They said I am Nga Pway [‘ringworm’, derogatory SPDC slang for KNU/KNLA]. I said I am not Nga Pway. They tied my legs, hands and neck. At night they tied my hands behind my back, beat and punched me, and then held me down in the river until I lost consciousness. When I regained consciousness, all the water came out of my nose. They asked me, "Do you have a gun?" I said I didn’t have a gun, I am a villager and I have nothing, and I always went as a porter when asked.

During those 10 days they went to Y--- and slept there for one night, then in the morning came back to their camp. Then the next morning they went to N---, slept there for one night and then came back again. Then after 10 days the village headman came to guarantee for me, and they released me.

Q: After you were released did they ever see you?
A: When I had come back and stayed in my house for two days, they came to the village. They saw me but they didn’t say anything to me. When they came I was sleeping in my house.

Q: What do they usually do when they come to the village?
A: They always shoot and kill our livestock. They force the villagers to go for loh ah pay and as porters. Sometimes they force each of us to go twice each month. If the village headman asks you to go, you must go.

Q: Have you ever gone as a porter for them?
A: Yes, I went. Often they didn’t give enough food. Sometimes they gave very little and sometimes it was just rotting rice. Sometimes we could ask water to drink from the villagers’ houses, but to go and get a drink or pass urine we had to ask permission from them and it was very difficult to get. We couldn’t sleep or take a bath.

Q: Did they take good care of the porters who got sick?
A: No. We couldn’t ask them for medicine. They didn’t give us any, and we couldn’t dare ask any from them. If we asked them many times for things they beat and scolded us. We were afraid of them.

Q: Did the soldiers get enough food?
A: They cooked for themselves. They didn’t have good food, but when they shot the villagers’ chickens and pigs they ate well.

Q: Did you ever go for loh ah pay?
A: Yes, I went. They ordered the village headman to gather the villagers, and the village headman called us to go. The last time we went, they forced us to work in their camp. They forced us to carry bamboo and wood. They didn’t feed us. Sometimes they guarded us and sometimes they didn’t.

Q: How many people do they usually force to go for loh ah pay?
A: Sometimes they force 20 or 30 villagers to go at a time. When I’ve gone there have also been many old people, some are 40 or 50 and some are nearly 60. We had to take our own rice, and while we were working they never allowed us to leave.

 

#15.

NAME:      "Naw Wah Paw"         SEX: F         AGE: 30            Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Married with two children aged 10 and 12
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Bilin Township                               INTERVIEWED: 1/99

["Naw Wah Paw" was interviewed near her village.]

Q: Do the Burmese ever come to your village?
A: Yes. The Burmese came on 12/9/98. They were Company 3 of [Infantry Battalion] #231, led by Bo Than Aung, and they came to torture the xxxx villagers. When they saw villagers tending their cattle and buffaloes one villager ran away from them, so they demanded one pig from the villagers east of xxxx and another pig from the villagers west of xxxx. All the villagers had to give it to them. Later they went back and the situation became better. Then Eh K’Lu and his [KNLA] soldiers came and cooked east of xxxx. The enemy [SPDC troops] came because they heard about that, and they asked the village headwoman but she didn’t tell them anything. Then when the Burmese knew for sure what had happened [once there was no longer any point in denying it], she pointed them to the east of xxxx so they went to abuse the villagers east of xxxx.

[Second woman]: They demanded two pigs, one from the east and one from the west of the village, and they also demanded 8,000 Kyat in cash from the villagers. They took one pig from P--- and another one from N---.

A: Yes, they took one pig from east of the village and another from west of the village. They took one of P---’s pigs weighing 8 viss [12.8 kg / 28 lb] and one of N---’s pigs weighing 7½ viss [12 kg / 26.5 lb]. The pigs were underweight, so the villagers also had to give them money, 20 eggs, one cock and 2 viss of cooking oil. That was the second time they came, the same troops.

The third time they came from the east of xxxx. They were on the other side of K---, where there is a bridge. The Burmese met each other there and were shooting.

Q: So they were shooting at the KNLA?
A: No, the Burmese soldiers were shooting at each other [by mistake]. Then the next morning they punished the xxxx villagers for it. They demanded 100 viss [160 kg / 352 lb] of pork. The villagers couldn’t give them that much, so we collected 300 Kyat from each household and gave it to the Burmese instead of the pork. The whole village of xxxx had to give money to them.

[Second woman]: All the villagers had to pay. For 100 viss of pork, we had to give them 30,000 Kyat.

A: Bo Than Aung has 1 star, he is a 2nd Lieutenant. In their Battalion he is the one who comes to torture us. He is a Company Commander. He slaps the villagers who become village headmen for them, he kicks and beats them. [Referring to SPDC-appointed village heads, who are responsible for providing forced labourers, food, money etc. whenever these are demanded by SPDC units.]

[Second woman]: When the battle occurred [when the SPDC troops shot at each other], he beat the village headman. He forced him to lie down and crawl like a lizard.

A: He called him, slapped his face and kicked him. Then he forced him to lie down and stood on his back with big jungle boots.

[Second woman]: The villagers had to give 100 viss [160 kg / 350 lb] of pork. They said if we didn’t give it, they would kill the village headman the next morning. Then the villagers had to collect the money and give it to them, and they released the headman.

A: The fourth time they came to xxxx, before they arrived at the village they saw a villager hauling a log along the path, his name is N---. They called him over, and without asking him anything they started beating him. His head was broken, and they also took all of his money, all 2,000 Kyat. That time they also called over two villagers from west of the village when they saw them hauling logs. They arrested them, took them to K--- village and tied them up under the monastery. Then they kept them in pain and demanded money from them. The first time, the villagers gave them 3,000 Kyat and 3 viss [4.8 kg / 10.5 lb] of chicken. Later they demanded 3,000 Kyat more, and the people had to give it to them again. Those Burmese troops are staying at K---, and later they came to xxxx and saw those two villagers again, and demanded 5,000 Kyat more from them. But they were still not satisfied, so when they got back to K--- they demanded money again, and the people there sent 3,000 Kyat to them again. They also keep demanding money from the people who sell the lottery [impromptu local lottery tickets].

[Second woman]: They demand money from the people who sell lottery tickets, and also if they see villagers carrying rice anywhere they demand rice from them.

Q: When they demand chicken and pigs, who do they demand them from?
A: They demand chickens and pigs from the villagers, and all of the villagers have to give them. [Usually whichever villagers have chickens and pigs have to give them, and then the other villagers have to collect money to pay the owner to compensate them for part or all of the cost.]

Q: What if you don’t give it to them?
A: We cannot live without giving to the Burmese. They will kill us and burn the village. They told us they won’t eat our 4-legged animals but they will eat the humans.

[Second woman]: They said they’ll cut off our heads and hang them in front of our [village] leaders.

Q: Where is the SPDC camp?
A: Sometimes they stay in K---, sometimes in xxxx and sometimes in D---.

[Second woman]: Their camp is in L---.

A: Their main camp is in xxxx. They are always going to get rice from xxxx.

Q: Do the villagers ever have to go for loh ah pay or portering?
A: Yes, they force the villagers to go as porters.

[Second woman]: They always collect 3 porters, and sometimes 15 or 20 for loh ah pay. One day at a time, sometimes for 2 days at a time, we always have to work for the Burmese so we can’t do our own work.

A: They don’t feed the porters. The villagers have to take along their own rice. The porters have to take 2 bowls [about 4 kg / 9 lb] of rice for 5 days. The soldiers also eat the rice the porters have brought, and then if there’s no more rice they force the porters to go and get more. If they are far from water then they get nothing to drink, and they don’t give them any medicine.

Q: Do they take care of porters who get sick?
A: No, the porters take care of each other. If they can’t carry anymore, we have to send fresh porters for them.

[Second woman]: Don’t ever think that the Burmese will take care of their porters.

 

#16.

NAME:      "Saw Htoo Kyaw"         SEX: M         AGE: 33            Karen Buddhist farmer
FAMILY:    Married with one child aged 7
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Bilin Township                                 INTERVIEWED: 1/99

["Saw Htoo Kyaw" was interviewed in his home area.]

Q: Have SPDC soldiers ever come to your village?
A: Yes. They haven’t come in the last few days, but they’ve come in the past month or two. They came to our village in Na Daw month [in December 1998], on the seventh day of Na Daw month. They took things by force from the villagers and shot and killed our poultry. They shot and killed M---’s pig but they didn’t give him any money for it.

Q: When they came did they arrest any villagers?
A: Yes, they called for me and came to arrest me at 3 a.m. There were 30 soldiers with one commander. They arrested 5 of us. They didn’t do anything to me, but they did to my friend Maung T---. They tied him up, beat and punched him, then they hung him upside down and beat him with a bamboo stick. Then they took us back to W--- and N---. They stay at N---. It is about one or two hours’ walk away.

Q: When did they release you?
A: They released me the next morning. They also released Maung T--- and the others the next morning. Maung T---’s wife came and gave them 30,000 Kyat to release him. His wife had to find the money to give to them. She borrowed it from others. Now Maung T--- has left and gone to stay with others. He has 3 children, the eldest is 7 and the youngest is only 2 months old.

Q: Why did they beat Maung T--- but not the others?
A: I don’t know. I know nothing about it.

Q: When they arrested you did they give you rice and drinking water?
A: Yes, but the water was not clear.

Q: Have you ever had to go for portering or loh ah pay before?
A: Yes, I’ve had to go. They didn’t give us food, we had to take our own. They guarded us. There were two or three soldiers for each villager. We have to go forloh ah pay, and we have to give money once a month for portering [to avoid going as porters]. We have to give 6,000 Kyat [per month, for the whole village]. Sometimes I had to go too, once or twice a month. We had to go whenever they forced us to go. I had to carry pots, and sometimes I had to carry bullets.

Q: When you go for loh ah pay, what do they make you do?
A: We have to go and work in their camp in N---. Whenever they force us to go, we must go 

 

Field Reports in Addition to Interviews

The following field reports were chosen from among those compiled by KHRG field reporters because they cover incidents or details not covered in the above interviews.

#FR1.

On March 7th 1999, villagers in xxxx village, xxxx village tract, Thaton township were holding a cremation ceremony for the mother of "Naw Ler Paw" (see Interview #3above) at her house. At about 9 p.m., about 30 soldiers from SPDC Infantry Battalion #xx entered the village, and without warning opened fire on the house of "Naw Ler Paw". First they shot "Naw Ler Paw"’s younger sister A---, age 17, who was pregnant. The bullet went right through her shoulder and she fell where she was standing underneath the house. The soldiers then opened heavy fire into the house itself. "Naw Ler Paw"’s daughter, sleeping inside, was shot through the head and killed, and several people in the house were wounded. People under the house were also hit, including some children who were playing there. The shooting stopped at 9:30 p.m., and the troops turned and left the village without explanation. Six villagers were dead and nine wounded. The six dead were: Ma San Kaing (female, age 24), Naw P’Saw (female, age 17), Naw Du Paw (female, age 15), Ma Aye Aye (female, age 18), "Naw Ler Paw"’s daughter Ma Aye (female, age 5), and "Naw Ler Paw"’s brother Pa Kaw Naw (male, age 25). The wounded were "Naw Ler Paw" (female, age 28), her sister A--- (female, age 17, who later delivered her baby prematurely while villagers were carrying her to medical help), T--- (female, age 28), M--- (female, age 15), P--- (male, age 12), K--- (female, age 55), Naw T--- (female, age 30), L--- (male, age 18), and K--- (male, age 27). All of them were villagers who were not members of any political or armed organisation. The dead and wounded lay in the village the whole night, and only the next morning the other villagers took the wounded to the public hospital at xxxx. The wounded spent 14 days at hospital, where they had to provide their own food and pay 1,000-4,000 Kyat per day for hospital fees. During their time in hospital, the SPDC commander in charge of the troops who had shot them repeatedly came and yelled at them, threatening them and accusing them of being KNU supporters and their village of being a ‘Ringworm’ (KNU/KNLA) village. After 2 weeks the wounded were getting better and left the hospital. [Source: KHRG field reporter] 

#FR2.

Many villages in Thaton Township must send one person from each family every day to work in the local SPDC Army plantation from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and any family which cannot send someone must pay a forced labour fee instead. The plantation, run by Light Infantry Battalion #8, covers about 100 acres, and all villages in the area must send people every day to work on it. This includes the villages of Ma Aye Cha, Ka Law Kher, Lah Aw Kher, Ma Ya Gone, Mo Kyaw Eh, Wah Lu, Noh Pa Leh, Kaw Kya Ther, and Kaw Ler. The SPDC troops confiscated this land from local farmers and told them that "This land belongs to the government, not to you". Villagers in the area must also pay "obligation" paddy to the local military at the rate of 15 to 20 baskets of paddy for each acre of land they own. [Source: KHRG field reporter]

#FR3.

On May 11th 1999 two columns of SPDC troops, one with soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion #355 under commander Than Soe and the other with soldiers from LIB #9 under commander Mya Htun, entered Way Raw, Ta Noh, and Kaw Ler village tracts in Thaton township. They ordered the villagers in those 3 village tracts to give them 150 logs, each 3 handspans in circumference and 10 taun [15 feet / 5 metres] long, as well as 300 bamboo poles each 12 taun [18 feet / 6 metres] long. When the villagers gave it to them, they sold all of it for their own profit. [Source: KHRG field reporter]

#FR4.

On May 19th 1999, SPDC troops from Light Infantry Battalion #355 under commander Soe Aung entered Ta Rer Kee village and demanded two baskets of rice, one pig weighing 20 viss and worth 17,000 Kyat, two chickens, and one bottle of cooking oil. The commander told the villagers, "The KNU came and gave you money but you didn’t inform us, that is why you must give us whatever we demand now. If you do not give it, your village will see problems". [Source: KHRG field reporter. The ‘money from the KNU’ is probably money provided to help internally displaced people; see also #FR5 and FR6 below, and above under ‘Internally Displaced People’.]

#FR5.

Again on May 22nd 1999, these SPDC troops entered Naw K’Toh village in Bilin township and captured village head Saw Bah Yay, age 40, who has 4 children aged 8-15. He is a simple villager who works for his family. The SPDC troops beat him with a 3-foot long piece of wood as thick as his forearm repeatedly until he died. He was beaten to death because he was the village head but he had not informed the SPDC that the KNU had come and given money to the villagers. [Source: KHRG field reporter]

#FR6.

On May 25th 1999, villager Saw Nu Nu from Naw K’Toh village in Bilin township was on his way to his farmfield when he was stopped by troops from Light Infantry Battalion #355 under commander Soe Aung. The troops detained him and interrogated him, asking "Did you see any villagers given support money [by the KNU] and did you receive any yourself?" He answered that he had not seen any and that he knew nothing about it. Then they tortured him until he was dead. Saw Nu Nu was 20 years old, a Karen Buddhist. He was just married 8 months ago and had no children. His wife is an orphan and is now left entirely on her own. [Source: KHRG field reporter]

#FR7.

On September 11th 1998, SPDC soldiers from Column 1 of Frontline #98 Infantry Battalion based at Meh Prih Kee camp entered Kyu Kee village in Bilin Township. They saw one KNLA soldier running away from the foot of the church, so they summoned the lay pastor and village teacher and asked her who it was who had fled from the base of the church. She told them it was a KNLA soldier. Then they accused her of working with the KNU. SPDC Commander Aung Kyaw Htun then gave the order to his soldiers to call everyone in the village down out of their houses. The soldiers then looted everything from the houses, including clothing, blankets and utensils, and then burned down the church and all the houses in the village. They also shot dead all the pigs, chickens and other livestock which they saw in the village, and then returned to their camp. The villagers were left with nothing but the clothes on their bodies, not even any cookpots, and no way of knowing how they would survive in the future. Some of them have gone to stay in other villages, and others have fled to live in the jungle. Many of those living in the jungle have become sick and have no access to medicines except by making medicinal teas from jungle leaves. The SPDC soldiers responsible for the area have ordered each village to take responsibility for security between their village and all adjacent villages, and told them that if they hear any shooting or have any problems, all of the nearest villages will be burned down. As a result many villagers do not dare stay in their villages any longer, but they do not know the way to flee to another country so many of them are internally displaced. [Source: KHRG field reporter]

#FR8.

[The following is excerpted from the written report of a KHRG field researcher:] On xx-1-99, I went to Doo Tha Htoo [Thaton] district to the area northeast of xxxx, and there I met Karen villagers who have fled [their villages]. There are children, old people, and many villagers living in the jungle. They have already been staying there for over 4 years. Since the DKBA began working together with the SLORC and SPDC, they have fled from the north, up to the source of the xxxx river. They tortured the villagers until the villagers could not suffer it any more, so they fled and are staying in the jungle until now. The villagers are staying in the jungle very poorly. They are sick but they can’t get medicine. The villagers who have fled are from xxxx, xxxx, xxxx, xxxx and xxxx villages.