[Some details have been removed or replaced by 'xxxx' for Internet distribution. Printed copies of this report are available upon approved request.]
In early 1997, the State Law & Order Restoration Council (SLORC) military junta ruling Burma mounted a major offensive against the Karen National Union (KNU) and succeeded in capturing and occupying most of Dooplaya District, a region of thousands of square kilometres in central Karen State which had largely been under KNU control until that time. Tens of thousands of villagers tried to flee to Thailand but most were trapped inside the district by rapidly advancing SLORC columns. The SLORC troops immediately began interrogating, harassing and even terrorising villagers in order to consolidate their hold on the region, but there were also signs that the regime, confident of its total control, might try to soften its abuses and bring some small-scale 'development' to parts of the district to keep the villagers from attempting to flee. In late 1997 the regime changed its name to the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC), but with no change in policies or tactics.
The regime demanded complete and total submission of the villagers to its every demand, however, and the villagers found it impossible to comply. Throughout 1998 and 1999, the SPDC Army reverted to its habitual activities, sporadically relocating and destroying villages, demanding forced labour, food and extortion money, and torturing or killing any villagers who failed to obey its demands. The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) regrouped and carried out guerrilla operations with the sympathy of the villagers, and the SPDC sent in more troops to consolidate its control, which only worsened the abuses against the civilians.
Since late 1999 the SPDC forces throughout Dooplaya district have begun a much more systematic campaign to bring the villagers under direct Army control in order to undermine the KNLA resistance. The incidences of arbitrary detention, torture and killings have suddenly risen, and the Army has been ordering village farmers to move into the centre of their villages and never to leave without permission. In Kya In township, the SPDC Army held a meeting in November 1999 at which they ordered all villages to hand over the entire year's rice harvest to the Army, so that it could be held in Army storage bins and handed back out to the villagers one meal at a time. The harvest was to be handed over by December 20th, after which most of the villages were to be forcibly relocated to garrison villages by December 25th 1999.
The result has been widespread starvation, with villagers throughout much of central Dooplaya district living on foraged taro roots and jungle vegetables. Many have had no choice but to abandon their rice in the fields or in the hands of the Army and flee forced relocation to hide in the forest, where the SPDC officers have promised to shoot them if they are found. Some have made it across the border into Thailand, where a very uncertain reception awaits them.
This report is based on interviews with villagers, refugees and the internally displaced conducted between January 1999 and January 2000 by Karen Human Rights Group researchers in the field, and by the field reports they have compiled (with the exception of Interview #39, for which we would like to thank the Federated Trade Unions of Burma - Dooplaya). Well over fifty interviews were conducted and translated, and 39 of these were selected for direct use in compiling this report while the remainder were used for additional corroboration and information. An Annex to this report containing the full text of all interviews which were directly used is available here.
For further background on the situation in Dooplaya, see "Dooplaya Under the SPDC" (KHRG #98-09, 23/11/98),"Strengthening the Grip on Dooplaya" (KHRG #98-05, 10/6/98), "Clampdown in Southern Dooplaya" (KHRG #97-11, 18/11/97), and "Refugees from the SLORC Occupation" (KHRG #97-07, 25/5/97). SPDC order documents from the region can be found in "SPDC and DKBA Orders to Villages: Set 2000-A" (KHRG #2000-01, 29/2/00), "SPDC and DKBA Orders to Villages: Set 99-C" (KHRG #99-06, 4/8/99), and "SPDC and DKBA Orders to Villages: Set 99-A" (KHRG #99-01, 10/2/99).
Notes on the Text
This report consists of an Introduction and Executive Summary, followed by a detailed analysis of the situation supported by quotes from interviews and excerpts from SPDC order documents sent to villages in the region.
In the text all names of those interviewed have been changed and some details have been omitted or replaced by 'xxxx' where necessary to protect people from retaliation. The captions under quotes used in the report include the interviewee's (changed) name, gender, age and village, and a reference to the interview number and date. The interview number can be used to find the full text of the interview in the Annex.
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 Dooplaya District into five townships: Kru Tu (a.k.a. Kyone Doh) in the northwest, Kawkareik in the northeast, Waw Raw (a.k.a. Win Yaw) in the southwest, Kya In in the central area, and Kaw Te Hgah in the southeast. The official townships used by the SPDC do not correspond to the Karen townships. This report primarily uses the KNU townships. The SPDC does not recognise the existence of Dooplaya District, but only uses Townships, States and Divisions.
Many places have both a Karen and a Burmese name; for example, the townships of Kru Tu and Waw Raw are called Kyone Doh and Win Yaw respectively in Burmese, Khoh Ther Pler (Three Pagodas Pass) is Pya Thon Zu in Burmese, and the Tha May river is called Atayan in Burmese. The large village of Saw Hta in Kaw Te Hgah township is called Azin in Burmese; its name appears frequently because the SPDC has turned it into a major military base.
All numeric dates in this report are in dd/mm/yy format. In the interviews we have translated as 'paddy' the term for rice which has been threshed and winnowed but still has a husk, and 'rice' to mean husked rice ready for cooking. It takes about 2 baskets of paddy to make 1 basket of rice; villagers usually store it as paddy and only pound or mill small quantities into rice at a time. Villagers often refer to 'loh ah pay'; literally this is the traditional Burmese form of voluntary labour for the community or the local Buddhist monastery, 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. Villagers often refer to the KNU/KNLA as Kaw Thoo Lei, the DKBA as Ko Per Baw ('Yellow Headbands'), and SPDC troops and officials as'the Burmese'. SPDC officers often accuse villagers of being 'Nga Pway' ('ringworm'); this is derogatory SPDC slang for KNLA soldiers.
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 SPDC until 11/97
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
KPA Karen Peace Army, 'Nyein Chan Yay A'Pweh' ('Peace Group') in Burmese;
formed in 1997 by defected KNLA officer Thu Mu Heh and allied with SPDC
NMSP New Mon State Party Army, Mon troops who have a cease-fire with the SPDC
IB Infantry Battalion (SLORC/SPDC), usually about 500 soldiers strong
LIB Light Infantry Battalion (SLORC/SPDC), usually about 500 soldiers strong
Kaw Thoo Lei The Karen homeland, also used as slang for KNU/KNLA
Nga Pway 'Ringworm'; derogatory SPDC slang for KNU/KNLA people
T'Bee Met 'Closed-eyes'; DKBA slang for KNU/KNLA people
loh ah pay Forced labour; literally it means traditional voluntary labour, but not under SPDC
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 kg / 4.4 lb
Kyat Burmese currency; US$1=6 Kyat at official rate, 300+ Kyat at current market
Introduction / Executive Summary
"In a pool we can't leave some fish to catch, so we have to catch them all … Right now, I do not fight Nga Pway [KNU/KNLA]. I am fighting the civilians. If the people dare to shoot one bullet at me, it is enough. I will shoot into the village. I have no relatives there." - Words of SPDC's #415 Light Infantry Battalion Commander Kayin Maung Nyo at a meeting with 70-80 village heads from Kya In township on 25/11/99 (Interviews #5 and #9, 12/99)
Dooplaya District, which covers much of the southern half of Karen State from the Myawaddy - Kawkareik - Kyone Doh motor road in the north to Three Pagodas Pass several hundred kilometres further south, was formerly one of the Karen National Union's major areas of control. The western strip of Dooplaya, from Kyone Doh down to Kya In Seik Gyi and Taung Zone, was in the control of the SLORC/SPDC regime, but the fertile Han Thayaw watershed in the central part of the district and the mountainous 'hump' projecting eastward into Thailand were largely under KNU control. This all changed in 1997, when the SLORC/SPDC launched a mass military offensive to capture the region. The terrain, much more level and open than other Karen regions, and the defection of Thu Mu Heh, a key KNLA commander, allowed the junta's troops to sweep rapidly through the Han Thayaw watershed, capturing hundreds of square kilometres within weeks and driving the KNLA to the Thai border. Tens of thousands of villagers were trapped in and around their villages, while thousands more fled across the border into Thailand, where they still remain as refugees. Fighting continued in the mountainous 'hump', but here also the SLORC/SPDC gained the upper hand and then installed the DKBA there to fight the remaining KNLA. [For background on the offensive and subsequent occupation, see "Refugees from the SLORC Occupation" (KHRG #97-07, 25/5/97), "Clampdown in Southern Dooplaya"(KHRG #97-11, 18/11/97), and "Dooplaya Under the SPDC" (KHRG #98-09, 23/11/98).]
The SLORC/SPDC generals were so impressed with the speed of their victory that they felt they had gained complete control of the region, and apparently decided to make the region a sort of 'model' occupation. They made a great show of talking about bringing 'development' to the region and refrained from systematically destroying every village as they normally would. They set up the defected KNLA officer Thu Mu Heh with his own group, called it the "Nyein Chan Yay A'Pweh" (literally "Peace Group", often calling itself "Karen Peace Army" in English) and publicly pretended to give Thu Mu Heh authority over Dooplaya and concessions to help him recruit local people to his army. SLORC/SPDC Army units rounded up villagers and forced them to go out into the bush to bring back those in hiding, telling them that they would be accepted back without punishment but that if they did not come their homes would be destroyed.
However, the junta's Army could not so easily suppress its normal tendencies. They attempted to drive the large Muslim population out of the centre of the district, blew up and bulldozed the main mosque in Kyaikdon and tore up and scattered the Koran in the streets. Large betelnut plantations were destroyed as Army officers confiscated land, reorganised Kyaikdon into plots and then forced the villagers to buy back their own land. The central high school in Azin (Saw Hta) was converted into an Army base, the football field becoming a helicopter pad. SLORC/SPDC General Maung Aye walked on the Karen flag on national television. Many villagers who came back out of hiding in response to the SLORC/SPDC's call were arrested, tortured and accused of being KNLA. Village heads were systematically tortured and ordered to "hand over guns".
The situation stabilised somewhat after the offensive troops rotated out and were replaced by occupation troops from #22 Division and various Infantry and Light Infantry Battalions, though serious abuses continued. The KNLA regrouped and began guerrilla operations throughout many parts of the district, particularly in the east and south. Thu Mu Heh was unsuccessful in luring villagers to his Karen Peace Army, and the SPDC commanders apparently became frustrated with his incapacity to control the region. Throughout 1998 and 1999, the role of Thu Mu Heh's group diminished until they only had a few soldiers acting as guides for SPDC columns, and the SPDC Army strengthened its presence throughout the region. Still unable to cut down the extent of KNLA guerrilla activity, the trend since mid-1999 has seen the SPDC Army revert more and more to its normal tactics of systematically abusing the civilian population in an attempt to undermine the KNU/KNLA; in other words, to wage war against Karen civilians. The impact on villagers has been truly devastating.
Villagers, particularly village men and elders, are consistently being detained and tortured for information on opposition movements. Villagers are randomly accused of being KNLA soldiers, and some have died under torture or been summarily executed on being found in their farm fields. This and the SPDC Army's constant demands for men to go as forced labour military porters have led many men to flee their villages and live in hiding while the women, children and the elderly remain behind to protect the village from looting. As a result, SPDC patrols have rounded up village women and then ordered them to fetch their husbands or to go along as porters. Many women are raped while portering, and villagers described to KHRG how in some cases, women and children have been taken not to carry loads at all, but simply to send out in front of the Army column as human shields and minesweepers. People caught in the farmfields away from their villages are automatically suspected of being opposition supporters, and are routinely tortured brutally until they either confess to fabricated 'crimes' or are killed.
In recent months the SPDC has also begun ordering the forced relocation of many villages to Army-controlled sites. Villagers told KHRG that most of these orders were delayed until the end of the rice harvest in December 1999. As a first step, some villages were ordered to carry their entire rice harvest to Army storage barns in Kya In Seik Gyi and other towns by December 20th, after which they were supposed to go to the Army once or even twice per day to receive a meal ration taken from their own rice, measured to be the minimum possible to feed each member of their family. The first wave of villages were then ordered to relocate to Army sites by December 25th. Most villagers are afraid to go to these sites, and those who have had to hand over their rice are too afraid to confront the Army every day to collect their own rice, so they have left their rice with the Army or left their crop in the fields and fled into hiding. Those interviewed by KHRG reported widespread hunger and virtual starvation throughout central Dooplaya, with villagers in the forests and villages forced to subsist on taro roots and jungle vegetables. As the relocations continue, they are also at grave risk of being shot on sight if found in or around their villages. This problem of starvation is new to Dooplaya district and is rapidly assuming alarming proportions, completely unknown to the outside world.
"There were about 30 houses in the village. The village is not yet destroyed, but the villagers have all fled in separate directions. I think the village will be destroyed. There are only a few houses still left in the village. The Burmese arrived in our village once before we came here. They said that the villagers are going to do hill fields and flat fields in the jungle [which they do not like because villagers might have easier contact with the KNLA]. They forced the village head to gather the villagers and come back to stay in the village. The village head dared face the Burmese, but just for a few days, then he also left. The village head couldn't find them [the villagers who had fled]… I heard the village head say that they were going to confiscate [paddy and rice]. The village head called a meeting and told us, 'You have to finish doing your paddy first. When you have finished the harvest, bring it and keep it in the village. Now they [the Burmese] will gather the paddy'…I won't go back. I dare not go back and cross their path. I dare not suffer it all. We must go and get rice to eat from them. We never dare to go and see them, so we dare not get it from them. We dare not face them." - "Saw Kyaw Ni" (M, 29), Meh Gu village, Kya In township (Interview #14, 12/99)
Another issue which only worsens the problem of hunger is forced labour. Since the SLORC/SPDC occupation of the district, the regime has used intensive forced labour to establish a network of military access roads throughout the area. In the beginning they used villagers, soldiers and heavy equipment, then throughout 1998 they brought thousands of prison convicts from other parts of Burma to do heavy labour under brutal conditions. Now, along with the general increase in repression, they are primarily using villagers for forced labour on the roads. The principal road now under construction runs over a route of well over 100 kilometres from Kya In Seik Gyi, in western central Dooplaya, to Three Pagodas Pass at the southeastern edge of the district. As the SPDC increases its military presence, more and more villagers are also being rounded up for forced labour as porters, human shields and human minesweepers.
The hunger, the forced relocations, the forced labour and the constant threat of detention and torture are causing more people to become internally displaced in the forests of the district, and groups of these villagers regularly arrive at the Thai border when they find they can no longer survive in the forests. However, the Thai government and army claim that there is no fighting in Dooplaya and that the refugees should therefore return home. Some have been forced back across remote parts of the border by Thai forces, while other groups have managed to stay only because foreign organisations and governments have pressured the Thai authorities against forcing them back. Even for these groups, Thai authorities are making it extremely difficult to enter the existing refugee camps, and their future is extremely tenuous.
"We heard that they will do the same thing that they have done in the area of Myint Wah Kyo Baw. So they will drive them to the same place and force them to work hard for them. They will work each morning and afternoon, and the villagers will have to go and take rice from them for each meal. They will suffer like that. They do this because they want to starve Kaw Thoo Lei [KNU/KNLA]. The way I see it is if they do it this way, it will not hurt Kaw Thoo Lei, but it will hurt civilians." - "Saw Kaw Htoo" (M, 37), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #4, 1/00)
Armies in the Region
"I will explain to you what I heard and saw. The main problem was that we feared the oppression of the SPDC. The first fear is that when the SPDC army entered the village, there were no men there at the time. So they gathered all of the women and then the private soldiers went into houses and took everything they liked. Then when they wanted to eat the livestock like chicken or ducks, they took it all. Then since they didn't see any men in the village, they called the married women with babies and forced them to carry loads for them for one or two days, even if their children cried." - "Saw Htoo Klih" (M, 30), Plaw Toh Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #5, 12/99)
The SPDC maintains firm control throughout Dooplaya District despite the fact that in 1997 the junta made a show of handing military control of the area to its proxy army, the KPA [Karen Peace Army; in Burmese, 'Nyein Chan Yay A'Pweh', literally 'Peace Group']. The KPA was formed in 1997 at the instigation of the SLORC/SPDC, who put it under the command of Thu Mu Heh, a former KNLA battalion commander in Dooplaya who secretly made a deal with the SLORC/SPDC to defect and surrender his troops as soon as the 1997 offensive began. His defection helped the SLORC/SPDC to capture the region, but he failed to take most of his troops with him. The SLORC/SPDC then formed the KPA under his command and held a public ceremony giving him 'authority' throughout Dooplaya. The junta then helped him recruit villagers by promising that the families of villagers who joined the KPA would be exempt from SLORC/SPDC forced labour. Villages were also forced to hand over conscripts, and particular pressure was levelled against the Dta La Ku religious minority (see "Dooplaya Under The SPDC", KHRG #98-09, 23/11/98), though the Dta La Ku persistently refused to be conscripted and eventually convinced both the KPA and the SPDC that military service directly violated their religious rules.
In addition to exemption from forced labour, KPA recruits were also promised that once trained they would be posted in their home villages as a form of militia. However, this latter promise was not kept, and when the trainees realised that they were being sent to seek out and fight the KNLA as SLORC/SPDC cannon fodder instead of being posted at home, most of them fled. The KPA failed to grow beyond a few hundred soldiers, and in the end the SPDC Army pushed them aside and strengthened their own military presence in the region. The KPA has since engaged in limited fighting with the KNLA, but most villagers who have fled the district have either not mentioned the KPA at all or have referenced it briefly in the context of greater SPDC-executed abuses. Though the KPA never really had any more than proxy authority in Dooplaya, it appears that even this authority has been severely weakened by three main factors: its failure to recruit soldiers, the villagers' perception—and consequential distrust—of the KPA as a proxy army for the SPDC, and consistent KNLA guerrilla activity in the region which has caused the SPDC to rely on its own forces, thereby usurping the KPA's control. The KNLA reported a few skirmishes with the KPA during the 1999 rainy season, but most reports from Dooplaya District indicate that the KPA's only significant activity at present is providing a few soldiers to each SPDC column as guides and helpers.
"Some animals ran away and were lost [when the villagers were relocated by the Burmese]. Some buffaloes ran to escape, but Nyein Chan Yay [KPA] came and drove them to the same place, and then gave them to the Burmese. Most Karen people became poor because their buffaloes were lost and they didn't get any money for them. They asked Nyein Chan Yay to drive them, but Nyein Chan Yay gave them to the Burmese and we didn't know where the Burmese sold those buffaloes." - "Saw Lah Kuh" (M, 51), Wah Lu village, Kya In township (Interview #16, 11/99)
KHRG has obtained an anti-KNU propaganda letter recently issued by a group going by the same name ('Nyein Chan Yay A'Pweh') far to the north, in Than Daung township at the northern tip of Karen State [see Order #292 in "SPDC and DKBA Orders to Villages: Set 2000-A" (KHRG #2000-01, 29/2/00)]. The letter encourages villagers and KNU/KNLA members to turn against the KNU and join their group, which is clearly allied to the SPDC. The rambling 3-page document states, "Today we know, see, accept and believe in the true good intentions and correct actions of the Tatmadaw [SPDC Army] … We ourselves decided to join the legal fold on 7-11-97 … Come back to peace along the path strewn with flowers. Our National Government, people and Tatmadaw will welcome you just as parents welcome their children." While this group uses the same Burmese name ('Nyein Chan Yay A'Pweh', or 'Peace Group') as Thu Mu Heh's KPA, on further investigation there appears to be no direct connection. According to KNU sources, a group of approximately 30 KNLA soldiers surrendered to the SPDC along with their family members in late 1997 in the region where the letter was issued. Since then they have been used by the SPDC to put out propaganda such as the above letter. Apparently, since Thu Mu Heh's 1997 surrender, several groups of surrendered KNLA soldiers have been given the name 'Nyein Chan Yay A'Pweh' by the SPDC. [Note that in "SPDC and DKBA Orders to Villages: Set 2000-A" (KHRG #2000-01, 29/2/00) we speculated that this northern group was somehow connected to Thu Mu Heh's KPA; it appears that this speculation was incorrect.]
"They collected 2 people for 5 day shifts [of portering], but they did not hire us. We each had to go once a month. I had to carry 6 or 7 times. We had to go for Tin Lan. He is the commander of [LID] #22. I am not sure if they combined with IB #24 or not, because #24 arrived in the village later. They combined #22, #24, and the other troops called Nyein Chan Yay Sit. But the Ko Per Baw ['Yellow headbands', name used by villagers to refer to the DKBA] were not involved." - "Pu Tha Mu Heh" (M, 57), Yaw K'Daw village, Kya In township (Interview #22, 9/99)
The DKBA still operates on a small-scale basis in Dooplaya, but most of its activity is in Kawkareik township, spilling down from Pa'an District in the north, and in the mountainous 'hump' of Dooplaya district which projects eastward into Thailand. The SPDC distrusts the DKBA, and pulled the DKBA out of most of Dooplaya (except the 'hump') after the KPA was set up. It appeared that the DKBA and KPA were on the way to becoming serious rivals, until the KPA was marginalised and the SPDC began moving small numbers of DKBA back into two or three areas of northern Dooplaya in mid-1998. The 'hump' and the mountainous strip north of it along the Thai border are still the DKBA's main areas of operation in Dooplaya, and outside of these areas villagers have little contact with them. In 1998 in central Dooplaya their main activity was using villagers as forced labour to build and restore pagodas. In the 'hump' and to the north of it they sometimes fight the KNLA, but they also sometimes protect villagers from the worst of SPDC abuses. In July 1999 in Meh K'Neh village of Kawkareik township, the KNU reported that troops from DKBA Brigade #999 detained 6 villagers, 3 of whom were village heads, and accused them of assisting 2 DKBA deserters. Although the DKBA does commit human rights violations against villagers, they seem to be less violent in Dooplaya than in their main base areas further north, and as a result the villagers tend to prefer the presence of the DKBA to that of the SPDC in Dooplaya. The vast majority of villagers, however, prefer the KNU/KNLA to either of these groups.
One villager reported seeing SPDC troops patrolling in Kya In township carrying weapons bearing the #999 insignia, indicating the DKBA's #999 Brigade. The SPDC provides the DKBA with all of its arms and ammunition, so these may have been weapons confiscated back from the DKBA by the SPDC Army. It is generally known that relations between the two have been gradually deteriorating almost since the DKBA's inception, and the future of the group is uncertain.
Despite losing its solid control over areas within Dooplaya, the KNLA continues to operate in small guerrilla units. They successfully harrass the SPDC and allied troops using tactics relying heavily on ambush and landmines. KNLA units rely on villagers for intelligence, and in return they share intelligence with villagers regarding SPDC movements, which helps the internally displaced stay one step ahead of SPDC patrols. For its food supply the KNLA relies largely on villages which are relatively stable and have not been uprooted. Most of the villagers support the KNLA's aims and feel a moral obligation to provide material support as well because they see the KNLA as the only bastion against SPDC rule, but they often have difficulty providing this support and would ideally like to be left alone by all parties to the conflict. The KNLA's supplies of arms and ammunition are severely limited and their numbers have greatly decreased over the past 3 years, but they are still effective in denying complete control of the area to the SPDC. Unfortunately, the SPDC responds by retaliating directly against the villagers. Villagers and villages are punished by having their elders arrested and their villages shot up and burned whenever a battle occurs nearby. At a meeting on November 25th 1999, SPDC officers told all the village heads in Kya In township that they will kill anyone who has been a KNLA soldier within the past 15 years. Sometimes the families of suspected soldiers are held hostage while one family member is ordered to go and bring the soldier in, under threat of death should he or she fail to do so. This puts a great many people at risk, because in most Karen areas almost everyone has a close or distant relative who is or has been a KNLA soldier. Villagers can even be executed for simply having carried rice for KNLA troops or helping them in similar ways, even if they were forced to do so.
"…when we went to a meeting at Da Nu, they said they would kill all the people who had been soldiers but quit less than 15 years ago. If it was over 15 years ago, they must go to sign with them [register with the SPDC]. … They said they will capture one person [in the family of a soldier]. For example, if your nephew or sibling is a soldier, they will arrest one person from your house and force him to go and bring back the one who went to become a soldier, and ask him to surrender. If the person can't find him, they will kill the one who went to find him." - "Saw Tha Htoo" (M, 36), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #8, 12/99), a former KNLA soldier who had to flee his village.
"…they said if they see the people who worked with the soldiers for 2 or 3 years and resigned, they would still kill them. Right now even the people who went once to carry things for Kaw Thoo Lei [KNLA] have been accused of contacting 'Nga Pway'. They didn't kill them, but they asked them to identify Kaw Thoo Lei's place, and they beat them." - "Saw Lah Say" (M, 29), Meh Gu village, Kya In township (Interview #11, 12/99)
The SPDC columns in the area change regularly, and accordingly so do the level of human rights abuses. A few columns from Light Infantry Division (LID) #44 which came in during the first SPDC military offensive of February/March 1997 still patrol in Dooplaya District, though their troops have largely been replaced first by LID #22, then later by LID #88 and many other battalions. [Note: each Light Infantry Division has 10 Light Infantry Battalions, though not all of these are posted to the same region. Each Infantry or Light Infantry Battalion has approximately 500 troops, though these are also divided between different camps and areas. A number of Battalions (usually 3) are frequently combined under a Strategic Command for a specific operation or area; for example, Strategic Command #881 is one such command under #88 LID.] Though the list below is not complete, villagers interviewed by KHRG made reference to the following 26 SPDC Battalions operating in Dooplaya over the past year:
Kawkareik township: IB 81, LIB 180 (under LID 44), LIB 210 (under LID 88), LIB 283, LIB 526, and LIB 546.
Kaw Te Hgah township: IB 62, LIB 106 (under LID 88), and LIB 108.
Kya In township: Strategic Command #881 (under LID 88), IB 13 (under LID 88), IB 24, IB 29, LIB 202, LIB 210 (under LID 88), LIB 215, LIB 284, LIB 301, LIB 343, and LIB 415 (under LID 88).
Waw Raw township: IB 24, IB 28, IB 31, IB 32, IB 61, IB 62, LIB 106 (under LID 88), LIB 205, LIB 248, LIB 284, LIB 299, LIB 310, and LIB 343.
The SPDC has also established Pyitthu Sit ['People's Army'] militia units in some villages which they strongly control in the west of the district. These units are usually formed by conscripting villagers, then forcing their villages to pay for their rudimentary training and subsequently support them with rice and money. ThePyitthu Sit units are armed by the SPDC and used as cannon fodder on occasion, but many of the units just spend their time extorting money from other villagers, and they are not playing a significant role in the district as a whole.
Though all SPDC troops are committing abuses, the troops from LID #88 under the command of Lt. Colonel Kyaw Zaw Aung, in particular Battalion #210 commanded by Major Tin Maung Aye, have the reputation of committing the very worst abuses that prompt people to flee their villages. Witnesses have testified that Tin Maung Aye's troops have raped and murdered with complete impunity, and their actions are often instigated by the commander himself. As a general rule, extra-judicial killings, detention, arrest, torture, rape, forced labour, portering, looting, and forced relocation all take place with at least the tacit consent, and sometimes under direct orders, of SPDC commanders. Meanwhile innocent villagers are caught in the middle, struggling for survival.
Forced Relocation and Rice Confiscation
"All of the villages were destroyed after they arrived. Kwih K'Neh Ghaw, Htee Noh Boh, Kaw Wah Klay and Kaw Nweh were destroyed because people couldn't stay and eat…Wherever they call and drive you, you have to go. People couldn't stay in Noh K'Rer and P'Yaw Pu Hta either. They came and burned down people's huts and drove out the owners, so people dared not stay in their villages and had to stay in the places where they drove them. They drove them to Kaw Wah Klay, but Kwih K'Neh Ghaw went to Naw Shaw Sin Ko. They drove out two or three villages in the same area, but they didn't allow them to stay in their own area… They forced people to Meh Gu village. They will do it in every township and village, and they will take all the paddy. They will do this to stop our Karen [KNLA] from having rice to eat, because if they don't do it like this they cannot restrict them. So they do it to control them; when they gather people and paddy, I think their aim is to capture and control the Karen." - "Saw Lah Kuh" (M, 51), Wah Lu village, Kya In township (Interview #16, 11/99)
With the KNLA still mounting a resistance against the SPDC in Dooplaya District, the Burmese military has tried to fortify its hold on the area by forcibly relocating villages. In 1997-98 the SPDC began relocating villages in southern Dooplaya to Three Pagodas Pass, burning several villages after their inhabitants had left to ensure that they would not return. In the dry season of early 1999 SPDC troops destroyed fields, paddy storage barns, and houses in villages across Dooplaya that were suspected of KNLA ties, and began relocations in Waw Raw and other townships. Furthermore, the general practice of consolidating villages continues, whereby villagers are ordered to move from houses or farmfield huts in the outlying areas to the village centre. Small or remote villages are also being ordered to move to larger ones nearby their own, or to towns with established relocation sites close to SPDC Army camps. The main explanation given to villagers for the relocation orders is that the SPDC is trying to undermine the KNLA's support network among Karen villagers, cutting off food supplies to soldiers and monitoring villagers' movements to ensure they do not join or aid the resistance. In a few instances the SPDC has forced villagers to move because they identified them as a 'rebel village'. These villages faced particularly brutal treatment; for example in Plaw Hta village in Kawkareik township soldiers found a KNLA badge on a piece of clothing, immediately ordered the village to relocate, and burned it just hours later as terrified villagers fled to avoid being killed in the process. Similarly, the villages of Kyaw Plaw and Bo Kler Kee, in an area of the eastern 'hump' of Dooplaya where there had been significant KNLA activity, were entirely burned by SPDC troops in April 1999, driving all of their villagers to become internally displaced in the surrounding forests. Normally villagers are given 3 days to move to a designated site, and told that anyone remaining after the deadline will be shot. Across Dooplaya District villagers testified that their belongings were stolen, their paddy destroyed, their friends and relatives arrested and beaten, and their village burned after the military arrived with orders to relocate.
"The villages that they drove out are good villages, but they said that there are Kaw Thoo Lei [KNU/KNLA] in them. If they know that Kaw Thoo Lei has passed through that village, they make trouble and drive the people out. Some villages haven't been driven out yet, but there has been trouble in them before [i.e. a battle has occurred there or they have had past contact with KNU/KNLA] so the villagers dared not stay, and they ran away. This happened in my village; we dared not face them, so we ran away." - "Saw Kaw Htoo" (M, 37), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #4, 1/00)
"One of the people from outside [a KNLA soldier] married a woman from our village. She sewed his clothes with a [KNLA soldier's] badge. At that time her husband had gone to the front line. We didn't know that the Burmese had entered the village and seen the piece of clothing with the badge. They said we were feeding Nga Pway, but we told them that we weren't feeding them. They said that if [the KNLA] came again, they would kill all of us. At that time we fled and the village was burned the same day… 30 baskets of paddy, 4 baskets of rice, and all of my clothes. I could only take one pair of clothes and one sarong. Also our pots, plates, and other things were burned." - "Saw Ler Doh" (M, 30), Plaw Hta village, Kawkareik township (Interview #34, 7/99)
"They drove the villagers who stayed around the village into the same place [i.e. forced the villagers in outlying areas to consolidate into the centre of the village]. They warned that if they didn't see everyone crowded in the same place, they would kill them all. They said that if they didn't drive them all together, the villagers would contact their friends in the Karen resistance, so they drove all of them to the village to starve the resistance. They could not make contact in the SPDC area." - "Saw Htoo Klih" (M, 30), Plaw Toh Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #5, 12/99)
Throughout Kya In township, the SPDC Army has been confiscating the entire paddy harvest from the villagers as a first step toward forced relocation. By November 1999, villages in the Kyaikdon area, in both Kya In and Kaw Te Hgah townships, were already being forced to deliver their paddy harvest to the SPDC Army camp in Kyaikdon and receive it back twice per day as a ration. Then on November 25th 1999, Operation Commander Myint Thein from Strategic Command #881 (under #88 LID) summoned village heads from 70-80 villages in Kya In township for a meeting at Kya In Seik Gyi. There he announced that instead of imposing their current rice quota per village, the SPDC would begin confiscating all the villagers' rice in December 1999, at the end of the annual rice harvest. All villagers were required to bring their harvested paddy to SPDC-controlled storage barns at Ta Mi Ni, Plaw Toh Kee, Ter Noh, and Da Nu (near Kya In Seik Gyi). The villagers were told that they would then have to come to the storage location, regardless of the distance by foot from their villages, to collect enough rice for their family before each meal. The SPDC explained to the village heads that strictly regulating the food supply was the only way to break the resistance, since villagers would be monitored to ensure that no surplus rice could be hoarded for the KNLA. The SPDC imposed a deadline of December 20th to complete the harvest and hand over the paddy. Any paddy left in the fields after that date would be seized, and any villagers caught in their fields or huts once the deadline passed would be shot, no questions asked. Villagers say that they found this deadline very unrealistic because the SPDC forces continued to demand forced labour and impose travel restrictions preventing farmers from finishing the harvest on time. Since December, the villagers have been reduced to begging for the food they have grown themselves, and in some cases have been forced to buy back their own rice for 300 Kyat per basket. However, most villagers are too intimidated by soldiers to approach them daily at the storage barns for fear of being taken for forced labour or detained for interrogation. This ultimately leaves the villagers with two choices: to starve or flee.
"When you have already finished reaping your paddy, they ask you to send it to Kyaikdon to their camp. Then you have to go back and take it from there, and if you have 2 tins worth, they give you 2 tins of rice. It depends on how many people you have in your family. And each day you have to go and take it twice, once for the morning meal and the other in the afternoon." - "Saw Lah Kuh" (M, 51), Wah Lu village, Kya In township (Interview #16, 11/99)
"They expressed their aim about gathering paddy in the meeting with the village heads in Kya In township. They will order the villagers to go and collect from them enough for each meal or each month. They think that if the villagers do not have food to eat, the resistance will not have food to eat either. They said, 'In a pool we can't leave some fish to catch, so we have to catch them all.' And then he said, 'I am not fighting the resistance, I fight civilians.' So they do, and they collect paddy among the civilians to break the foundation of the resistance. They announced it during the meeting and all of the village heads and villagers in Kya In township heard about it." - "Saw Htoo Klih" (M, 30), Plaw Toh Kee village, Kya In township; the statements he quotes from the meeting were made by LIB 415 commander Kayin Maung Nyo (Interview #5, 12/99)
"…it will be 4 more days until people will finish bringing in the paddy [the SPDC-imposed deadline for harvesting paddy was December 20]. If they don't finish bringing in the paddy the Burmese will confiscate it, and if they see the villagers who aren't finished bringing in the paddy and staying in the fields, they will kill them… They are going to keep the paddy at Plaw Toh Kee. They have built a rice barn there… I heard people say that they will give it back. But the villagers must go to get it each day." - "Saw Kyaw" (M, 40), Ghaw Gheh village, Kya In township (Interview #10, 12/99)
"They will confiscate it and then they will ration it out. They will take it to Da Nu. It may be that the villagers who stay far away will be given enough for one day. The villagers who stay nearby will get it day by day. They will ask, 'How much do you eat at one time?' If the villagers say, '2 milk tins', then will give 4 milk tins for one day. They will measure it on a scale. If they give too much, they worry that the villagers will feed the outside people." - "Saw Tha Htoo" (M, 36), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #8, 12/99)
"When I came here I heard that they built a rice barn and they would start confiscating the people's paddy. The villagers are talking about coming in the dry season [after the harvest, from January to June 2000], because if they confiscated their paddy, all the people will have to move. When I stayed in the village, I heard that they forced the villagers to cut wood to build a rice barn. They are starting to confiscate the paddy. The people are talking to each other about whether they will tax the fields or confiscate the paddy. Yesterday some villagers from Kwih K'Neh Ghaw came and said they are confiscating their paddy, too." - "Saw Moe Shwe" (M, 52), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #12, 12/99)
"They will confiscate the paddy. The village elder told us we must go gather the paddy at Ta Mi Ni. Right now they tell us to go quickly. They told us to finish harvesting the paddy, then to gather it in the village. The Burmese said they would carry away all the paddy. After they finish confiscating it, they will drive the villagers to the lower place. The village elder said they will drive the villagers to Kya In Seik Gyi. They will make it so that when the soldiers [KNLA] travel, they don't get food [from the villagers]… The village head said they will hand it back to us, but we have to buy one basket of paddy for 300 Kyat. We do not have money. How can we buy it? If we can't buy it, we don't have paddy to eat. Therefore I didn't harvest my paddy. I asked someone else to harvest it… They said they will keep the paddy at Ta Mi Ni. They haven't built the rice barn; they haven't dared confiscate the paddy yet because the people [KNLA] are waiting to shoot them. If they [the Burmese] go to find them, they will see the place where the people are hiding. The people are hiding in the paddy." - "Saw Lah Say" (M, 29), Meh Gu village, Kya In township (Interview #11, 12/99)
Most of the recent forced relocations in Dooplaya District have been ordered for Kya In township. In the same meeting when Kya In village heads were told their paddy would be confiscated, the SPDC also informed them which villages in the township would soon be either consolidated to the village centre or relocated. Small villages in the Meh Gu / Plaw Toh Kee village tract like Meh Gu Kee, Htee Tha Blu, and Toh Doh Doh initially had to move to larger villages along the main car road to Ghaw Gheh such as Meh Gu or Plaw Toh Kee. At the meeting on November 25th the village heads were informed that all villages, even larger ones, would be relocated by December 25th to towns with a military presence. Meh Gu, Htee Po Way, and Kyaw Kheh Ko were forced to relocate to Kya In Seik Gyi, while Plaw Toh Kee was moved to Kyi Soe; both relocation sites are at SPDC Army camps. After forcing the villagers to consolidate in the centre of Ghaw Gheh and Kwih K'Neh Ghaw villages, Ghaw Gheh was ordered to Ter Noh and Kwih K'Neh Ghaw to Kyaikdon, 2 places where the SPDC has built storage barns for confiscated rice. Other relocated villages include: Htee Noh Bo, Noh K'Rer, P'Yaw Pu Hta, Wah Lu, Khay R'Moh (burned by the SPDC before relocation), Myint Wah Kyo Baw, Pyu Gyi, Meh Baw Tee Kaw, Dta Dah Lee, Seik Doh, Kyaw Meh, and Ta Gay (relocation deadline: January 12th 2000). Villagers identified different relocation sites where they were ordered to go, most of which are clustered on the main car road to Ghaw Gheh in order to provide easier access by the SPDC military and to prevent contact with KNLA troops in remote locations. All were warned that if any villagers were caught in their village after the relocation deadline had passed, they would be shot on sight. The large majority of villagers in the area left their paddy in their fields and fled before the deadline arrived. Some village heads surmised that the SPDC was waiting to relocate the tract until the villagers had harvested this year's paddy and deposited it in the Army's storage barns, but that the troops were hesitant to confiscate the abandoned paddy from the fields themselves because they feared KNLA ambushes.
"They are going to force our village to Kyaikdon. They said so. They wanted to separate us from the Kaw Thoo Lei [KNU/KNLA]. I heard that they were going to confiscate the villagers' rice and paddy when the villagers finished working [harvesting]. They are going to keep it in Kyaikdon. They will force the villagers to go and stay and eat there. I heard about this while the villagers were harvesting the paddy but they hadn't confiscated it yet before I came here. The village head told us in a meeting. The villagers couldn't tell [what to do]. When they finish their work, they will run or they will hide their paddy and run. Some villagers aren't going to send their paddy [to the Burmese]." - "Saw Lah Bway" (M, 20), Kwih K'Neh Ghaw village, Kya In township (Interview #7, 12/99)
"According to the people who went to the meeting, our enemies [SPDC] said that they will drive villages consisting of 20-30 houses to the big village. In the area around my village, they came and held a meeting and said that they would drive us to Kyi Soe, the place where their Battalion commander stays, in order to make that place a town. But now every villager lives in terror and anxiety. The villagers think it's strange that they would drive us from many villages to join with a big village like that." - "Saw Htoo Klih" (M, 30), Plaw Toh Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #5, 12/99)
"We went to visit them at #88's camp. They are staying in Da Nu. It is close to Sin Kaung, Yay Leh. It takes 3 hours on foot. They called one representative from each village to attend the meeting. They told the villagers, 'When we come to interrogate you, you must tell the truth. You must tell truly whether you are a relative of the resistance or not. When the outside people [KNLA] enter the village, or if you find anything, you must tell us the truth. If the people shoot at us, we will kill all the villagers who we have interrogated.' They also said they would force the villagers to move down. They are driving the villagers to the same place … They said that the people who live in the areas surrounding Mine, over the mountain at xxxx [village], do not obey and that there is a lot of resistance. They said that the villagers who are good and dare to face them must stay at home starting the 25th of December. They must see all the villagers, wives, husbands, and children. If they come and don't see all of them, they will give them one chance and free them. After that, when they come the next time and don't see full families in their houses, they will kill all of us. … On the 25th of December, all the villagers must go back to gather and stay at Ghaw Gheh village. They said that if they see any villagers who stay outside [the village], they will kill them without question. They told us this in a meeting." - "Saw Tha Htoo" (M, 36), xxxx village, Kya In twsp. (Interview #8, 12/99)
"They [the villagers] couldn't carry it all, so they left it in their houses. If they want to eat rice they have to go and take it from their house. Some people could not carry it all, so some rice was stolen because if the Burmese arrived there they took it all, since they had told the people to take it with them. After they arrived in their camp, if they couldn't eat it all, they sold it. But the villagers don't have enough food for themselves, so they have to borrow it from other people and then pay it back. The Burmese don't feed them; even if you work for them you have to bring your own food." - "Saw Lah Kuh" (M, 51), Wah Lu village, Kya In township (Interview #16, 11/99)
The conditions of the forced relocation sites spur many to flee into the jungle or attempt the journey to Thailand to avoid living there. The main problem is lack of food, since villagers cannot carry a sufficient amount of rice with them, and no food is provided except their own rice rationed back out to them in insufficient quantities. The troops also feed off the villagers' stored rice at the same time. Many villagers have no choice but to leave their rice behind, making it an easy target for looting by Burmese soldiers who then bring it to the relocation sites and sell it back to the villagers. Once at the sites villages are also called upon for frequent rounds of forced labour and portering, leaving few opportunities to grow food or earn money to feed their families. Once relocated, villagers are usually not allowed to leave the site except between dawn and dusk, making it impossible for them to reach their old fields or forage for sufficient food, so many inside the sites are now facing starvation. Others were forced out of their villages but not told where to go, so the villagers had no choice but to try to survive in the jungle.
"They worried that Nga Pway [KNLA] would disturb them when they were patrolling and they didn't want us to feed Nga Pway. If they do it like that [relocate people to controlled sites], Nga Pway dare not find their food there, so they gathered people in the same place. They didn't provide food[at the relocation site]; the people had to bring their own food to eat. If you want to take medicine, you have to buy it and if you don't buy it, you can't have medicine. Sometimes you can trade it for chicken: 2 tablets of para [Paracetamol] for viss of chicken. But they don't give it to you for free. You have to trade with the Burmese soldier's medic." - "Saw Lah Kuh" (M, 51), Wah Lu village, Kya In township (Interview #16, 11/99)
"…they told our village, 'Don't stay in your village. All of you must leave the village. Wherever you want to move, move, but you can't stay here. If you decide not to move, find and gather firewood and keep it under your house. Then none of you can come down from the house.' Then they would come and set fire to the house. We dared not do this and we feared them, so that's why we had to leave. We hadn't even finished our fields, but we were afraid because they told us, 'All of you have to move, and if you think that you are good people, don't come back again. If you come back we will think that you are our enemies, so we will kill you.'" - "Naw Muh Eh" (F, 44), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #1, 1/00)
"I portered for them and when I arrived in Meh Naw Na Kee on a person's farm, there was a man who was wearing jeans. He was lying in the hut, and they looked at his clothes and thought that he was a soldier, then two Burmese stepped on his back and stabbed him to death. Then his blood came out and he died. But we dared not look, because if we had they would have beaten us, so we didn't see it. They left him in the hut. I don't know for sure, but when I looked at his face he looked like a villager and he wore jeans, not soldier's trousers. On the way they captured a woman and two men, and tied them with the same rope. Then he [Burmese soldier] bent down and stabbed all of them in the gut. Then he [one of the victims] struggled, and his blood flew straight up. He did it to 3 of them, and then pulled them among the wild banana trees and came up without their bodies. [It was] LIB #210, Tin Maung Aye's troops. He distrusted them, so he stabbed them and pulled them among the wild banana trees." - "Saw Lah Kuh" (M, 51), Wah Lu village, Kya In township (Interview #16, 11/99)
Terrified villagers are reporting a rise in extra-judicial killings by the SPDC Army throughout Dooplaya. The main reason proffered by the SPDC for the killing of a villager is usually affiliation with the KNLA; however, this claim is rarely substantiated with factual evidence, and most of the time the villagers killed have been randomly targeted and unjustly accused. In the past fellow villagers were often permitted to 'vouch' for the accused to the SPDC commanders, often handing over large bribes to military officials who would then release the arrested villager. Even this appeals process does not work in most cases now, as the SPDC eradicates those it deems Karen 'rebels' from villages throughout Dooplaya. Villagers fear travelling outside the village for any reason, especially to tend their hill fields in the jungle, because they risk discovery by SPDC troops on patrol and the inevitable accusation of rebel activity. At present, anyone found outside their villages, even if they are clearly tending their fields, is immediately accused of being a 'rebel' or 'rebel supporter', which guarantees detention and torture with no possibility of supplication. Indeed, accusing a villager of being a soldier, a relative of a soldier, or helping soldiers in any way is a blanket accusation punishable by death; the implicit SPDC threat to other villagers is to renounce suspected rebels before innocent villagers pay the price for their subversion.
"Kyaw Taw didn't go to porter; they met him in the jungle. When they met him they ordered him to stop cutting grass in his hill field. He was staying with his wife and 3 children in the farmfield hut. He was from Toh Kee, but his wife comes from the other side of the mountain at Ka Kya Poe Kee. They arrested him near Toh Kee and they shot him through the mouth while he was cutting the grass… At the time I was portering for 9 days. They forced us to bury him and sleep near the grave… Kyaw Taw was working a hill field deep in the jungle. The Burmese ordered that people have to carry recommendation letters [letters from the village head or Burmese officers granting permission for villagers to travel outside the village], but he didn't have a letter. Therefore they killed him and said he was Nga Pway ['Ringworm', SPDC slang for KNLA soldiers]." - "Saw Lah Bway" (M, 20), Kwih K'Neh Ghaw village, Kya In township (Interview #7, 12/99)
"There was a woman who stayed in Kwih K'Neh Ghaw village, and she was a shopkeeper. Nga Pway bought things from her shop, and the Burmese shot at them but no one was injured. After that the Burmese went and fired four shots at her behind the shop. Her name was Ma xxxx. They said that she fed Nga Pway." - "Saw Lah Kuh" (M, 51), Wah Lu village, Kya In township (Interview #16, 11/99)
"They went to capture him secretly. After they captured him, they hung him by his hands on a tree. I saw it because at the time I was portering. They captured him in the river at Nya Ka Aye Kee while he was fishing. The Burmese were patrolling and heard that he had fled and was staying at that place. They found him and tied him. Before they killed him, they tortured him. They kicked him with their big boots and burned the hair on his testicles with a candle. They kicked him and then killed him in the jungle… Only the officer tortures the people. He [the commander] cut his throat." - "Saw Lah Bway" (M, 20), Kwih K'Neh Ghaw village, Kya In township, describing the killing of villager Kyaw Ngay, age 39, married with 2 children, because he had fled capture for forced labour and was hiding (Interview #7, 12/99)
"Right now they said if they arrest a villager, the monk or pastor can't vouch for them. They can't come to recommend them. They will kill anyone who dares to complain to them. They already told us this. If the people don't turn on them and shoot, there will be no resistance." - "Saw Tha Htoo" (M, 36), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #8, 12/99)
At the meeting on November 25th 1999 held in Kya In Seik Gyi by Strategic Command #881, SPDC officers told all the village heads in Kya In township that they will kill anyone who has been a KNLA soldier within the past 15 years (see also above under "Armies in the Region"), and the families of suspected soldiers are often held hostage while one family member is sent out to 'bring in the soldier' under threat of death if he or she fails. As most accusations of 'being a soldier' are unfounded, this system can be used to execute almost anyone; for example, every woman found in a village without her husband is accused of being 'married to a soldier'. Villagers can also be executed for simply having carried rice for KNLA troops or helping them in similar ways, even if they were forced to do so.
"Both of them were men, and in the past they worked outside [they were KNLA soldiers], but they had quit. They left those jobs maybe 5 or 6 years ago. … They beat them until they couldn't see or walk, and after they didn't know where they were anymore, they killed them. They tied one of them on a bamboo [stand] like a cross, and made him stay like that. They didn't feed them enough rice, and he couldn't move his hands or legs, but after a while he was cold and frozen. After that they set fire to a plastic bag and burned him with it, but he couldn't move his body so he was yelling a lot. After that his wounds became infected. They knew that he wouldn't be able to walk when they released him. He couldn't walk or sit; his whole body was wasting away. When we fled here he was dying, but he hadn't died yet." - "Naw Muh Eh" (F, 44), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township, describing the killing of 2 village men from Doh Gyi who had been KNLA soldiers but quit over 5 years ago (Interview #1, 1/00)
One particularly brutal incident involved the killing of 3 villagers from Plaw Toh Kee whom the SPDC accused of being KNLA soldiers. On November 30th 1999, troops under the control of Strategic Command #881 arrested a villager named Si Si while carrying a hammock, fishing line, and petrol near his village in the Meh Gu village tract of Kya In township. The SPDC immediately accused him of being a KNLA soldier and interrogated him until he revealed the names of his 'co-conspirators' in the village. The SPDC troops subsequently arrested 2 more men and brutally tortured all 3 of them for an entire week before killing them. The extreme cruelty of their torture and subsequent murder, combined with their avowed innocence by all villagers who knew them, frightened many people so greatly that they fled their villages en masse. Whether this flight was an intended consequence of the killings is unknown, but the SPDC succeeded in driving almost all the families away from villages that had been slated for imminent forced relocation.
"I also saw them kill three people in Plaw Toh Kee… Before they killed them they captured them, and they didn't feed them rice or give them water for 7 days. They didn't let them lie down or sit down, they just tied them standing against trees and a stand of bamboo. Then they questioned them about the resistance, but they couldn't answer them because they are farmers. They beat them and punched each of their faces more than 500 times. Then they sliced their legs and arms in rows, and dried them in the hot sun. They stabbed them 1 inch deep at least 200 times each. They abused them until they cut out their intestines and then pushed them back inside their gut, but didn't kill them right away. They kept them like that day and night, then killed them in the jungle. Their names were Peh Ko, Kyaw Thaw Han, and Si Si… Peh Ko is my younger sister's husband, and he has 2 children, also his wife is pregnant…They thought that they were people who work for the resistance, so they accused them and killed them. The village head went to recommend them but he couldn't. After they killed them they buried them in the same hole. They had never carried guns in their lives; they were workers in the fields and they bred cattle. They stayed in the village and everybody in the village believes that they were good men… The troops were Strategic Command #881, LIB #415. The commander is [Lt. Colonel] Kyaw Zaw Aung but he ordered his privates to do it… Only a person who could not die would beat another person like that." - "Saw Htoo Klih" (M, 30), Plaw Toh Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #5, 12/99)
"They killed men in Plaw Toh Kee. Three people: Peh Ko, Kyaw Than Han, and Si Si. It seemed to us that those three were bending their backs and earning their living from their fields, but they [the Burmese] wanted to accuse them of having relations with the KNU. So they didn't believe them, and they accused them of working with the KNU. They killed them between Pu Kheh Toh and Ywa Thit village… We heard that they decided to kill at least 6 villagers a month. It is their plan and their goal." - "Saw Kaw Muh" (M, 42), Htee Po Way village, Kya In township (Interview #2, 1/00)
"The second man was Kyaw Man from Kwih K'Neh Ghaw. He was 35 years old. First they asked him for a chicken, so he brought a chicken for them and they forced him to carry a load, but he couldn't carry it because he was sick. So they captured him and slit his lips and ears, and then they beat his testicles until they broke, and then he was dead. He had 4 children and his wife stays with her older sister. His occupation was working on a hill field; he had no faults. … The third person they killed stayed in his farmfield hut, and the Burmese beat him unconscious. After he awoke he came back to his house and the Burmese saw him again on the foot of the ladder. The Burmese said, 'This old man came back again', so they stabbed him to death in the neck with a bayonet. He was from Kwih K'Neh Ghaw village and around 60 years old. His name was Pa Kher Htoo. They [the SPDC troops] told him not to go and reap paddy at his farmfield hut. But the villagers survive from their hill fields, so they have to go. He went there and they killed him. They beat him in the morning and in the afternoon they killed him. He has 2 daughters and a wife, and all of them went crazy."- "Naw K'Paw" (F, 25), Meh Gu Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #6, 12/99)
Arrest, Detention, and Torture
"They were from Burmese troop [LID] #88. There are 40-50 soldiers. I don't know the name of the commander. When they entered my village they captured 5 villagers. They are farmers. They tied their hands behind their backs for the whole night. Then they ordered them to stand in a line and they pointed at them with guns. They lined them up to sit on a log during the night. They made them stay like that. They captured them because they were suspicious of them. They planned to capture and beat the villagers when they came, and they thought that if there was anything wrong in the village, the villagers would be afraid of them because of the beatings and would tell them the truth. I mean that if there were any faults with the village, the people would tell information about the KNU." - "Saw Kaw Muh" (M, 42), Htee Po Way village, Kya In township (Interview #2, 1/00)
Villagers who run from SPDC soldiers or who are suspected of any kind of ties to the KNU are not always killed, but are at the very least detained and tortured. In many areas of Dooplaya the SPDC has restricted travel outside the villages and anyone caught violating this order is either shot on sight or captured and beaten. Soldiers often demand information about KNLA activity in the area from villagers and will detain or torture them until they provide it; in most cases the victims are farmers travelling to and from their hill fields who are completely ignorant of such information. In one case a column from LID #88 came to Khay R'Moh village in December 1999 and gathered all the women and children together, detained them for an entire day without food or water, then forced them to search for their husbands and bring them back to the village. The soldiers accused the villagers of helping the resistance and demanded that all men be accounted for; later they targeted several villagers—both men and women—as suspicious persons, then arrested and tortured them at their Army camp. Villagers also report that when torturing villagers the soldiers are frequently intoxicated, usually at the instigation of the commanders. In any case the forms of torture reported in this district are as varied as they are gruesome, including mutilation of genitals, application of fire to various parts of the body, suspending people from trees during beatings, systematic slicing of flesh in dozens of places, and rubbing salt in wounds to let them dry in the sun.
"They beat the 3 of them: B--- the village chairman [from K--- village], U N--- the secretary of the village, and one villager named P---. The commander said he [P---] was acting wise because he could speak Burmese. They didn't beat P--- many times, just 2 or 3. They broke his jawbone. They punched the three of them. When he [the commander] couldn't punch anymore because his hands were in pain, he asked one of his soldiers to punch. He was lying around and laughing. He bandaged his hands and looked at his soldier and said, 'Do it, punch, punch!' When his soldier punched, he laughed a lot. He tortured them between half an hour and two hours. Their lips were busted open. … After they couldn't punch anymore, he told us, 'Don't do this again. If I call you, you must come. Don't refuse me.' He didn't like people to complain to him. He beat us and if we complained to him, he said, 'Don't talk, I don't believe you.' He tortured us and also drank alcohol, so his legs and hands were quick to torture us." - "Saw Toh Wah" (M, 34), xxxx village, Waw Raw township, who was tortured himself and then witnessed the same commander (Capt. Han Myaing of LIB 343) torturing the village committee of a neighbouring village for withholding information (Interview #32, 8/99)
"They don't allow us to travel because if they stay in the village we have to stay in our houses… If there is nobody in the house, they say that the house is their enemy's house. If they see people in the jungle, they call them even if people say that they are going to work in their hill fields and that they are farmers. They call them and the people have to follow them, and if you don't go they beat you." - "Naw Muh Eh" (F, 44), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #1, 1/00)
"They did not allow us to travel as freely as we liked. They didn't allow us to go and work outside the village, or travel, and if they saw us in the jungle and the date or time had expired [on their travel passes], they would shoot us dead if we ran. If we didn't run, they captured us and we saw some people who were captured and beaten. They captured two villagers from my village. Their names are Saw B--- and Saw K---. They are over 20 years old. They are workers in the hill fields, and they were captured when they had gone to work in their fields. Then they questioned them about many things and accused them of being soldiers, but they are not. If the people say that they haven't seen them [KNLA soldiers], they are beaten, but if they say that they have seen them, they are accused of being Kaw Thoo Lei, and the soldiers ask them to show them [where to find the KNLA]. But how can we show them?… After they captured them [the two villagers], they blindfolded them and tied and beat them, and they put one of them into a gunny sack. They knotted a sarong and put him inside it, and beat them and interrogated them for two days and nights." - "Saw Kaw Htoo" (M, 37), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #4, 1/00)
"Then after they released us, the next morning they called one of our aunts to go with them. Her name is Naw M---… She is about 45 years old. They captured her because people told them that her husband had been part of the resistance. The Burmese had captured and killed him 4 years ago. Someone went to tell them that now Naw M--- had remarried her husband's assistant [who was also a KNLA soldier]… Then when they arrived in Ter Noh they blindfolded her and tied and abused her, but we didn't know what they were doing until she wrote a letter to us and asked us to send medicine that makes people fall asleep and not remember themselves [a drug to make her unconscious]… I think that they raped her because she told us that she couldn't tolerate it. Maybe they abused and raped her..." - "Naw Muh Eh" (F, 44), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township; the charge of marrying her dead husband's assistant turned out to be baseless (Interview #1, 1/00)
"They called us together and ordered us to find our husbands who had gone to work. And they didn't let us go home until we could find our husbands. If a woman's husband didn't come back, she couldn't go home either, but if her husband came back she could go home with him. They said that if our sons and husbands had gone to work, they should come back in the evening [from working their fields outside the village]. If the husbands didn't come, we must be people who work outside [families of KNLA soldiers]. So all of the women had to find their husbands on a very hot day, and some had to carry their children and babies in the heat to find them. The babies were crying. And they had to search until they found them. All of them found their husbands but it took one or two days because some men were afraid and dared not come back. … After they arrived back in the village, the Burmese let all of their wives go home, but they called their husbands and ordered them to carry loads for them the next morning. They told them that it would take 3 hours, but it took 3 days." - "Naw Muh Eh" (F, 44), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #1, 1/00)
The other primary cause for arrest is to obtain porters for SPDC forces and forced labourers for Army camps. When villagers hear of an approaching Army column, most of the men flee into the jungle in hopes of avoiding arrest. Men are usually the primary targets for portering, and are routinely captured from their villages or fields. Porters and village heads who cannot fill the village quota for porters often remain in SPDC Army custody long after their promised release, despite pleading appeals by fellow villagers to set them free.
"Before I left my village they ordered Po S--- to go and pull [by bullock cart] for them to Meh Naw Ah, but the bullocks couldn't pull because they carried a lot of weight, so they beat the owner of the bullocks and said he is stupid. They beat him with their belts and kicked and slapped him, and he got wounds and bruises. It was a week ago." - "Naw Wah Wah" (F, 20), xxxx village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #24, 9/99)
"We had to carry more and more often, and they became ruder and ruder. When they arrived in the village, if you stayed in your house they called you down and interrogated you. At that time they got the porters they demanded, so they did not take us. They just ran around carrying their guns, then went and captured somebody. At that time there were 10 soldiers who came, including a Nyein Chan Yay Sit [Karen Peace Army] soldier." - "Pa Ler Thu" (M, xx), Hter Klah village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #19, 10/99)
"The Burmese couldn't collect people [to serve as porters], so they put my Uncle M--- into the stocks because he is a village head and he couldn't find porters. The Burmese had tried to collect many [porters]. They didn't release him for a day, even though it was past the time. They slapped him many times on his face, but they didn't do anything else." - "Saw K'Mwee" (M, 17), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #15, 12/99)
"…he ordered his soldiers to drag me under the house and they tied me to the betelnut tree. They tied my hands behind my back. They didn't beat me with a stick, just with their hands and legs. The village chairman told them the truth and I didn't tell the truth, that's why they beat me. The commander called their porters and told them to dig a hole and said, 'We can't release him. He is really the enemy. Now we will arrest him. Go and dig the hole. I will clear [kill] him myself. I won't release him. If he escapes, you must die instead of him.' Then the porters who came from Saw Hta found a mattock and dug the hole. He asked, 'Are you finished digging the hole yet?' The porters said, 'Finished'. He said, 'If it is finished, drag him to the hole. Don't clear him. I will go to clear him myself. We will do it in front of the villagers. He is a secretary in the village and works for the villagers, but he is a liar and was not honest with me. Now I will call all the villagers to gather before I clear him.' … He asked the villagers impatiently, 'Do you guarantee your secretary?' The villagers said, 'Yes, we guarantee him'. He said, 'You guarantee him. Look here, I don't like that answer.' Then he held up his carbine and fired it near my head. I don't know if it hurt me, but my hair stood up. He threatened me and then fired a second time. None of the villagers dared to look." - "Saw Toh Wah" (M, 34), xxxx village, Waw Raw township, describing how he was tortured by Capt. Han Myaing of LIB 343 in late February 1999 for withholding information about the KNLA (Interview #32, 8/99)
"They entered villages to loot and beat villagers if they didn't give to them. They took things without paying and beat the owners and went to sleep with married women. It was in Kyaw Kee and Saw Hta villages that they went to sleep with married women. …[It was troops from] LID #22. The private soldiers did it. When they try to sleep with women like that, you can't do anything about it. The villagers do not allow the women to go [on portering shifts] because they [the Burmese soldiers] meet them outside the village and rape them… It was in Saw Hta. [It was] in the same month [that he fled, in July 1999]. I don't know her name, but when M--- came back [from portering], he told me. The woman is married and he [a Burmese soldier] went up to sleep with her. M--- knew about it because they were sleeping in the same house and he [Burmese soldier] touched her husband with a knife, then slept with his wife." - "Pa Htoo Pa" (M, 24), xxxx village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #25, 9/99)
Rape and sexual assault against women is widely committed in Dooplaya District by SPDC troops on patrol and within the confines of Army camps. Several villages report that when news reaches them that an SPDC column is planning to enter the village, the men flee for fear of capture and the women sleep together to protect themselves from the advances of drunk or raucous soldiers. Rape occurs inside villagers' homes usually when the husbands are away, but soldiers most often attack women outside the village when they are especially defenseless. In early December a group of three women from A'Leh Ywa was gang raped by a few soldiers on patrol while the women were returning to their village from their hill fields. When they complained to the Burmese commanders afterwards they were told, "If you dare to go to court, you can, but the next time we will do it worse than before." ["Naw K'Paw" (F, 25), Meh Gu Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #6, 12/99)] Karen women rarely report sexual crimes to authorities or higher military officers for fear of retribution; their only hope is to avoid soldiers as ardently as possible. Women of all ages interviewed by KHRG describe past incidents of sexual assault and the constant fear it generates among village women, who cannot escape their sense of vulnerability.
"…when they [the SPDC soldiers] slept in the village, women from one or two houses gathered and slept in the same house. Then they kept a fire going." - "Saw Moe Shwe" (M, 52), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #12, 12/99)
"I also heard that the Burmese slept with some women, but not all. I didn't ask which village they were from, but it was people who were coming by boat to Thi Mu Kloh. They called them to get out of the boat and beat them. At that time the Burmese were drunk, and they raped two women. After they raped them, they released them." - "Naw Muh Eh" (F, 44), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #1, 1/00)
"Last year at Christmas time a soldier from Battalion #62 commanded by Bo Aung Kyaing went to rape the wife of W---. Her husband went to cook for Christmas, and while his wife slept the soldier pointed at her with a hand grenade and then he raped her. Her sarong was dirty and she had to show people. We stay in the same village so we know about it." - "Saw Lay Doh Htoo" (M, 27), Saw Hta village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #29, 9/99)
Villagers have witnessed SPDC commanders not only encouraging rape among their private soldiers, but themselves initiating inappropriate sexual advances against village women. Major Tin Maung Aye of Battalion #210 from LID #88—the Division with currently the largest presence in central and southern Dooplaya District—has a notorious reputation for appalling treatment of village women in the Kyaikdon area where his troops are stationed. Rape is the only human rights abuse for which SPDC commanders occasionally hand out punishment to their soldiers, though these punishments tend to be nominal in nature, such as running around the camp with a pack full of rocks, a minor beating, or being tied outside in the sun. However, when the commanders themselves participate in such violent acts the lower-ranking offenders are almost never disciplined, even with nominal punishments. As a result, soldiers attack women without fear of consequence. Women particularly fear being caught or taken outside the village by troops, where they are then completely at the soldiers' mercy. Tin Maung Aye's troops are known for arresting women porters and forcing them to sleep next to the commanders; in at least one such instance young women were gang raped during the night, and their screams were heard by villagers who stayed close by.
"Tin Maung Aye [Commander of LIB #210] catches women… He went to stay with Naw C--- when the people fled to stay in the monastery. He asked her to love him, but she didn't love him. The girl was going out, but he didn't allow her to. He ordered her to stay with him… He asked for her love and he kissed her once. The girl didn't want to do anything with him; she didn't love him. He forced her to do this. He also wanted to give her a gold chain, but the girl didn't take it. I know this because that girl is my cousin." - "Saw K'Mwee" (M, 17), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #15, 12/99)
"We heard that the troops [Tin Maung Aye's Battalion, #210] that arrived next are driving the villagers together to the same place and then gathering the paddy. And we heard that they gathered 40 girls aged 14 or 15 and forced them to go in front of them wherever they wanted to go. During the night they slept with them and around midnight all of the girls were screaming. We don't know what they did to them, but they surely did something to them, because I don't think that all of them were bitten by insects or scorpions to make them yell like that. So I think that they did something to them." - "Saw Lah Kuh" (M, 51), Wah Lu village, Kya In township (Interview #16, 11/99)
"One of my older sisters and my cousin are teachers in the village and they are very proper. But the Burmese said that they are proud, so in the night they tried to climb up into the house to sleep with them, but they couldn't because my uncle had fenced his walls very well, and they couldn't climb up the walls. This was last year. My sister is a Bible school teacher and every time they walked past the house they joked to them, but the girls didn't respond. So they thought that they were proud and they tried to sleep with them. They couldn't sleep with them because every door in the house was locked." - "Naw Wah Wah" (F, 20), xxxx village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #24, 9/99)
"For 'loh ah pay' they demand villagers as they need them, but always 10 people have to go to work at the camp daily [there is a daily rotation as well as periodic calls for extra labourers]. When they go, they [the SPDC soldiers] order them to fix everything that's broken in the camp and force them to dig trenches and bunkers. If they don't have any other work that needs doing, they order them to carry water and break firewood for them. When the women go to work for them, they order them to pound paddy and cook for them. They don't feed us rice, and sometimes they order us to work until 10 or 12, then we go back to our houses to eat. Each time we have to start at 6:00 in the morning and work until 11:00. In the afternoon we work from 1:00 until 4:00 or 4:30. They never give us money for that. In one month, all of the villagers go weekly on Saturdays for 'loh ah pay'. Then we go by turn once a month as sentry guards. The people who dare not go have to hire someone, and it costs 500 Kyat per person per time…When they collect the 10 villagers for sentry duty and to cut bamboo for them, they each have to bring one bundle of firewood with them. They collect 100-200 bamboo pieces from each village, depending on its size. If the villagers kill a pig, we have to send 1 viss of pork to them. When the villagers kill a cow, we have to send 1 viss of beef. Not all the villages have to pay, only Kyaung Ywa village. If we don't do this when the column comes to the village, they torture and oppress the villagers. They accuse us of being a rebel village and doing as we like. They beat and arrest the villagers, then they take us to Kyaung Ywa camp and force us to work." - "Saw Hsah Htoo" (M, 34), Kyaung Ywa village, Waw Raw township (Interview #30, 8/99)
Villagers across Dooplaya District have constantly complained about the demand for forced labour, which only seems to be intensifying as the SPDC steps up its campaign to annihilate the KNLA. More military operations require more roads for transport of troops and equipment, and KHRG has learned of one new road building project in the district since 1998. In early December SPDC troops informed village heads from Plaw Toh Kee village tract that they would soon be called for forced labour to construct a road from Kya In Seik Gyi to Khoh Ther Pler [known in Burmese as 'Pya Thon Zu', or in English as Three Pagodas Pass], which would link the main town of Kya In Seik Gyi to the southeastern part of the district. Maintenance of other forced labour roads continues, such as in the Saw Hta (Azin) area, where a new road connecting Saw Hta to Lay Po Hta was begun in late 1998, and construction of the car road from Kyaikdon to Kawkareik is also still in progress. In the southwestern part of the district, villagers in Ye township have been forced to fence the car road from Thanbyuzayat to Moulmein, the main north-south coastal road. They must then place bamboo spikes and traps along the road to prevent the KNLA from planting landmines and ambushing SPDC supply caravans.
"…they came and held a meeting in Plaw Toh Kee and told us that they are going to build a road. They asked the village head, 'In order to build the road, will we build it with machines or with people?' [A rhetorical question, meaning the SPDC will use forced labour to construct the road.] But the village head and villagers couldn't answer them because it was not their plan. The road that they are going to make starts at Kya In Seik Gyi and continues until Khoh Ther Pler. As far as I know, this road will pass at least 10 villages or more. If the SPDC army is going to build this road, the number of villagers who have died up till now will increase by threefold. What's more, the benefit will go to the SPDC, and the villagers will face twice as much torment as before." - "Saw Htoo Klih" (M, 30), Plaw Toh Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #5, 12/99)
"We also heard that they will build a road. I heard they will build a car road from Pya Thon Zu [Three Pagodas Pass] to Kya In. We heard that they will use it to transport their rations. I hear that they will torment civilians to build it because we will have to go and dig and build it, so then the civilians will not have time to work, as you know. It will only benefit the Burmese military." - "Saw Kaw Muh" (M, 42), Htee Po Way village, Kya In township (Interview #2, 1/00)
"We had to build a car road and carry stones… at Saw Hta village. They use it to clear villages [i.e. relocate villages]. The cars can't go on it in the rainy season. [They will build the road] until Kyaikdon. The car road has been built to Kawkareik already. [They use it] for travelling, and in the rainy season if they need emergency replacement troops, they can come easily by car. They haven't finished building it yet, and people have to go build now. Villagers from Kyaikdon come up to build, and the villagers from Saw Hta go down to build there also. They didn't give them any money; they just forced them to work and if they didn't go, they fined them. They had to carry [rice] for themselves. Now they have started to demand women who don't have sons or husbands to go for them. The children who don't have parents have to go also. If children don't have any adults to work for them, even if they are 10 years old, they have to go. If they can carry 1 viss [1.6 kg] they order them to carry." - "Saw Muh Lah" (M,xx), Saw Hta village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #36, 6/99)
Villagers in the northeastern part of the district are still forced to maintain the Kyaikdon—Kyo G'Lee—Wah Lay road that was supposedly finished in 1998 but is partly destroyed every rainy season. Between late December 1997 and February 1998, convoys of trucks loaded with convicts from prisons throughout Burma were brought to Kyaikdon and Saw Hta to do forced labour on roads [see "Dooplaya under the SPDC", KHRG #98-09, 23/11/98]. At the end of December 1998 a group of convicts escaped from Po Yay camp near Kyaikdon when the local SPDC unit was attacked by the KNLA. They told KHRG that they had been transferred from Moulmein prison in Mon State and Insein prison just outside Rangoon to the Kyaikdon area in January 1999 specifically to build the section of road between Kyaikdon and Kyo G'Lee. These men described treacherous working conditions, and said that by the time they escaped only 100 out of the original 450 convicts remained, the others having escaped or died from the forced labour, physical abuse, malnutrition, and disease at the forced labour site. Even so, the SPDC continued to use convicts on this road at least until the rainy season of mid-1999. Since that time we have not been able to obtain further information regarding whether the convict camps still exist in the area.
"They didn't explain anything to us but we knew that we had to go work on road construction from Kyaikdon to Kyo G'Lee. They took 400 prisoners there. We were two hundred prisoners in Kyo G'Lee and another 200 were in Kyaikdon. We arrived there in January . There were 200 prisoners in Po Yay camp [near Kyaikdon]. They forced us to build a bridge and a road and fill the road with logs. First we dug the earth and cleared it for the road. Then we had to pick and break stones to lay the road. They forced us to carry the materials they used to build the road. Sometimes they forced us to pull big logs. Under duress they forced the prisoners to carry stones that were too heavy to carry, and then they beat the prisoners. … They beat many prisoners. They didn't die immediately but they got wounded and then they died. Some had broken ribs, hips, and skulls." - "Ko Myint Oo" (M, 34), Rangoon city, who was brought from Moulmein prison to do forced labour on roads in Dooplaya until he escaped in December 1998 (Interview #37, 1/99)
"Slowly we got more and more malnourished because we didn't get food like meat or fish or oil. We had to eat rice and salt. Then the prisoners were weak and diseases came. When they could not cure the disease, all of them died. When we arrived at Po Yay in 1998 we stayed there for one year and over 50 prisoners died [out of 200 who came in his group]. They got dysentery, diarrhoea, and fever and then they died. Only one or two died due to fever. Many prisoners died because of dysentery and diarrhoea. When we went to bury one corpse, another one died right behind us. They died continuously. Sometimes there were two corpses a day." - KHRG interview with convict who escaped Po Yay road labour camp in late December 1998 (Interview #38, 1/99)
Aside from road building, villagers reported that many other forms of forced labour occur at the SPDC Army camps. Villagers consistently testify that when a column decides to construct a new camp, the villagers are conscripted to do nearly all of the construction of their bunkers, in some cases they are even required to provide the raw materials. They must also dig trenches, carry bricks and cement, cut bamboo and wood, and make fences. In February 1999, #xxx Light Infantry Battalion sent the order below to one village in Waw Raw township, threatening to forcibly relocate them if they didn't do forced labour providing a fence for the Army camp:
#xxx Light Infantry Battalion To: Chairperson 22-2-99
Company #x xxxx village
Subject: Informing you with a warning
Regarding the above subject, to fence yyyy camp we allotted you [to supply] wood and bamboo, and we will not accept any reason if you are late. If you fail, the village sawmill / rice mills / other commercial activities will be stopped, and we will force the village to relocate, you are informed.
Maj. aaaa's assistant [Sd.]
Villagers in the P'Ya Daung area report a constant demand to build pagodas, and others have described chores varying from serving as sentry guards to fetching water and pulling soldiers' rations using their own bullock carts. The number and variety of chores never ends for villagers; the unpredictable elements about forced labour seem to be the length of duty, the harshness of the working conditions, and the type of villagers required to go. Many have reported that with men in short supply due to portering shifts or to meeting the demands of their own fields, women and children are increasingly fulfilling quotas for forced labour. In one village the SPDC troops knowingly forced orphans to work because they had no parents to fill the quota, while in others troops preferred forcing the elderly rather than children, because children have little stamina for heavy work and are less likely to understand orders. Usually troops demand a certain number of people from a village per week, although the random collection of villagers for forced labour is also very common.
"When they entered the village they threatened us, and if they didn't see the men they demanded women to go and work, so women dared not stay in the village. And if they saw children, they called them also. They called the children and if they saw that they didn't have parents [i.e. children presumed to be orphans], they took them." - "Naw K'Paw" (F, 25), Meh Gu Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #6, 12/99)
"I had to build a pagoda, carry bricks and cut bamboo. There were many kinds of work to do. I had to carry white calcium [meaning is not clear, but it is likely lime or cement]. I had to go in the morning and come back in the evening to eat. They didn't give us rice. Sometimes it took all day. It was so far [to the forced labour work site]; we had to walk one and a half hours. They also tortured us if they were not satisfied with our work... They forced us a lot, even the children as young as 10. They carried a few bricks." - "Saw K'Mwee" (M, 17), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #15, 12/99)
"We had to build places for them. We carried wood and bamboo to build 2 or 3 fences for their camp, and now they have built 4 fences. They have a camp in Wah Lu [IB #13, Column #2 under Maung Maung Oo]. In the early morning 10 people had to go and work for them, and the next morning another 10 people had to go. We had to build it until it was finished; if we didn't finish it, we couldn't go back home. Even if it was raining we always had to send trees and bamboo, and if we didn't send it they came and beat us. So every time they ordered people to send it. We had to carry things with our own bullock carts, and there were between 40 and 100 villagers from 2 villages: Ko Wah and Kwih K'Neh Ghaw. We had to carry our own food each day. They did not allow us to rest. They did not feed us or pay us; instead you had to pay them. Sometimes they asked for money to buy alcohol. Each bottle of alcohol costs 100 Kyat. We had to work all day until sunset." - "Saw Lah Kuh" (M, 51), Wah Lu village, Kya In township (Interview #16, 11/99)
While the type of work itself is routinely more physically demanding than villagers can manage, they must also endure the brutal treatment of soldiers supervising them. The working conditions are often dangerous, like clearing a hillside for a future road, working in the midday sun with no drinking water, and using broken tools or none at all. In addition, villagers are never paid for their labour or fed while they work; seldom are they even allowed a rest. Villagers must arrive punctually at a designated time and place, though the work sites are often quite far from their villages and no transportation is ever provided. A slight infraction like arriving tardy or stopping briefly to smoke will often call forth a beating from watchful soldiers. Many villagers from this area commented that soldiers were constantly drunk—sometimes from alcohol the villagers were forced to buy for them—and therefore easily provoked. A forced labour shift is a dreaded form of punishment held over the heads of villagers, but the main reason civilians fear forced labour so intensely is because it brings them into close proximity to SPDC soldiers, whose presence almost always leads to more severe human rights abuses.
"A lot of people had to carry and if people couldn't, they beat and kicked them. Sometimes they demanded people go with bullock carts, and if the mud became deep along the way, they beat people until their chins bled…The villagers have no time to rest. They pulled things [in bullock carts] up to Kyaikdon. They beat the drivers and my cousin was put in the lock cell because he came back late when doing 'loh ah pay' for them. His name is T---. We saw it happen and went to vouch for him. The main problem was that the path was not passable, and the Burmese in Saw Hta disturbed him by wasting his time. The same group of Burmese punished him by locking him in a cell. He had gone to take rations from Saw Hta when they tried to find fault with him. The Burmese who stay in K'Mah Kler accused him of making contact with outsiders [KNLA soldiers], then they locked him in the cell for 3 hours." - "Naw Wah Wah" (F, 20), xxxx village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #24, 9/99)
"…we have to go every week on Saturday. They don't hire us, they just collect us. Villagers always have to do it, and they have no time to rest. The other villagers who stay in the village do their work for them. If people don't go, they punish them. One man didn't go for a day to guard [serve sentry duty] as they had ordered, because that day he went to get rice since he didn't have rice to eat. He couldn't go, so they punished him. His name is Pa M---. His liver and spleen were in pain, but he went to find rice for his family. They punished him for 7 days and didn't allow him to come back and eat at his house [in the evenings]." - "Naw Wah Wah" (F, 20), xxxx village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #24, 9/99)
"In 1999, I had to serve as a porter three times for the SPDC army… I was ordered to carry four mortar shells [81mm] with my baby wrapped at my front. The column went to Saw Hta, which was about two and a half hours by foot. On the way the soldiers made the porters walk in front of them. Along the way I was so tired, and I asked permission for a rest. They refused, and one of them even kicked me. Despite being exhausted, I managed to reach Saw Hta. That night I was allowed to sleep the night at my friend's house. The next morning I was told to go back to my village. My woman friend told me that on some trips some soldiers rape the female porters." - "Naw Paw Mo" (F, 23), xxxx village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #39, 10/99)
Villagers in Dooplaya District are forced to juggle rounds of forced labour with SPDC demands for porters. Some villages are ordered by locally based SPDC columns to provide a certain number of 'permanent porters' on a rotating basis; the number is usually 3 to 10 per village depending on the village size, and the people must take along their own food for shifts of 3 to 5 days. In addition, troops often capture villagers when they need additional porters to transport rations or equipment. Villagers who can manage to pay for a replacement (really a bribe to the military officials, since a 'replacement' means the soldiers will capture another villager and pocket the money) must hand over 100 to 1,000 Kyat per day, or an average of 5,000 Kyat per monthly shift. Most villages must pay 10,000-30,000 Kyat or more per month in basic porter fees which are collected by the village head, but even these fees do not guarantee that villagers will not be called for shifts. It is usually the village head's responsibility to collect the quota of porters for the SPDC, and if s/he cannot find the required number of people to go, the village head must pay the bribe from his own pocket, porter himself, or face various forms of corporal punishment.
"I had to porter 4 times. The last time, last month, I went for 10 days. Once I had to go for 26 days. That time they fined me 3,000 Kyat because I fled from them. Then they replaced their troops and a new troop came. When the new troop came, I had to porter again." - "Saw Lah Bway" (M, 20), Kwih K'Neh Ghaw village, Kya In township (Interview #7, 12/99)
"Sometimes they collected 5 or 6 porters, depending on the number of troops. If they needed more they demanded many, and if they needed a few they asked for fewer. They always called the village head to serve as a guide, to show the way and go in front of the troops. When the battle occurred, the village head had to face it in front." - "Saw Say Lweh" (M, 47), Klay Hta village, Waw Raw township (Interview #31, 8/99)
"Yes, before if people dared not go, they had to pay money. Each village had to give 10,000 Kyat to the SPDC Army. But that is only per month, not for the whole dry season. Some villages had to pay 10,000 or more, but smaller villages paid 7,000 or 8,000 Kyat. After we paid we still had to go, but a little less often." - "Saw Kaw Htoo" (M, 37), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #4, 1/00)
"Yes, they forced the women. Their names are Naw P---, Naw H---, and many other women. I can't recall all their names. They said that when they arrived at a certain village, they would release them, but they didn't get to the village. They didn't go on the road. They passed through the bush and fell down. They [the women porters] said they had to climb the mountains and carry one backpack each. They said it was a very heavy weight." - "Saw Kler Muh" (M, 20), Meh Gu village, Kya In township (Interview #13, 12/99)
Those called to porter in this region report that the SPDC columns refuse to release people from their shifts at the designated time. Some testified that they served as porters for one month or longer after being called for 3 days. The common practice is to release villagers once replacements arrive from their village, or once the troops capture others in villages along the way. When porters realise that they will not be released at the promised time, many choose to flee both because they cannot endure the harsh conditions and because they must return to their own fields to work. If recaptured, villagers must pay a heavy fine or provide troops with livestock as payment. Depending on the whims of the soldiers, these villagers may be severely tortured or even killed if discovered.
"Oh nephew, don't ask how many people have to go. All the villagers have to go. One troop enters the village and when they leave, they demand porters. There were 6 of us. They collected us. First they told us that we were going for 3 days. Some villagers had to go and returned after a month. If our friends from the village didn't come to replace us, they didn't release us. One of my friends was told to porter for 3 days, but he had to go for one month and one day." - "Saw Moe Shwe" (M, 52), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #12, 12/99)
"I portered for nearly a whole month. We had to carry bullets, radios, and bags filled with landmines. It was over 10 viss [16 kg / 35 lb]. They collected from all over Kya In township, and there were more than 30 porters. For the sick porters, they treated them as they could, but they didn't feed them enough. They guarded the places where the porters slept because they worried that the porters would run to escape. So they surrounded them and let them sleep among the soldiers, and if they ran, they shot them. There were people who ran to escape…If porters couldn't continue, they beat, hit, and punched them, then forced them to walk and carry the loads. Some porters were left on the path. One porter who was left had to sleep at the monastery for one or two nights. After that the monks and someone from A'Nan Gwin helped him and brought him back to A'Nan Gwin." - "Saw Hsah Htoo" (M, 34), Kyaung Ywa village, Waw Raw township (Interview #30, 8/99)
"I dared not face the Burmese. Whenever the Burmese arrived at the foot of the house, we fled. We didn't have time to watch out for them. When we heard the sound of the dog barking, we fled. If we faced them, they forced us to carry loads. They told us to carry for a certain number of days, but then they didn't release us on that day. They released us when they met their friends in a larger troop. They told us to porter for 3 days and said they would release us when they arrived at a certain village, but they didn't release us… One or two porters fled. Some had bruises on their backs. They couldn't carry so they fled. They tortured the porters that they recaptured. The porters weren't dead yet but they shot them dead. I saw 2 or 3 people from Ya Ka Rar who the Burmese shot there. We went to see. When the Burmese went down [to another village], their porters were bleeding, but they didn't release them. Even though they couldn't carry anymore, they kept them until they arrived at Htee Po Way and then left them there. They released them only when they could capture other porters." - "Saw Kler Muh" (M, 20), Meh Gu village, Kya In township (Interview #13, 12/99)
"For those people [porters who escaped] they beat them and tortured them. They shot them with guns. They shot a man from Kaw Ler who ran to escape at the other side of the river called T'Mee Kloh, which is near our village. I saw it because we were with them, and they fired many guns and a lot of bullets. After that the man dove into the water, and they kept shooting him in the river for a long time. His name is Nan Teh. They couldn't capture him." - "Saw Kaw Htoo" (M, 37), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #4, 1/00)
SPDC porters in Dooplaya District are fed meagre portions of rotten rice once a day and hardly allowed to drink water. If they become ill or injured along the way they are given little or no medicine, and often left on the trail to die. If porters cannot carry the burdensome weight of the soldiers' backpacks, ammunition, and food they are cursed and beaten. Some porters witnessed the SPDC kill their friends or leave them behind because they could not keep up with the troops. If they can manage to survive, villagers return to their homes famished, exhausted, and wounded; it often takes months to recover from the abuse they suffer while serving as porters.
"They gave some porters medicine, but some couldn't get it, and more often they killed them along the way. I don't know the names of the people who were killed, but they lived near my village. On the way from Kyaw Soe to Plaw Toh Kee and on to Kyi Soe, they killed at least 20 porters." - "Saw Htoo Klih" (M, 30), Plaw Toh Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #5, 12/99)
"In the early morning they fed us just a bit of leftover rice, but if we compared it to what we eat at home, humans don't eat that—we give it to the dog. But we had to eat this dish of rice that was soggy and rotten, because we were afraid of them and hungry. We tried to eat it to stay alive." - "Saw Kaw Htoo" (M, 37), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #4, 1/00)
"They never tortured me, but they tortured some friends of mine. They tortured people from Toh Kee and Tha Mu Theh. I saw it because we portered together. Some porters got tired and couldn't carry anymore. The Burmese kicked them with their big boots and slapped their faces. If they [the porters] took a rest after they climbed a mountain because they were tired, they [the Burmese soldiers] pounded their backs with [bamboo] stalks. The porters had to scurry up the hill, but they were tired and couldn't climb. They didn't give us water to drink. When we came to a river, we could just sprinkle water in our throats once to wet them, but we couldn't stop to drink." - "Saw Lah Bway" (M, 20), Kwih K'Neh Ghaw village, Kya In township (Interview #7, 12/99)
One of the most terrifying forms of abuse for porters occurs when soldiers force them to walk in front of the columns to clear KNLA landmines and to serve as human shields in battle. Many porters in the area have died from stepping on landmines and from battle wounds. The SPDC treats their porters as cannon fodder, dispensable targets to minimise injuries within their own ranks. Many villagers who had fled to the Thai border from Kya In township testified that the Burmese military was using villagers in such ways to avoid landmine injuries to their own troops.
"Sometimes one or two soldiers went between the porters. Or they forced two porters to go ahead, and the two soldiers followed behind the porters. They followed them, but they still pointed their guns. They worried that they would flee and escape. Usually soldiers went first, but when the battle occurred they forced the porters to run ahead." - "Saw Lah Bway" (M, 20), Kwih K'Neh Ghaw village, Kya In township (Interview #7, 12/99)
"One porter died when they went to clear landmines because he went in front of them and the other one went behind [the porter served as a human minesweeper while the soldier followed him]. When they came near the landmine, he detonated the landmine and the porter flew up. He [the soldier] did not get hurt… they made them go like that [in front of the soldiers]. They made some go ahead and some behind and some between them." - "Pa Bway" (M, 15), Yaw K'Daw village, Kya In township (Interview #18, 11/99)
"They ask women to carry because the men dare not face them. The second reason is that they worry that on the way the resistance will shoot them and lay landmines on the path. But they know that if they go with women the resistance won't shoot or trap them with landmines. So they call a lot of women to carry for them… When they came they held a meeting in the village, and they told us that if the women were not involved with them, the resistance could shoot a lot of them. So we had to call women to go with them, and after they released them they said 'Thank you very much.' At the time there were more than 30 women who went to carry for them… They surrounded them and guarded them carefully. They didn't allow them to sleep separately. They made them sleep in the area where their commanders sleep." - "Saw Htoo Klih" (M, 30), Plaw Toh Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #5, 12/99)
Many male villagers have been so severely abused and traumatised by portering shifts that they flee their villages as soon as they hear of an approaching SPDC column. Villagers are reporting that now when SPDC troops come to villages, they will not even spare the women and children if they are the only ones available to porter. In late November and early December 1999, SPDC troops from LID #88 came to villages in Kya In township and found no men, so they captured women to serve as porters, human shields, and minesweepers with the logic that the KNLA would not attack the column if they saw women leading the way. Some of the women were pregnant and many had to carry infants and small children on their backs while they walked. In one notable instance the women were forced to sleep in the jungle in the cold and rain surrounded by soldiers. When their babies cried during the night the Burmese soldiers feared that the whole column would be discovered by a KNLA section, so they twisted the necks of the infants in an explicit threat to the mothers to make their babies stop. Several women were wounded during ambushes, and the overall experience proved so frightening and strenuous for them that the stories spread quickly throughout the district, prompting many women to flee before facing a similar arrest. While male porters must endure physical abuse in addition to the strain of their loads, women are vulnerable to sexual assault by soldiers and fear for both their own safety and that of their children. Both men and women therefore try desperately to avoid portering, and they cite it as a primary cause of flight from their villages.
"In the past it was not the same as now. Then they didn't arrest women. Right now when they arrive in villages, they call and gather the women. After that when they patrol, they call them. When they arrive at a village, they release them. If they don't arrive in the village, they don't release them. In the past the women dared to face them. We didn't think that they would call the women. They drive the women to go in front of them, but they do not force them [to carry loads]. When we came here, many women were fleeing… I think that they use them as protection from the landmines [i.e. human minesweepers]. Last month they gathered the women from Meh Pra and forced each of them to carry a little rice. There were about 20 women. The people told us about it when we arrived at Y--- while we were fleeing." - "Saw Lah Say" (M, 29), Meh Gu village, Kya In township (Interview #11, 12/99)
"In the past they did not need women, but last dry season [the first half of 1999] women started to go because they beat a lot of men horribly when they went to porter, so men tried to avoid them in the village. In every house they came to there were only women, so they called all of the women, even some with small babies, and they forced them to go with them. They didn't ask them to carry loads, except for the women who didn't have babies. They collected village by village and exchanged [porters]. They forced them to go in front of them, not behind, like security guards… They forced people like Naw P--- who was pregnant and got wounded by a gun at Doh Blaw. They shot her." - "Naw K'Paw" (F, 25), Meh Gu Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #6, 12/99)
"The first time the Burmese enemy entered our village, they forced the villagers to porter. They gathered the men and also the women. After that they took all the belongings that they liked from the houses. They forced the men to carry things, then released the women to go back home. That was the first time. Not so long ago, just before I came here. It was only 2-3 weeks ago. Then the next time they came the men fled. They dared not face them. Therefore they called the women and arrested them [to go as porters], including the ones who have infants or are pregnant. When they slept in the jungle and the babies cried, they [the Burmese] twisted their necks [the Burmese twisted the necks of the infants as a threat, to force their mothers to prevent them from crying]. They twisted and caused them pain. Then the babies didn't cry. The next morning they released them… They came and called the women day by day. They called them to go to the other villages and the next day they released them. If there were no men in the village, they called the women. They didn't care if they were mothers with infants or if they were pregnant… They called the women because they worried that the people [KNLA] would shoot them. Therefore they forced the women to stay around them." - "Saw Tha Dah" (M, 43), xxxxvillage, Kya In township (Interview #9, 12/99)
"We saw that they called to women along the way and ordered them to guide them. Actually, they kept them as cover for when the people [the KNU] shot at them. We heard from another village that they demanded all of the villagers, including women and children, because the people had shot at them.They ordered them to guide them to each village, then to another. As far as I know they called a lot of women from Htee Ka Ba village, including children. People had to come down to send them [the Burmese] to Paw Ner Mu Hta, and then they released them. They called some for one or two days, but some for days at a time. Some women had to carry their babies on their backs and the Burmese forced them to go like that. They fed them just enough to stay alive. For the women who could carry, they ordered them to carry, too." - "Saw Kaw Htoo" (M, 37), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #4, 1/00)
Health and Education
"Yes, we have a school with about 50 students and 3 teachers. But they closed the school, so people dared not go. All of the children were separated. They did not let them go to school. They [the Burmese] worried that fighting would occur if people [the KNLA] come to shoot them…They opened the school but didn't let them study; instead they asked them [the children] if they had seen outsiders [the KNLA]. They did this to know about the situation outside, so they coaxed and questioned children and fed them bread and cigarettes. So the students dared not go to school and we worried that trouble would occur in the village." - "Naw Muh Paw" (F, 43), Paw Ner Mu village, Kya In township (Interview #3, 1/00)
While having to endure human rights abuses such as unrelenting forced labour, physical torture, and village relocation, the quality of life in villages is undeniably declining. In the daily struggle for survival, long term necessities like education and health care assume lower priorities. Many villages in Dooplaya District used to have schools supported by the KNU or schools they set up and ran entirely by themselves, providing at least 3 or 4 years of schooling for their children. However, within the past 2 years the SPDC has systematically forced all such schools to close throughout Karen State, and Dooplaya has been no exception. The SPDC insists that villages must have the regime's approval to run a school, must pay all the costs and salary of an SPDC-trained teacher, and must teach the official SPDC curriculum, which among other things specifically forbids the teaching of any languages except Burmese and English. Villagers who wish their children to be literate in their own language, be it Sgaw Karen, Pwo Karen, or Mon, must teach it during evenings or holidays.
Even when state-approved schools are established, the SPDC-supplied teachers often leave after a few months never to return; instead, they stay in the provincial towns and collect their state teaching salary there without working. Most villages cannot afford the expense of running a state-sanctioned school, but the only other alternative is sending their children to attend state-sanctioned schools in nearby towns. However, the tuition and boarding expenses for this are too high for most families to afford, and they also need their children to help at home to watch over the house or work the family's fields while their parents are doing forced labour for the military. On some occasions children must serve forced labour shifts in the place of their parents, and orphans are often gathered by the Burmese soldiers to porter or perform odd jobs at their camps. Prior to the SPDC occupation of Dooplaya, most village children in the region had at least the opportunity to attend the six years of primary school if they wished, but under the SPDC only a small minority of children in Dooplaya are able to attend school at all.
"Students went to study under the building of the church, but after they didn't allow us to stay in the village [after the SPDC came and imposed a deadline to relocate the village], we requested that they give us half a day to clear the bushes under the church, but they didn't allow us to do it, so we couldn't do anything else. They couldn't go to school as before and all of the students scattered. The teacher fled, too." - "Saw Kaw Htoo" (M, 37), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #4, 1/00)
"The children cannot go to school if their parents cannot afford to send them. The monks from the village have to send some of the students to school. Now the government is sponsoring one student, but the government won't support all of them. Some are being supported by the health co-ordinator and by other villagers. … The student entrance fee now is 1,500 Kyat for each primary school student, not including the cost of books, which is around 1,000 Kyat per set. The parents who do not have 1,500 Kyat can't send their children to school. For middle school and high school, one student has to pay 3,000 Kyat for one year and 3,000 for one set [of reading books]. The students have to buy all their supplies with their own money. There are about 250 students in the village. The subjects that they teach in school are English, Burmese, and math. They don't allow the teaching of ethnic groups' languages. In our village there are both Karen and Mon people, and both of them want to teach their own language. But the Burmese do not allow the children to learn it. In my opinion this is one of their ethnic cleansing policies." - "Saw Hsah Htoo" (M, 34), Kyaung Ywa village, Waw Raw township (Interview #30, 8/99)
A few villagers reported that the SPDC did agree to fund the building of a school in their village, but the funds supplied were minimal and barely enough to cover material costs. In Waw Raw township a villager reported that the SPDC allotted money to the village for a school, but the money disappeared, and monks paid for the building materials and built it themselves. Villagers later had to raise money to support teachers. Like so many of the SPDC's 'development' projects, the money was earmarked for education in order to boost the junta's image, but the villagers received no benefit from it whatsoever. In all likelihood the money was appropriated by local military officials.
"According to the 'Na Ta La' [Burmese initials for the 'Program for the Development of Border Areas and National Races', known in short as the 'Border Areas Development Program'] plan, they allot us 350,000 Kyat for a school. For the clinic they gave us 250,000 Kyat. The one who took responsibility for building the school and clinic was the monk from Kyaung Ywa village. A monk had to buy bamboo and wood with his money. He went to buy from the villagers who are logging and cutting bamboo. A monk and his novices built the school. In our village we had to find and hire teachers ourselves. They [Burmese] didn't give anything to us. If we have paddy, we have to pay 70 baskets of paddy to each teacher. But we didn't pay them paddy [because they didn't have enough paddy]. That's why we had to pay them 400 Kyat for one basket of paddy. We had to pay 20,000 Kyat to each teacher. We had 4 standards and 2 teachers. We can teach them only English and the Burmese language. They do not allow us to teach Karen. They don't allow the teaching of the Mon language either. If we want to teach Karen and Mon, we have to arrange a special time to teach by ourselves. They do not allow them [the teachers] to teach it in their classes; we have to teach them in the summer time." - "Saw Say Lweh" (M, 47), Klay Hta village, Waw Raw township (Interview #31, 8/99)
"Before the SPDC came, we had a school. But after they arrived, our school, our village, and all of our belongings were destroyed." - "Saw Htoo Klih" (M, 30), Plaw Toh Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #5, 12/99)
The story is much the same for maintaining health clinics in villages. The SPDC, when it does allot money to build a clinic, will not provide medics with training, nor give the village money for medicine. In many cases medics must buy medicine for the village with their own money, then rely on the villagers to pay them back. When supplies are short villagers must cope with saline injections and Paracetamol as the only available treatment unless it is serious enough to make a journey to the nearest hospital, often many days' journey by foot. Villagers serving as porters are at the greatest risk, because what few medical supplies the Burmese military has are reserved for soldiers. Porters who return to the village must heal themselves with traditional herbal remedies or pay hospital bills for their injuries that are well beyond what their modest incomes can afford.
"When the villagers are sick, they have to buy their own medicine to treat themselves. The patients who cannot buy medicine have no way to survive. There are 4 nurses in Kyaung Ywa village, but they don't have enough medicine to treat everyone. That's why when we get sick we buy medicine from outside, and the nurses inject it for us." - "Saw Hsah Htoo" (M, 34), Kyaung Ywa village, Waw Raw township (Interview #30, 8/99)
"Our villagers went to be trained. The medics had to pay for themselves to go. They sent back one of the medics named K---. The government didn't pay for medicine, either. They just paid for some tablets and asked the medics to open the clinic. The medics have to buy medicine themselves, then the patients have to buy it from the medics. There is only one medic but now they are sending one from Kyaung Ywa village. The medics are Karen, so if the patients who don't have money get sick, they still take care of them." - "Saw Say Lweh" (M, 47), Klay Hta village, Waw Raw township (Interview #31, 8/99)
The World Bank's 1998 report on Burma showed that according to official statistics, just 2% of the national budget was allocated for health, compared to 32% for the military. Available evidence and the opinions of most analysts indicate that in actual practice, the military actually consumes at least 60% of the national budget while most of the 2% allocated to health is stolen by officials and military officers at various levels of the hierarchy and then replaced by forcing equivalent or greater contributions from villagers. Villagers who try to take matters into their own hands to organise and educate their own communities are thwarted by the SPDC officials and military, who refuse to allow any initiative which is not directly under their control. Instead, the officials mandate their own projects against the villagers' will, often with the primary aim of personal profit through extortion of 'contributions' from the local people. Without proper funding, follow through, or village participation, these 'development' projects inevitably fail, and villagers are left discouraged and ignorant. Health education is therefore minimal in villages. Although independent health experts in the Asia Pacific region have identified an HIV/AIDS epidemic in Burma, the SPDC continues to downplay the existence of such a crisis. The regime claims that there are no more than 25,000 HIV-positive people in Burma, while the World Health Organisation conservatively estimates at least 440,000 cases; in January 2000, SPDC Secretary-1 Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt claimed that AIDS data disseminated internationally was "totally false" and was created by "destructive elements" to "disparage Myanmar's dignity" (see "Confused Myanmar AIDS Signals Alarm UN", Reuters, March 16th 2000; as reproduced in The Burmanet News, 17/3/00). The rates of infection are spreading most quickly among the populations located in border regions, where intravenous drug use and the trafficking of women have accelerated transmission rates. Though intravenous drug use is not at all widespread in Dooplaya and neighbouring regions, trafficking of women to Thailand is an increasing problem, particularly now that it is becoming very difficult to gain admission to refugee camps. However, as of now the SPDC has made no attempt to educate villagers about HIV/AIDS, so most have not heard of the disease at all, nor are they aware of which behaviours place them at risk or how they can protect themselves.
"We could have built a clinic and a school, but we dared not because they wouldn't allow us to build them. When we develop an organisation, they don't allow us to follow through with the plan. They told us not to develop a children's or women's organisation. They don't allow us to; they are stopping everything. They give us no chance." - "Saw Say Lweh" (M, 47), Klay Hta village, Waw Raw township (Interview #31, 8/99)
"We did not have this disease [HIV] in our village. We didn't hear about it, and we don't have a test." - "Saw Kaw Muh" (M, 42), Htee Po Way village, Kya In township (Interview #2, 1/00)
"We haven't seen it [HIV/AIDS] yet. We heard about it but we haven't seen it. It frightened me when I heard about it." - "Naw K'Paw" (F, 25), Meh Gu Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #6, 12/99)
Extortion and Looting
"They entered the village when the men had gone to work. They gathered all of their wives and children and kept them in the same place. When they called them together on the ground in the same place, they went up into the houses and took all of the belongings like clothes, blankets, and pots that they could use or were nice… They didn't carry enough rations with them because we saw them ask and take rice from villagers' houses. They asked without paying money to the villagers. The villagers had to give it to them because they fear them. If the villagers didn't give it to them, they beat them and looted it from them anyway." - "Saw Kaw Htoo" (M, 37), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #4, 1/00)
As the occupation of Dooplaya District continues, extortion and looting by the SPDC soldiers grows more extensive and calculated. As in other districts, soldiers on patrol regularly steal villagers' livestock, belongings, and food even if the owners are in the houses. Often troops wait until men are outside of the village tending their fields, then loot villagers' belongings when only women and children are in the houses. Villagers in south and central areas of the district have complained that soldiers repeatedly loot their stored rice, leaving the villagers concerned about food supplies for the coming year. Others in Kya In township report that the SPDC troops in the area imposed a pork quota on all villages, whereby a certain quantity of pork must be sent to the Army camp whenever a pig is killed. Soldiers also fling baseless accusations at villagers and even arrest them with the sole intention of extracting bribes for their release.
"We had to send them at least 10 viss [16 kg / 35 lb] of meat and 10 viss of chicken once or twice a month. And now in the village if you kill a pig you have to tell them and send them 3 viss of pork. If you don't give it to them they come and arrest you. One of my cousins killed a pig and didn't tell them, so they put him in a 6-hole locked cell for a week. Then they took him out of the locked cell to kill him, but many married women gathered together to vouch for him. So he was released and after that he dares not kill a pig, but if someday he wants to kill a pig, he will have to tell them. It happened in xxxx village. Every village that kills a pig has to pay. The villages that have to send meat to Wah Lu camp are Htee Noh Boh, Kaw Wah Klay, Kwih K'Neh Ghaw, Bo Teh, Dta Moh Theh and Kwih K'Neh Sree." - "Saw Lah Kuh" (M, 51), Wah Lu village, Kya In township (Interview #16, 11/99)
"They gathered all the villagers in their houses when they arrived, and then they made them stay together under the church building. They came in the morning, but nobody had eaten yet and some people had not cooked rice. After that the soldiers went into the houses and took our belongings, like necklaces, earrings, and all of the money that they saw. They detained us from morning till evening and then released us, so some children were hungry and wanted to eat rice, and they cried. But they scolded us to stop them, and when we did their sounds stopped for a while. After a while they started to cry again because they were so hungry, but the women didn't want to eat because we were afraid." - "Naw Muh Eh" (F, 44), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #1, 1/00)
"They go and capture the villagers who stay in their huts, then call them back to the village and ask them for pigs at their houses. And they try to find fault with them, but after villagers feed them pork, they release them. They go and capture them and accuse them of staying outside the village, sheltering Kaw Thoo Lei [KNU/KNLA]. So they capture them and ask for pigs. Sometimes they walk beside someone's house and shoot their chickens and livestock and demand vegetables and fruit, not only in xxxx but in every village. In the future it will only get worse and worse. Whenever a new group arrives they are worse than the one before." - "Naw Wah Wah" (F, 20), xxxx village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #24, 9/99)
"They take the livestock, but you can't complain. They said if you complain, they will kill you. Their Strategic Commander said 'You satisfy and feed the outside people, but you don't satisfy or feed us.'" - "Saw Tha Htoo" (M, 36), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #8, 12/99)
Although the private soldiers do much of their own looting of food, alcohol, utensils and valuables, most of the systematic looting and extortion is ordered by the officers, who either send the troops to collect loot and money or send written or spoken orders directly to the village elders. In Waw Raw township, for example, when soldiers looted villages, all civilians had to pay 600 Kyat directly to the Camp Commander. Commenting on the willlingness of SPDC soldiers to steal on behalf of their commanders, one villager cited a Burmese proverb: 'Obedient pupils, full teacher.' ["Pa Weh Muh" (M, 32), Dta Broh village, Kawkareik township (Interview #17, 11/99)] A KHRG field investigator reported that the Camp Commanders from all of the SPDC Army camps in Dooplaya received 300,000 Kyat per month in porter fees alone throughout 1999, though none of that money benefited the lower-ranked soldiers. There is no alternative to paying. Most villagers are too afraid to protest about looting or extortion because the usual response is to arrest and beat the complaining villager and accuse him/her of being a 'rebel' or of keeping their food and valuables to give to Karen soldiers instead. In the SPDC Army, neither soldiers nor officers are ever punished for looting or extortion.
"… if they arrived at a villager's house they called down the owner from the house. One of them interrogated the owner while the other soldier looted the belongings in the house and caught the livestock. If the villager complained to them, they beat him and sent him to their commander." - "Saw Hsah Htoo" (M, 34), Kyaung Ywa village, Waw Raw township (Interview #30, 8/99)
"They said the KNU is asking for a yearly donation of emergency rice. The Burmese said, 'When the KNU asks you, you give it to them. We also have no food and not enough to eat. You villagers have to give to us.' In August they demanded one basket of rice. They tax some villages and demand rubber, too. Villagers have to give once a year, depending on the yield of their fields. The other villages who grow rubber also have to pay. In the past when a Burmese column came up the Burmese staying in the camp said, 'Our military [another column] is coming up and we will guarantee you.' They asked us for 10,000 and sometimes 20,000 Kyat." - "Saw Say Lweh" (M, 47), Klay Hta village, Waw Raw township (Interview #31, 8/99)
In the Kyaung Ywa village tract every village was forced to pay 5,000 Kyat to cover the expenses of constructing a new SPDC Army camp for Battalion #299 at Set Ta Mine ['Mile 11']. The villages had to supply raw materials as well, then were summoned for forced labour to build the camp itself. All of the money was pocketed by the military officials. Such devious schemes abound throughout the district, and villagers have no choice but to submit to even the most ludicrous demands. Families are already struggling to survive as constant rounds of portering and forced labour prevent them from earning their living from their own fields; what little money and food they do manage to make is either stolen outright by SPDC troops or procured through surreptitious means.
"…the Column asks you to give 15 'loh ah pay' [forced labour] servants and bamboo and pork, bring them at the same time to the Column. Informing you for the second time. Do not fail to bring them. If you fail, it will be the Gentleman's [your] responsibility, you are informed." - text of written order from a Column Commander of Infantry Battalion #xxx to a village in Waw Raw township, dated May 30th 1999 (Order #55, "SPDC and DKBA Orders to Villages: Set 2000-A"[KHRG #2000-01, 29/2/00])
"Last week they forced them to sell tickets to fundraise for their Army camp. They celebrated with a boxing tournament to fundraise for the troops' families. They forced the villagers to buy the tickets. Some didn't buy any, but we had to pay the full price for the tickets anyway. They didn't allow the villagers to give back the tickets if they couldn't sell them. They sell one ticket for 300 or 500 Kyat. They only need to get money. They are doing things to the villagers under duress." - "Saw Hsah Htoo" (M, 34), Kyaung Ywa village, Waw Raw township (Interview #30, 8/99)
"In May the Burmese built a new battalion camp at Set Ta Mine, about 20 miles from my village. They wrote down on the paper that it was Battalion #299… They came to collect money, so the villagers from our village had to pay 5,000 Kyat. As far as I know, there are 17 villages in the Kyaung Ywa village tract, and all had to pay them [for the cost of the new camp]." - "Saw Say Lweh" (M, 47), Klay Hta village, Waw Raw township (Interview #31, 8/99)
"I heard that at Paw Ner Mu and down to G'Kya, Gru Gyi, Khay Sone, and Yay Leh they demanded paddy. They have to send it first to Ter Noh, and then they send it on to Kya In Seik Gyi. If their column arrives, we have to feed them. For example, every time [LID] #88 arrives in the village they take everything that they want to eat and we can't tell them not to. They take chickens, pigs, cattle and buffaloes, and we dare not say anything to them. They can do whatever they want to do. People told me that those villages have to give them paddy, but starting from our village and to the east, we have to feed the Army." - "Saw Kaw Muh" (M, 42), Htee Po Way village, Kya In township (Interview #2, 1/00)
Other extortion tactics are even more explicit. Some villages in this district must pay a monthly fee to the SPDC troops under several auspices including 'servants' fees', generally known as 'porter fees' and all-purpose 'taxes'. Villagers along the Atayan River that cuts across southern Dooplaya District report that the SPDC has several posts along the river set up for the sole purpose of collecting taxes on all goods being transported to and from Kya In Seik Gyi, the major trading route for villages in this area.
"Now for boats coming in or going out they set up gates and check all boats; if they have equipment or rice, they tax it. When logs or bamboo arrive, they tax it. If you want to send one tonne of logs from Kyaut village to Kya In, they tax you 5,600 Kyat. For 100 pieces of bamboo you have to pay 500 Kyat in taxes to send it to Kya In. They are not the only ones who tax in Kyaut village; the militia [SPDC 'People's Army'] from Kyaut Myint Kyaw village also collect taxes. Then at Ta Da Gyi ['the big bridge'] there are many kinds of soldiers, foresters, and SPDC Intelligence, and all of them co-operate to collect money. From Kyaut village to Kya In village there are 3 gates for taxes: in Kyaut, Kyaut Myint Kyaw, and Kya In. The gate officers collect in turns by day. They work like that, but then they divide it between them and collect their profit. The foresters also collect taxes in turn, but the name of the chief forester who taxes logs in Kya In township is U Win Mya Thin." - "Saw Hsah Htoo" (M, 34), Kyaung Ywa village, Waw Raw township (Interview #30, 8/99)
"We didn't receive any benefit from them. They told us that they came to protect us from the enemy, but they have never protected us. They asked money from us and we always have to pay them. When we send food outside the village, we have to pay them money. They tax us along the way when we carry food from Klay Hta to town. We can't pass without paying taxes to them. They give us no security." - "Saw Say Lweh" (M, 47), Klay Hta village, Waw Raw township (Interview #31, 8/99)"[We] have to hire carriers. xxxx village is responsible for 7,500 Kyat, seven thousand five hundred Kyat exactly, send it without fail on 20-6-99, you are informed." - text of a written order to a village from local SPDC authorities, demanding that the village pay its share toward hiring 6 porters which the local authorities have been ordered to provide (for free) to LIB #343 for military operations in Ye Township (Order #131, "SPDC and DKBA Orders to Villages: Set 2000-A" [KHRG #2000-01, 29/2/00])
"The gentleman [village] head must arrange the rotation of 4 viss [6.4 kg / 14 lb] of curry. Now xxxx village must arrange for their turn, to arrive today on 1-4-99 and send it without fail, you are informed. If you fail today, you will have to give more curry as punishment. … Note: if you fail, [you must give] 5 viss." - text of written order sent out in April 1999 by LIB #310 in Waw Raw township as part of their system of forcing villages to rotate sending cooked meat dishes for their soldiers. (Order #184, "SPDC and DKBA Orders to Villages: Set 2000-A" [KHRG #2000-01, 29/2/00])
"They took nets for catching fish, chillies, and everything else they saw. They didn't carry a lot of rations, just arrived there and took things to eat. After they collect their rations they sell them all to villagers in Kyaikdon for a low price. When they get to P'Nweh Klah and Wah Lu, they demand food from the villagers. After they sell their rations, they get money and then they take freely from us. When we did not give to them, they killed us." - "Saw Lah Kuh" (M, 51), Wah Lu village, Kya In township (Interview #16, 11/99)"When I portered for [LIB] #108 they stole, and at that time they patrolled near our areas, then went back to take their rations to Noh Kway Hta. Then the privates sold all of their rice, and when they entered villages they asked for rice. They bought alcohol for themselves, and if they patrolled and the owners weren't in their houses, they took and ate all the rice, and took pots and other things." - "Pa Ler Thu" (M, xx), Hter Klah village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #19, 10/99)
Hunger in the Villages
"A basket of rice is 2,000 Kyat now. A big tin [about 16-17 kilos] of rice is 1,000 Kyat. Before they [the Burmese soldiers] go to the front line they sell their rice, and then while they're out on patrol they take rice from other villages. They always sell their rice in Saw Hta, and if they don't have rice to cook they go into someone's house and say, 'Mo, Mo, a bowl of rice.' The villagers fear them, so they give them a bowl of rice and they do it the same way the next time in a different house. Every time they enter T'Nay Pya village, they eat a lot of rice by asking villagers." - "Pa Ler Thu" (M, xx), Hter Klah village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #19, 10/99)
"There is not enough food there. A villager from Saw Hta went to find rice in K'Mah Kler and got a big tin, but on the way back people killed her. She was pregnant. I don't know who killed her because there was no eyewitness. It was because there is not enough food." - "Pa Htoo Pa" (M, 24), xxxxvillage, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #25, 9/99)"Yes, we heard about it [the 'fake' rice rumour]. We hadn't seen it yet. It came to Saw Hta village already; villagers from Saw Hta came here and told us. I heard about it last month. People who stayed in Kawkareik township at Kaw Sher Law Pah village have eaten it. I heard that you know it's fake rice when you cook it in a pot and it crumbles and floats like plastic. Real rice just changes colour to yellow." - "Saw Muh Lah" (M, xx), Saw Hta village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #36, 6/99)"The villagers do not have enough food, and a lot of people have to eat 'klee' roots. In xxxx [my] village people mostly dig for 'klee' roots to eat. Just a few people can eat rice, and some people who guarded for the Burmese [doing forced labour as sentries] do not have food to eat. The Burmese don't feed them and some people who went to porter for them are fed rotten, soggy rice. We saw them when they [the soldiers and the porters] arrived and stayed in our houses." - "Naw Wah Wah" (F, 20), xxxx village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #24, 9/99)"They do not have time to work. They don't have enough food. They have to eat roots and bamboo shoots. We had to eat roots this year, and we carried the roots until P--- [on their flight to Thailand]. Sometimes we had rice but we had to eat 'klee' roots and carry them with us." - "Pa Bway" (M, 15), Yaw K'Daw village, Kya In twsp. (Interview #18, 11/99)"I don't have chickens, but my aunt has hens with chicks, and they stole all the hens. In that area nobody has chickens because they steal them, and now people don't breed chickens anymore." - "Naw Wah Wah" (F, 20), xxxx village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #24, 9/99)
"They [villagers] still have time to work for themselves, but not full-time. In the beginning they came to organise us and told us to come back [to the village after all the villagers had fled], and they didn't do anything to us. But later they started to demand more and more people, so only the families with a lot of people living in their house still have time to do their work. If you are alone, though, I don't think you would have time to work, and if they see you in the jungle looking for food, they touch you with their guns [and take you for labour]. It was very difficult for us… they don't have enough rice. In the dry season [early 1999] the Burmese soldiers burned down some villagers' paddy fields in Kleh Maw Law, near the coconut plantation. They burned down that area and most of the paddy fields were destroyed, and one of my fields that I work with my brother was also burned." - "Pa Ler Thu" (M, xx), Hter Klah village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #19, 10/99)"The villagers don't have enough food to eat. They have to find rice by the milk-tin full [less than one meal for one person]. This rainy season the villagers didn't have time to work. They were hungry and had to eat 'klee tee' [taro root]… As for me, they were always chasing me. When they chased me, I ran and had to sleep in the thorns. Sometimes I was hungry for rice and I didn't get enough to eat. Sometimes I didn't get rice for one or two days because I had to run from them. They came to capture porters. We all had to run so often. When we ran, we met each other in the bushes. We couldn't do anything when we were hungry. Sometimes someone brought one milk tin [about 200 grams] of rice. We had to boil rice and share one plate." - "Saw Kler Muh" (M, 20), Meh Gu village, Kya In township (Interview #13, 12/99)
"They work flat and hill fields, but now they haven't reaped the paddy yet. Because if you go to your hut, they [the Burmese] fire at you with their guns. And they give you a ticket [written permission certifying that the villager is going to his field to work and is not a soldier] to carry that costs 90 Kyat. If they see you in your hut, you show them your ticket, but they give you 5 fingers [i.e. they slap you]. So how many slaps could you accept? Just two slaps and it is enough for you. Then you have to turn your head and come back. So they don't want you to go to your hut, and if you go they accuse you of contacting Nga Pway [KNLA]. And if they see you they shoot to kill you, so you dare not go, and you can't reap your paddy." - "Saw Lah Kuh" (M, 51), Wah Lu village, Kya In township (Interview #16, 11/99)"Now nobody has enough food because it is not easy to go and buy rice from other villages. We do not have a village head, so we don't have [permission] letters to travel to buy rice. If they meet you they will interrogate you, asking 'Where did you buy rice?' Then you tell them where you bought it from, and then they ask you, 'Do you know the village head?' If you say yes, then they will ask you, 'Do you have a permission letter?' So you have to lie to them and say, 'We didn't have time to get a permission letter because our children are very hungry', or 'We forgot to get it', or 'The village head was not in the village so we came to buy it anyway.' Then after that they say, 'If your village head doesn't arrive, you can't go back.' So you have to run away from them secretly when they're not looking." - "Saw Muh Lah" (M, xx), Saw Hta village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #36, 6/99)
"I heard that they built a rice barn at Ta Mi Ni. They said they would confiscate all. Right now they take 2 baskets of paddy from each house. They are collecting but the villagers haven't paid them yet. The villagers don't have the paddy because they hadn't finished harvesting it yet when I came here. The villagers who have no rice to eat must go ask them. They give only enough for each day… If Kaw Thoo Lei comes back, they [the Burmese] will restrict the villagers. They will starve Kaw Thoo Lei. This is their plan. Right now they haven't finished doing it yet. They don't even have time to harvest the paddy because they are forcing the villagers a lot. The villagers don't have time to work on their paddy." - "Saw Kler Muh" (M, 20), Meh Gu village, Kya In township (Interview #13, 12/99)"After they get a lot of paddy, they report to other countries that their country produces a lot of paddy. But really they beat civilians and take the paddy from us. They are just starting to do this now so we still have enough rice to eat, but if they keep doing this for many years, I don't think there will be enough." - "Saw Kaw Muh" (M, 42), Htee Po Way village, Kya In township (Interview #2, 1/00)
Flight and Internally Displaced People
"Not all of us fled here, but nobody stays in the village because they dare not, and the Burmese won't allow them to stay either. We know that some people went to stay in other villages, and some are hiding in the jungle, and some are trying to come here [the refugee camp], but they haven't arrived yet. There are a lot of people who want to come here, but they can't because some are sick, so they just hide." - "Saw Kaw Htoo" (M, 37), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #4, 1/00)
"We were afraid of the Burmese so we left our village. We moved and stayed in xxxx. It is not a village, it is in the jungle. We ran to escape from the Burmese. [We stayed in the jungle] for 2 months. They hadn't come yet. There were 6 houses there. Some went to stay in K--- and T--- villages."- "Naw Blu Paw" (F, 20), Hter Klah village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #21, 10/99)"Before I left the village I was a liar because I told them that I would go to help my brother plant paddy. If I told the truth to the villagers, anyone could make problems and the Burmese would follow us. So I lied to them about going to help my brother, and I fled. Half-way here, I met with one of the village elders from the village and I told him, 'I don't know if I will go back or not, but go back and warn the village chairperson, and if the Burmese arrive and ask about my house, explain to them for me. I warn you to be wise and use your brain when you talk to the Burmese. But I cannot tell you exactly if I will come back to the village or not.'" - "Pa Ler Thu" (M, xx), Hter Klah village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #19, 10/99)"We had to leave secretly. If they found out they made problems for the relatives [of those who fled]. If they knew that people were fleeing, they would kill their parents. I came here but I am so worried for my parents. I don't know how they are doing now that they are left behind." - "Saw K'Mwee" (M, 17), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #15, 12/99)"I left Yaw K'Daw 20 days ago. I came here with my family [6 people]… I left secretly. People in the village knew about it, but the Burmese didn't know about it. They told us before we fled here that if they saw us leaving the village, they would kill us. They would kill us all." - "Pa Bway" (M, 15), Yaw K'Daw village, Kya In township (Interview #18, 11/99)
"After they came to the village, they didn't want to allow the villagers to work far from the village. They wanted them to work in the village and on the fields near the village. They said that if they saw villagers in the jungle they would kill them, so we fled to the refugee area because we feared them. We left all of our belongings and paddy in the village. From the 153 people who fled here, there were not less than 5,000 baskets in Meh Gu/Plaw Toh Kee. We didn't finish reaping the paddy, so it's still in the jungle [i.e. hill fields]. We won't be able to get it if we go back again. If you add together all the belongings that we left in the village, the price would not be less than 5,000,000 Kyat." - "Saw Htoo Klih" (M, 30), Plaw Toh Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #5, 12/99)"People couldn't tolerate it anymore when the Burmese came to torture us. Also Kaw Thoo Lei [KNLA] came back to the village, so the Burmese came and beat the village head. After that the village head dared not stay, and some villagers went to T--- and K---, and others fled into the jungle. So we don't have a village now… According to what I've heard a lot of people want to come here, but some have already planted their big fields that can provide a lot of paddy, so they don't want to lose it. They remain there with their eyes open, and if they really can't stay there they will come here. They told us, 'When you arrive there keep listening for us because probably we will follow you, too.'" - "Saw Shwe Than" (M, 37), Hter Klah village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #20, 10/99)"The problems we faced on the way were due to the Burmese following close behind us. Some babies who came with us cried a lot. So to stop them from crying the mothers had to breastfeed them to fill their mouths. But they kept crying because of our troubles walking day and night, and their mothers scolded and spanked them, but they couldn't stop. So we had to pass place after place, and once they nearly caught us - we slept in a place and left the next morning, then they arrived there too. We tried to carry our food and our children, so we couldn't carry other things like clothes and blankets. We carried just enough rice for us to eat. If we got a fever or illness we had to stay sick because we didn't have enough medicine on the way. We had to stay next to a fire if it was cold, and our clothes and blankets were torn and burned. The children were sick at that time, but we didn't have any pills to heal them, so we suffered like that until we arrived here." - "Naw Muh Eh" (F, 44), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #1, 1/00)
"As far as I knew before coming here, it was very difficult for them to eat [IDPs hiding in the jungle]. I don't know about right now, but at that time they had one pot of rice left to eat and had to find something to eat for the next meal [i.e. villagers were living hand to mouth, foraging for their next meal because they had no extra food]. Sometimes they had to go find it in Mawn village and sometimes in Kwih Kler village." - "Saw Shwe Than" (M, 37), Hter Klah village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #20, 10/99)"We had a problem when the Thais drove us back to H---. We met the Thai Army above the K--- border. They called us and asked, 'Where are you going?' We said that we were going to Noh Po [refugee camp]. They said that when they looked at us, they pitied us. At the time it was evening. They told us to stay there and tomorrow they would come to see us at 8:30 a.m. So we slept well. Then they came at 8:00 and called us and gathered us in a field. Then they asked 'What is the problem that you face?' We told them about how the Burmese oppress us and that we had left our paddy. Some villagers had left 50-100 [baskets of] paddy. They told us they pitied us a lot. They asked, 'What did you leave in your house?' The villagers told them about what they had left. They said, 'You came here but you left your belongings in your house. It is not possible. Now you must go back.' We dared not complain to them about anything. They sent us back across the border to the H--- area." - "Saw Tha Dah" (M, 43), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #9, 12/99)"Yes, the villagers will come here. But they will have problems if they come because they are afraid of the Thais. They worry that the Thais will capture them and send them back to the Burmese. In addition they are afraid that they will meet Burmese soldiers on the path. They told me they dare not come. They asked me to find the way, then go back and pick them up." - "Saw Kler Muh" (M, 20), Meh Gu village, Kya In township (Interview #13, 12/99)"I left to come here on the 5th of December . It took 10 days by foot. In my group there were 152 people including children, probably more than 40 houses. You can't imagine the problems because I came with children, and we also had to fear the [SPDC] soldiers and the Thais. After we arrived in L--- [on the Thai side of the border], the Thais found out about it and they forced us to go back to our village twice. But we decided we would keep trying until we got here, then we met up with people … They sent us during the night, so we had to climb many mountains at night with small children. They didn't allow us to let the children cry because we were terrified walking through the night. In the daytime we had to hide in the forest and sleep, and we feared the children's voices. In the evening we entered the village and passed through it and climbed up the mountains. Before arriving here some children were sick with fever and diarrhoea and we did not have any medicine to treat them until we arrived here." - "Naw K'Paw" (F, 25), Meh Gu Kee village, Kya In township (Interview #6, 12/99)"Because of the Burmese oppression, even if we don't enjoy it here [at the refugee camp], we will stay because we can do nothing else. We came to stay here and left everything behind us. At the time we hadn't finished our work so our paddy was all left in the fields. Even if we want to go back we dare not, because they have oppressed us horribly there. If they didn't stay there, we would go back." - "Naw Muh Eh" (F, 44), Khay R'Moh village, Kya In township (Interview #1, 1/00)
Future of the Area
"They were dividing all the villagers and the resistance. They plan to make the resistance disappear. They even screen out the villagers. For example, they say the fish are in the pond, but there a few fish they can't catch. So they drain the water to catch the fish. They will do this to the resistance until they are no more." - "Saw Tha Htoo" (M, 36), xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #8, 12/99)
"There is no hope that there will be enough [food]. The villagers are going separate ways. My mother said she will go back to her village. Her village is N---. She came halfway with me. She went back in tears. She told her youngest child that 'In this situation, we will see you in our prayers.' As for us, we came here. I can't do anything. My mother is going one way and my children are going another way." - "Saw Tha Dah" (M, 43),xxxx village, Kya In township (Interview #9, 12/99)"There are a lot of families who want to come here but some could not afford to leave their fields. Before I left, there was a family who fled here, and then I thought to myself and told my wife that if we kept staying there we would die from portering. Some people who live there can stay alive, but we thought if we died from illness or fever it would be better than from portering. Now they make more and more demands. If you can't carry they beat and kick you, so we didn't want to die like that and had to leave." - "Pa Ler Thu" (M, xx), Hter Klah village, Kaw Te Hgah township (Interview #19, 10/99)
"According to a lot of people who have fled here, if international countries see the situation, and if they think that it is not good to stay like it is, and if they plan something, we believe that the situation will improve. But if they don't do that, it can't get better." - "Saw Kaw Muh" (M, 42), Htee Po Way village, Kya In township (Interview #2, 1/00)