This report aims to provide a picture of the current situation in central Shan State, where the military junta ruling Burma has forcibly uprooted and destroyed over 1,400 villages and displaced well over 300,000 people since 1996. This campaign against civilians is still continuing after 4 brutal years, leaving much of the Shan population homeless. In this report, some of the villagers who both lived in relocation sites and hid in the jungle to avoid relocation describe their experiences. Further background and detail on the campaign to uproot the Shan can be found in the previous Karen Human Rights Group reports "Killing the Shan" (KHRG #98-03, 23/5/98) and "Forced Relocation in Central Shan State" (KHRG #96-23, 25/6/96), which are available online at this web site or by request from KHRG, and in the April 1998 report "Dispossessed: Forced Relocation and Extrajudicial Killings in Shan State" by the Shan Human Rights Foundation.
This report is based on interviews with Shan refugees conducted by a KHRG researcher in March 2000. It consists of an introduction and executive summary briefly explaining the background of the forced relocations and the current situation in central Shan State; the text of the report, which chronicles the lives of villagers in three different townships; and an analysis of the future for Shan villagers. The full text of interviews conducted for this report and quoted within can be found here. The names of all of those interviewed have been changed and other details omitted where necessary to protect people. False names are indicated in quotation marks, while all other names are real. Please note that there are many ways to transliterate Shan village names and people's names into English, so spellings here may vary from those in other reports on the subject. For example, Murng (which can also be spelt Mong, Mung, Merng); Nong (Nawng); Nam Zang (Nam Sang, Nam Sarng); and other similar cases. For consistency, in most cases we have tried to keep our spellings close to those used by the Shan Human Rights Foundation as well as those used by KHRG in our previous reports. KHRG would like to thank the Shan Human Rights Foundation for providing information and assistance which has been very useful in the production of this report.
SPDC State Peace & Development Council, military junta ruling Burma
SLORC State Law & Order Restoration Council, former name of the SPDC until Nov. 1997
MTA Mong Tai Army, commanded by Khun Sa, surrendered to SLORC in January 1996.
SURA Shan United Revolutionary Army, formed by former MTA commander Yord Serk after the MTA surrender in 1996; main group which is fighting SLORC/SPDC. In September 1997 allied itself with SSA and SSNA to form ‘new’ SSA; SURA then became known as ‘SSA South’, and is still very actively fighting SPDC.
SSA Shan State Army, longstanding Shan armed opposition group which made a ceasefire with SLORC/SPDC in 1991. In September 1997 allied itself with SURA and SSNA to form ‘new’ SSA, but maintained its ceasefire status.
SSNA Shan State National Army, formed by former MTA commander Garn Yod after the MTA surrender in 1996 and shortly thereafter made a ceasefire with SLORC/SPDC. In September 1997 allied itself with SURA and SSA to form ‘new’ SSA, but maintained its ceasefire status.
IB Infantry Battalion (SLORC/SPDC), usually about 500 soldiers fighting strength
LIB Light Infantry Battalion (SLORC/SPDC), usually about 500 soldiers fighting strength
LID Light Infantry Division (SLORC/SPDC); one Division consists of 10 LIB battalions
Kyat Burmese currency; US$1=6 Kyat at official rate, 350+ Kyat at current market rate
Baht Thai currency; US$1= approximately 36 Baht at time of printing. Baht is also a weight measure used in weighing gold.
"They said they would shoot all of us dead. They also burned all the rice and paddy that we left behind. They burned the paddy barn so we didn't get anything to eat at the relocation site… It was all burned, so we didn't have anything… The villagers from Mark Pun gave me a place to build a shelter. The villagers didn't give us food, so we had to find it. We went into the jungle to find vegetables, but if the SPDC soldiers saw us they killed us. We found vegetables and then sold them in Murng Pan and bought rice… it was not enough. Sometimes we had to do without meals." - "Loong Aw" (M, 50), Narn Tong village, Murng Pan township (Interview #5, 3/00)
"Whether we paid money [a bribe] to soldiers or not, it didn't matter. They ordered us to move to the relocation site, and if we didn't move we would have been killed. It was the same for other villagers. Sometimes villagers wanted to collect vegetables from their old villages and when the Burmese soldiers saw them they killed them…They didn't allow us to go back. People who owned cattle and buffaloes couldn't take them to the relocation site, and the Burmese killed them all for food. If we portered for the Burmese and went near our old villages, we could see them [their old villages], but that was all." - "Sai Seng" (M, 37), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #4, 3/00)
"Our village was relocated to Nam Wan, so no one lives in our village anymore. We moved to a relocation site and we didn't have a field. It was difficult to live and to find food." - "Sai Kham" (M, 25), Nam Khai village, Lai Kha township (Interview #2, 3/00)
"In the past Wan Lao was relocated to Kun Hing town. Last year when it was raining and we were planting rice [around June], the Burmese soldiers allowed us to go back to live in Wan Lao village. The original villagers in Wan Lao already owned the fields. We were original villagers from Wan Lao but we didn't have any fields. I had worked a hill field but it is far from our village and the Burmese soldiers didn't allow us to go far from the village. So I had to hire myself for day labour in the fields. The soldiers only allowed us to go in the morning and come back in the evening. If our fields are very far, it takes a long time to walk there and come back. If we go in one day, we have no time to work because we have to walk so far." - "Sai Long" (M, 25), Wan Lao village, Kun Hing township (Interview #7, 3/00)
"We didn't have food so it was hard to survive. It was difficult to stay there, and difficult to go anywhere near the village. It was difficult to enter the jungle; if they saw us in the jungle outside the relocation site they would shoot us." - "Sai Heng" (M, 30), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #3, 3/00)
"People had to do forced labour every day. If a husband has to porter, then the wife has to go to forced labour. They can't say, 'I don't want to go to forced labour because my husband already went to porter.' They can't stay at home freely, they have to do forced labour. The husband is a porter, the wife works forced labour, and the children go begging in town." - "Sai Seng" (M, 37), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township, describing life in Hwe Mark Pun relocation site (Interview #4, 3/00)
"It became very difficult to do anything to make a living. We couldn't work our fields in the old village because if the soldiers found us, they would shoot us. We heard that if we came to work in Thailand, we would have enough to stay here and eat." - "Sai Harn" (M, 40), Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #6, 3/00)
Forced Relocations, Hunger and Fear: Lai Kha Township
"…we didn't have a field in Nam Wan. We are not original villagers there, so we were day workers. Sometimes we went back to work at our original village, but the Burmese soldiers found us and shot at us. Since we were not allowed to go back to our village, we didn't have land to work to get food. I could not go back to my village to farm my own land. There was no work to do. We heard people say that at least we can survive on small wages in Thailand. We had to borrow money from our relatives and come to Thailand." - "Sai Kham" (M, 25), Nam Khai village, Lai Kha township (Interview #2, 3/00)
After the initial relocations in 1996-97, the SPDC allowed some villagers staying in Lai Kha to return to their original villages to work their fields, charging them 180 Kyat for a travel pass to do so. This privilege was mainly granted to villagers who owned fields close to town or along the main Lai Kha-Murng Nong road. Some villages in the southern part of the township were given permission to return to their villages to stay, apparently on a 'good behaviour' temporary basis. This grace period lasted under a year however, and when the SPDC was unable to root out the Shan resistance armies from the area, villages were ordered to relocate again without warning in late 1998. This relocation campaign was particularly brutal, involving the arrest, torture, and killing of many villagers, as well as the burning of many villages. When SPDC soldiers came to Nam Khai village they gave the villagers one hour to collect their belongings and vacate the village before the soldiers burned it.
"[The village was first relocated] in '97. First I went to live in the relocation site, then we went to ask the Burmese officer for permission to come back to our village for a short time. So we came back to live and work in Nam Khai. In September '98 another group of soldiers came to our village and ordered us to move again. Then they burned our whole village and then we moved to Nam Wan again. The soldiers didn't say anything. They came to our village at 4:00 in the evening. They told us to take our things down to the ground and they gave us one hour. This season was our working season and we were very busy. By 5:00 we couldn't move all of our things, but the soldiers burned all of our houses. Only two houses were left out of thirty. We could save only one third of our things, and the Burmese took away the good things that they liked, then they burned the rest…They burned the paddy with the houses, and they scattered the rice on the street." - "Sai Kham" (M, 25), Nam Khai village, Lai Kha township (Interview #2, 3/00)
The SPDC forces arrested nearly half the population of Nam Khai, and the others only escaped because they had not yet returned from working in their fields that day. Families were separated as soldiers grabbed any villagers they could find, tied them together, then took them to an SPDC military camp for days where they were questioned about the movements of Shan resistance armies in the area. Young and old, men and women, sick and healthy were carted away, including one infant who was arrested though the mother was not. Before they left the village, the troop set fire to the houses, destroying all but two. After the remaining villagers watched their relatives disappear and their houses burn, they scrambled to salvage enough money to bribe the SPDC officers to release their friends and family members.
"The soldiers gathered the villagers in Nam Khai and took them in bullock carts, even some old people. They arrested all the villagers and detained them in Nam Wo Khao Sein for 2 days. After that, they took them to their office in Nam Jan town. They took only the mother of some villagers, or only the daughter of others. The commander questioned the villagers, 'Have you seen Shan soldiers or not?' They beat and tortured them, and some were afraid and ill, and some died. All the young men were tied and beaten on the way to Nam Wo Khao Sein. They kicked the villagers. One old woman named Nai Nu was beaten and kicked, and she died at home after she came back. They arrested more than 30 villagers. Some were children, even a baby 2-3 months old. They didn't arrest the mother, only the baby. The other villagers had to collect money and pay for their release. They just seized anyone they could get their hands on. The villagers paid for their release and they were released. Then the villagers hired 3 small trologies [small Chinese tractors] to drive themselves back to Nam Wan [relocation site]." - "Sai Kham" (M, 25), Nam Khai village, Lai Kha township (Interview #2, 3/00)
Nam Wan relocation site is on the border of Nam Zang township, about a 4 hour walk from Nam Khai. Villagers from Nam Khai faced the same problem there that plagues villagers across Shan State who are forced into relocation sites far from their native villages: all surrounding land is already owned, so it is impossible to work a field and earn a living. After being relocated twice, the Nam Khai villagers no longer retained any hope of returning to their original village to stay, especially after the village was finally destroyed. Fighting for survival at relocation sites is even more precarious, especially when the sites consolidate or more people are forced into them. Securing jobs as field hands becomes competitive, as does foraging for the little food available, and there is no possibility of farming their own fields. The SPDC military and civilian authorities provide nothing at all to the relocated villagers; instead they demand forced labour, food and money from them. Many relocated villagers decide to head for Thailand, where at least jobs as day field labourers will bring in a meagre income to feed their families
"It was difficult to live and find food in the relocation site. Before when we lived in our original village we could eat 3 times a day. In the relocation site we only had enough to eat once or twice a day." - "Nang Sai" (F, 30), Wan Mai village, Lai Kha township (Interview #1, 3/00)
lthough not all villages are destroyed when their relocation orders are issued, soldiers never fail to threaten the villagers with such consequences if they fail to obey the order by the given deadline. When the SLORC/SPDC relocated Wan Mai village in 1997, they gave the villagers 3 days to move and threatened to burn the village if its citizens did not cooperate; then they returned after only 2 days, drove the villagers out at gunpoint and burned the village regardless. Some villages, like Wan Mai, have been driven further away to main relocation sites such as Kho Lam, just across the township boundary in Nam Zang township. Living conditions in Kho Lam are known to be particularly desperate; food is so scarce that many families resort to begging along the main road to Nam Zang. Villagers are thus forced to violate orders confining them to the relocation site, and they return to their old villages to forage for food. If they are found by SPDC soldiers out on patrol, they are shot on sight, no questions asked
"The Burmese soldiers only said, 'All of you will be moved.' They relocated us to Kho Lam. We had to go… The soldiers threatened that if we didn't move, they would burn all our houses. First the soldiers came and told the village head, and he told the villagers. They said we had three days. But before the deadline the soldiers came and drove us out. We all moved together to Kho Lam…Some people didn't have enough food in the relocation site, so they returned to their villages to get food. But also many people tried to forage just outside of the relocation site, and the soldiers didn't allow us to go outside so they killed them… It was very difficult to survive in Kho Lam. Sometimes the villagers went back to their original villages to get their animals like cattle or buffaloes, and if the Burmese soldiers saw them they would shoot them. Sometimes the village men went back to pick their vegetables and crops. The Burmese soldiers killed them like they would kill a chicken or a bird. … I heard about many incidents of Burmese soldiers killing villagers, but I only knew one. He was my Uncle. He went back to his village to gather vegetables and the Burmese shot him. When we moved to the site I didn't carry anything with us; I only had the clothes on my back. I didn't carry food or any of our animals. So soon after we got there our Uncle went back to look for our animals and for food. The Burmese soldiers found him on the way and shot him." - "Nang Sai" (F, 30), Wan Mai village, Lai Kha township (Interview #1, 3/00
Villagers at this site have faced constant assaults on their safety since they arrived. In February 1997, after a SURA attack on a SLORC military unit, the SLORC troops retaliated by firing mortar shells without warning into Kho Lam relocation site. Six villagers, including 3 children, were killed while hiding from the shells in a ditch. On January 24th 2000, a fire that started in Kho Lam village spread to the relocation site, destroying an estimated 300 homes there and killing 2 villagers. The perilous life for villagers in Kho Lam creates an atmosphere of fear in the relocation site, which living in close proximity to soldiers only exacerbates. Women constantly fear rape and sexual assault by soldiers who accost them outside this and other relocation sites while they are foraging for food. Likewise, men are often beaten or tortured out of sight of other villagers. While villagers have no choice but to find what little work is available in surrounding fields or to scavenge for vegetables in the nearby forests, fear of physical abuse by SPDC soldiers is a daily, preoccupying reality
"We were always afraid. Many women were raped when they went outside the relocation site and were found by the Burmese. I was never raped by Burmese soldiers, but I heard women crying and yelling out, 'Help me!' Some women got sick after they were raped [with sexually transmitted diseases]." - "Nang Sai" (F, 30), Wan Mai village, Lai Kha township (Interview #1, 3/00)"…twice I heard that women were raped, but I don't know their names because those women were from another relocation site. The women were going to their workplace which is 2 hours away by foot from Wan Lao. The Burmese soldiers saw them and went to rape them." - "Sai Long" (M, 25), Wan Lao village, Kun Hing township (Interview #7, 3/00)"If the Burmese killed our husbands, we had to stay in the relocation site and do forced labour for them… The Burmese soldiers ordered us to work for them. If we didn't go to work for them, they beat us and tortured us… Sometimes we had to go carry water, and sometimes find bamboo or wood for cooking fires. We had to build a military camp and clear the sides of the road. In Kho Lam there are many houses and many villagers so it would be a while before I would have to do forced labour again. Maybe in one month we went 2 or 3 times, but one time might be 10 days long." - "Nang Sai" (F, 30), Wan Mai village, Lai Kha township (Interview #1, 3/00)
Life in Relocation Sites: Murng Pan Township
"They didn't permit us to leave our village [to go outside the village boundary], then the Burmese soldiers moved us. They came to the village and told us to move. They threatened us and tied us up and beat us. They killed three people… Chit Ta was one man. Jan Tee Ma was another one. Dtee Ya [was the other man]. They were cutting bamboo and floating it down the river, then the Burmese troops came and found them and killed them. They saw them and then they killed them. They had done nothing wrong. They came and saw those people and killed them, then they told the village to move." - "Loong Aw" (M, 50), Narn Tong village, Murng Pan township (Interview #5, 3/00)
"When they came to relocate the village they arrested and tied us. They tied us two by two around our necks. They tied our hands behind us. They beat two village leaders. The SPDC told them to pay them one baht weight of gold each. The two men paid them the gold because the SPDC had beaten them in the head and their blood was gushing out. The two men gave the gold and they released them. The two men who the SPDC beat were the head man and the one who helped the village head [his assistant]. They killed Aye Nya, but they didn't ask him to give any gold beforehand; they just killed him…The SPDC didn't say anything; they gathered all the villagers in the center of the village and tied them up. Some people ran away, but the people who stayed in the village were tied up. They took the two leaders to a separate place. They covered their heads with plastic tarps and trampled them. Then they forced them to pay the gold." - "Sai Heng" (M, 30), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #3, 3/00)"They beat us and tied us. They threatened to kill us and burn down the village. After they relocated us to Hwe Mark Pun they didn't allow us to go back to our village, so we don't know if they burned it all or not. But I saw the Burmese soldiers burn 5 houses in our village. They didn't allow us to go back; if we went back they would have killed us. We were afraid to go back." - "Sai Seng" (M, 37), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #4, 3/00)"They came and ordered us to move on the same day, and if we didn't finish they said they would burn our houses that day… No, they didn't tell us [where they would move]. They told us 'Go and find your relatives and stay with your relatives near the town [Murng Pan].' They said they would kill all the people who refused to leave… For the old people we used bullock carts. Everybody moved, even the monks… we were allowed to take our things, but we could only take about one third of what we had…Some of us could take our food, but some could not. The SPDC took everything that the villagers could not take with us." - "Sai Heng" (M, 30), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #3, 3/00)
"If they allowed us to go outside the relocation site, we could find some food. When they didn't allow us to go outside, we could only buy 10 milk tins [about 2 kilos/4.4 lb of rice]. Sometimes we went to the jungle near the relocation site and foraged for vegetables, then we sold them in town. If we got a lot of money from selling them, we could buy rice. Sometimes we didn't have anything to eat. They [the SPDC] didn't give us anything… We went to buy it [rice] in town [Murng Pan]… we had to cut wood and bamboo by ourselves and build our own shelters." - "Sai Heng" (M, 30), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #3, 3/00)"After 5:00 in the evening, the Burmese soldiers did not allow us to walk on the road outside the village [relocation site], and if they saw us they would shoot us. We couldn't have our own fields, because the villagers already owned the fields around the relocation site… The villagers go to the areas around the relocation site and work the fields [hire themselves out for a daily wage]. We can only hire ourselves out to work by the day. When the paddy was yellow and ready to harvest, we made a big stack. Then the Burmese soldiers ordered us to return to the relocation site, and during the night the Burmese soldiers went to the fields and threshed the paddy for themselves. The soldiers forced someone to drive a trology [small Chinese tractor which can haul a small cart] from town to the field, then to carry the paddy back to the camp. When the field owner went to the field to collect his paddy, there was only a little bit left." - "Sai Seng" (M, 37), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #4, 3/00)"In the village, before they came to relocate the villagers, the villagers could plant their rice anywhere they liked. But after we moved to the relocation site we were restricted to the site and we were not allowed to go out." - "Sai Heng" (M, 30), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #3, 3/00)
"We had to cut bamboo and dismantle the fences in the deserted villages that had already been relocated. They used it to build the military camp. Some days we went to villages that had already been relocated, gathered the cattle and buffaloes and brought them to the military camp. We had to kill the animals for the soldiers. We couldn't tell them that we couldn't go. We had to take sharp knives with us to cut bamboo and kill the animals. Every three days we had to do forced labour for one day. Each time they took 15-20 villagers to do forced labour. If the paddy was ready to thresh, we would do it for the soldiers [in fields the military had confiscated]. We were forced to sell our own rice to the Burmese military. We couldn't do anything about it. If they ordered us to work for them, we had to go." - "Sai Seng" (M, 37), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #4, 3/00)"[We were called to forced labour] many times. Usually the porters were yoked up to poles they used to carry their loads. Mostly men had to go for portering, and women and children had to go to do other forced labour, and sometimes women had to follow the bullock carts [which were doing forced labour hauling materials] … all the time we were afraid of the Burmese soldiers. Sometimes we had to hide and go sleep somewhere else [the men had to flee the site periodically when the soldiers came looking for porters]…We had to hide in the jungle for 2 or 3 days sometimes. Mostly we didn't have anything to eat, but sometimes if our relatives knew where we were they managed to bring food to us. Most of the time the men had to run away, but sometimes the women and children also had to hide." - "Loong Aw" (M, 50), Narn Tong village, Murng Pan township (Interview #5, 3/00)"They forced us to cut wood and bamboo to build the military camp, and we had to dismantle houses and the monastery in Ba Ka village and Wan Lan village. These two villages had already been relocated… They used them to build the military camps… We had to go and do forced labour 20 times for every 10 times [days] we could do our own work. Only the village head was spared from forced labour. … Some had to go for a month or half a month. When we went to porter, the SPDC yoked the porters together… They beat us if we couldn't carry our loads properly and if we couldn't go fast enough. Some were also killed. I had to go so many times…I was beaten once. I was carrying rice and I couldn't climb up a steep mountain, so I was beaten. Then they pushed me from behind with a stick to make me go. [They collected us] At the relocation site in Hwe Mark Pun… We went 4 or 5 times a month. I also had to porter in Nong Harn [before the relocation]. If the village is far from town, the SPDC tortures the villagers. They always took us for forced labour. We went on rotation. Sometimes they took our mules and horses, and sometimes people, about 7 or 8 at a time." - "Sai Heng" (M, 30), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #3, 3/00)
"They took two men off the street of the relocation site, then went out of the village and beat them. They didn't say anything [they didn't explain why], but afterwards we found out they [the soldiers] were drunk." - "Sai Heng" (M, 30), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #3, 3/00)"They came and took some people away and beat them almost to death. But I don't know why, because they hadn't disobeyed or anything like that. One person was killed. He was a villager from Hwe Mark Pun village. His name was Wah Li. He was 30 years old. We could not go out of the relocation site to farm or do anything, and if we were found we would be killed." - "Loong Aw" (M, 50), Narn Tong village, Murng Pan township (Interview #5, 3/00)"They went out to forage for food and to catch fish in the stream…If the SPDC finds villagers, they don't ask any questions. As soon as they saw them they shot them. Two of them escaped but three were shot dead. Five people went out together but two managed to escape…The two who escaped came and told us that 3 of our friends were shot dead." - "Sai Heng" (M, 30), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #3, 3/00)
Internal Displacement and Massacres: Kun Hing Township
"The Burmese soldiers came to our village twice and ordered us to move. The first time they came they ordered us to move on the full moon of that month, and the village head talked to them and asked for more time. Then the Burmese soldiers gave us permission to stay in the original village. After 15 days the officer changed [because the troops rotated], and they came again to our village. They told us again to move in the 6th month [of the Shan lunar calendar, or May by the western calendar], then we moved that day… They [the people from his village] relocated to 3 places: Kali town, Kun Hing town, and Nam Karn village. They ordered us to move to the northern part of Kun Hing, but I don't know the name of the village. Many people stayed in the jungle like us. Only a few villagers went to the relocation site, but many more lived in the jungle like me. The villagers who lived in the jungle were big families, and didn't move to the town because we worried that we would have to build a house and find food for all of us. All of the villages in the Keng Kham tract were ordered to relocate on the same day. They gave us 3 days, and if we hadn't moved in 3 days the Burmese soldiers would have shot us dead." - "Sai Harn" (M, 40), Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #6, 3/00)
"We lived in the fields because we are poor and we didn't have anything. We have many children, a big family, so we didn't move. We didn't try to move anywhere [to the relocation site]; we decided to live there even though we didn't have enough food and we always worried for the future and whether the Burmese soldiers would come and kill us… We lived on an island in the Nam Pang [River]. [We stayed there] more than 2 years. It will be 3 years in the coming 6th month [of the Shan lunar calendar, or May 2000 according to a western calendar]… If the Burmese soldiers didn't come around there, we went out and foraged for food. Sometimes we went to our original village and found some food there. Sometimes we bought rice and food from Kali town. If soldiers were around, we didn't go, but if there were no soldiers then we could get food from Kali. If we met soldiers, we threw away our food and ran away… People live in the jungle and they are afraid to face the soldiers. If we heard that soldiers were marching or if we found their tracks, we were afraid and we hid. We stayed quiet and made no movement." - "Sai Harn" (M, 40), Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #6, 3/00)
The SURA has been very active in Kun Hing township, and as a result the area was the site of several retaliatory massacres of villagers by SPDC troops during the mass relocations of 1997. Over 300 villagers were killed in relocation sites or while trying to visit their former villages. In several cases, relocated villagers were given passes to return from Kun Hing relocation site to salvage food and possessions from their villages, only to be met on the way and massacred by SPDC units waiting for them. On June 16th 1997, the SPDC used this tactic to massacre 29 villagers at Sai Khao and another 27 villagers at Tard Pa Ho, apparently with the intention of intimidating the SURA and as a threat to villagers not to return to their homes [for details on these massacres and a KHRG interview with a survivor, see"Killing the Shan" (KHRG #98-03, 23/5/98)]. Internally displaced persons still living in the area are most vulnerable to acts of SPDC violence, and they continue to be killed with appalling frequency. The SPDC Army has made Kun Hing one of the bloodiest townships in all of Burma. In the latest of several recent massacres, 80-90 soldiers from SPDC Infantry Battalion #246 killed 19 villagers on February 12th 2000 who were celebrating a ritual to honour the guardian spirits of their village tract at Loi Mak Hin Tang (a.k.a. Meh Hin Tang). The civilians were originally from 4 villages in the Kun Pu village tract: Kun Pu, Pang Kha, Loi Yang, and Na Ke, but they had been hiding in the jungle for at least 3 years after the SPDC relocated their villages in 1997. They went regularly to the sacred site where they paid respects to an altar erected by their ancestors. On this particular day they were discovered by an Infantry Battalion #246 patrol who captured and executed them, killing all 20 male villagers, then an additional 5 women and children hiding in a nearby hut.
This massacre followed a similar one that occurred in Keng Kham village tract on January 30th 2000, where 19 villagers were massacred while clearing a space in the jungle to rebuild their village. This group of villagers had been issued passes by IB #246 allowing them to return to Keng Kham from Kun Hing relocation site, but IB #66 surprised them in the middle of the jungle while they were in the process of clearing ground. The soldiers surrounded them and shot all the villagers dead, including 3 women. Some villagers have testified that the SPDC captured one porter from the group, who later escaped and returned to the Keng Kham area to tell others about the event. Both incidents were documented in detail by the Shan Human Rights Foundation [for additional details on these massacres, including names of some of those killed, see the Shan Human Rights Foundation's monthly newsletters from February and March 2000.]
"I heard about it, but I didn't see it myself. I didn't see the dead bodies. This happened in the 2nd month [of the Shan lunar calendar; it actually occurred on February 12th]. It's true they all really died, but we don't know the place where they died. They didn't come back home [to the area around their original village where they had been hiding with other displaced villagers]. Their original village was Kun Pu. … The villagers were going to a ceremony for the guardian spirits of Keng Kham village tract at Meh Hin Tang. The 20 people did not come from the relocation site. They had been living in the jungle, and then they were going to the ceremony and the Burmese soldiers met them on the path and took them away… The soldiers found them on the path, then they shot over their heads, so they were afraid to run away. Then they took them to another place and killed them later, but no one knows where. The Burmese soldiers didn't kill them at that place [Meh Hin Tang]." - "Sai Harn" (M, 40), Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #6, 3/00)
In the past 3 years most of the villages south of Kun Hing town along the Nam Pang River, a tributary of the Salween, have been displaced or relocated, leaving few villagers to fulfil the rice quotas that the military imposed on the area. The SPDC began allowing both native and non-native villagers to return to some villages south of Kun Hing in order to augment the rice yield. This tactic generated tough competition for fields between original villagers who had once owned fields and the newcomers to the area looking for free plots to farm; as a result most were unable to farm their own fields and had little choice but to hire themselves out as day labourers. Often these fields were at great distances from their villages, and the SPDC continued to restrict travel for farmers in the area to one day, with heavy fines for overstaying. Hence farmers encountered the same problems they had faced in the relocation sites, except now they were expected to hand over 1 basket of rice from every basket of paddy they used in planting. This worked out to roughly half the harvest, before factoring in overhead costs and other taxes the villagers had to pay to the SPDC. Stray animals also demolished much of the crop before harvest because farmers were prevented from sleeping in their fields to guard them. To make matters worse for the farmers, the SPDC also used the villagers for forced labour to build the military camp in Wan Lao, where troops are now based to control the villagers and enforce the rice quotas in the surrounding areas.
"First we were relocated to Kun Hing town, and then we were allowed to come back. Then we had to build a military camp in Wan Lao. The troops at Wan Lao have been forcing the villagers to work… because there has been no one to take care of the fields around Wan Lao since the villagers have been relocated. If you use one basket of paddy, you have to give the Burmese one basket of rice after the harvest. Sometimes the soldiers don't want rice but they want money… If we plant one basket and we get a lot of rice, then we only give the Burmese one basket and we still have a lot. If we want to sell to other people and get money, then we can. We get a lot of rice if the animals don't come into the fields and eat our rice. We don't have permission to sleep in the fields, so we can't guard them at night. We can't protect our fields… Out of our harvest, we had to pay the buffalo owners to plough the fields [they pay in rice for the use of buffaloes to plough], and we had to buy paddy to plant, and then we had to pay people to help us plant and harvest and thresh, and then we had to pay people to carry the rice back to the village, then we had to pay taxes to the Burmese. If the growing time has finished [and the paddy is ready to harvest] and animals come to eat our rice, then we lose the rice and we have to buy rice to pay the Burmese soldiers." - "Sai Long" (M, 25), Wan Lao village, Kun Hing township (Interview #7, 3/00)"They allowed people to go to stay at Wan Lao. They distributed leaflets announcing that anyone who wanted to go to stay at Wan Lao could go [people from that original village who had been staying in relocation sites could go back]. The villagers from Keng Kham tract had permission to live in Wan Lao if they wanted to. People from everywhere, from Keng Kham and Keng Lom village tracts, went to live in Wan Lao. People who were relocated to Kali are now moving to Wan Lao. I don't know how many people live in Wan Lao, but I know that many have moved there." - "Sai Harn" (M, 40), Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #6, 3/00)"If we had to work outside our village we had to take rice with us, only enough for one meal. We had to get a travel pass from the Burmese, then we could go in the morning and come back in the evening, but we couldn't stay overnight. Now many villagers are coming to live in Wan Lao because many people from other places have been given permission to come to Wan Lao. There is not much free land to be found. I had to go far away to farm. There was no time to do any work because it ran out on the way [because he could only go for one day, he had to spend all his time travelling and did not have enough time to work his fields]… The Burmese issued us a travel pass for only one day. If we slept at our farms for one or two nights, and the Burmese came to ask us for our papers and it was past the date, then we had to pay them 3,000 Kyat… If the soldiers find out that you have stayed out longer than you were allowed, they fine you. The poor people cannot afford to pay, so they run away. If they caught them when they tried to run away, they arrested them. Then they beat them and tortured them. Some soldiers only beat them but some soldiers beat them until they almost died. Three of my relatives were beaten: my uncle, my cousin, and my brother. This was last year during the rice planting time." - "Sai Long" (M, 25), Wan Lao village, Kun Hing township (Interview #7, 3/00)
Future for the Shan
"I don't have a plan. I would like to stay here as long as the situation is bad in my home village. I would like to return when it's safer." - "Sai Long" (M, 25), Wan Lao village, Kun Hing township, speaking after his arrival in Thailand (Interview #7, 3/00)
Recently there have been reports that Yord Serk, commander of the SSA South, is interested in holding talks with the SPDC, but the SPDC has shown little or no willingness to engage in any kind of sincere negotiations with him; instead, it appears that if Yord Serk is not willing to surrender with few or no conditions, the regime will likely pursue its goal of wiping his army out militarily. This would be virtually impossible to accomplish, so unless some kind of negotiations do occur the situation will remain at a stalemate. The SPDC will likely take out its frustration by continuing to relocate and re-relocate more villagers, destroy what still remains of villages in central Shan State, and hunt and kill villagers on sight. Over the past year the geographic area of forced relocations has not significantly expanded, but this would almost certainly occur if the SSA South becomes any stronger or expands its area of operations at all. For the villagers, there is little or nothing they can do except struggle to survive in the middle of this situation. Life in the relocation sites is becoming ever more difficult, but so is life in hiding in the forests around their villages. For as long as the present situation continues, many more villagers will continue to die, whether quickly by shooting or torture, or slowly through the combination of hunger, disease, and backbreaking forced labour. The two most viable options for many people in the area are presently flight to other parts of Burma or to Thailand.
"They came to our village at 4:00 in the evening. They told us to take our things down to the ground and they gave us one hour. This season was our working season and we were very busy. By 5:00 we couldn't move all of our things, but the soldiers burned all of our houses. Only two houses were left out of thirty. We could save only one third of our things, and the Burmese took away the good things that they liked, then they burned the rest. They burned the paddy with the houses, and they scattered the rice on the street." - "Sai Kham" (M, 25), Nam Khai village, Lai Kha township (Interview #2, 3/00)
"I saw drilling machines on both sides of the bank and some were sucking water and drilling. 3 machines on each bank. All together 6, but 3 on each side on 2 hills [aligned on 2 hills across the river from each other]. One was on the top, one in the middle, and one below on both banks. It was at Tang Ba Lai. It's upriver on the Salween. I saw Shan and Thai workers on both sides. There were Burmese too. I saw military camps on both sides. I didn't see everyone in the camp, but I think there were about 25 [soldiers] in each camp. I saw many workers, maybe 40 or 50. Shan workers get 500 Kyat per day. The Shan people were from around that area near the Salween. I know because we passed near them, and we had to stop at the Burmese military camp. We stopped and talked to the Shan workers for one hour [while they waited for the guards to decide if they could pass or not] and they told us all about it… I saw them operating machines. The Shan also said that there were Thais among the workers. They were Thai workers [civilians], not Thai soldiers… They had set up tents on the river bank. The tents had plastic tarps… I asked the Shan workers, 'Brother, do you know what you are building?' They said they didn't know what is going to be built there. They didn't tell the workers that they were building a dam. The people who live near the Salween River told me that they are building a dam. They told me when I got to Ta Sala." - "Sai Harn" (M, 40), Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #6, 3/00)
"We walked to the Salween River. We followed the Nam Pang until it got to the Salween, then we crossed near Murng Pu Long village in Murng Paeng township. We could not walk along the trail because we had to hide. Then we took a raft down the Salween River. Then we crossed to the eastern side of the Salween into Murng Paeng. We rafted down the Salween again for one day and one night. We crossed at Ta Sala. Then we went to Murng Ton by truck… [It took us] 2 days and 1 night from Keng Kham to Ta Sala…We had to show them our ID cards when we were on the raft, but we said we didn't have ID cards because we were hiding in the jungle. The Burmese soldiers didn't say anything and they allowed us to pass there. We'd brought along some chickens and the soldiers even bought some of our chickens… The Burmese said, 'Where do you come from?' We told the truth, 'We come from Keng Kham.'" - "Sai Harn" (M, 40), Wo Long village, Kun Hing township (Interview #6, 3/00)
"We crossed near Bang Ma village [Fang area]. Near the border we passed one Burmese gate. The Burmese soldiers took our ID cards because we told them, 'We will go to Thailand in the morning and come back in the evening.' But we didn't go back to collect our ID cards." - "Sai Seng" (M, 37), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #4, 3/00)"Some come to Thailand by foot. All of the villagers moved to the relocation site together, and some have enough food, but some come to Thailand. Some have moved to Nam Jan… I heard from other people that in Thailand it is easy to find food and earn money to feed our families. I don't have work yet because I arrived only one month ago, but I found an employer already." - "Nang Sai" (F, 30), Wan Mai village, Lai Kha township (Interview #1, 3/00)"Other people told us that Thailand is more peaceful than Shan State. In Shan State we couldn't work and we didn't have enough food. In Thailand we were told that even if we couldn't work every day [because they wouldn't be hired], we would still have enough food. … We are not as happy as when we lived on our own land. But if we work every day and we get money to live day to day to eat and survive, it's okay. It is better for us to live here than in Shan State. If we could stay together in a [refugee] camp and have friends near us, it would be good. But we want to work every day. If we were allowed to work, it would be better to live there [in a refugee camp]." - "Sai Seng" (M, 37), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #4, 3/00)
"If we are allowed to work and if there is work to be done, and if the Thai people employ us, we would like to work. But if it's difficult to get work, then we would like to stay in the [refugee] camps… Work is not always available so sometimes it is difficult. But we just manage to survive. We want to be able to live peacefully… we feel safe here and a bit happier. The main thing we worry about is getting work; even if the police give us trouble it's not as bad as the Burmese soldiers." - "Sai Heng" (M, 30), Nong Harn village, Murng Pan township (Interview #3, 3/00)