EXILED AT HOME: Continued Forced Relocations and Displacement in Shan State


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EXILED AT HOME: Continued Forced Relocations and Displacement in Shan State

Published date:
Wednesday, April 5, 2000

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.

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)

The State Peace & Development Council (SPDC) military junta presently ruling Burma is a classic case of a paranoid military regime which feels that the only way it can remain in power and "hold the country together" is to control every inch of territory and the daily lives of every civilian in Burma. Faced with ethnic-based armed uprisings against its repressive rule from all over the country, in the early 1970's the SPDC's predecessors implemented the 'Four Cuts' policy which is still in effect today. The 'Four Cuts' aim to cut the supplies of food, funds, recruits and information to resistance groups by systematically terrorising, controlling, and impoverishing the civilian population in resistance areas so that they have neither the opportunity nor the means to provide any form of support to the opposition. The main pillars of the Four Cuts policy are the detention, torture and execution of villagers and village elders perceived as having any contact whatsoever with the resistance; systematic extortion and pillage of the villagers' crops, food supplies, livestock, cash and valuables; forced labour to get the civilians working for the Army and deprive them of time to do anything else; and, increasingly, forced relocations to sites and villages directly under the control of the SPDC Army.
The civilian population of Shan State has suffered from serious human rights abuses ever since the Burmese Army first entered the region in 1950, ostensibly to fight the Kuomintang (KMT) forces who had been pushed into Shan State by the Chinese Communists. However, the Burmese Army immediately set about colonising Shan State. Little mercy was shown to the Shan population, particularly because Burman rulers have always seen the Shan, with their population of an estimated 9 million (second only to the Burmans), their well-developed culture, their princes and their well-structured society, as a rival people to be either subjugated or eradicated from Burma. However, the Burmese Army found that it had to fight the KMT, then the Burmese Communist Party (BCP) and a slew of Shan and other ethnic-based resistance groups. The dissolution of the BCP in 1989 and subsequent ceasefire deals with many of the other groups gave the Army, now under the State Law & Order Restoration Council (SLORC) regime, the upper hand it wanted. When Khun Sa surrendered his Mong Tai Army (MTA) in January 1996, the regime thought it was finally on the way to complete control in Shan State.
However, most of the MTA's soldiers broke away and regrouped, primarily under the leadership of former MTA commander Yord Serk. He formed the Shan United Revolutionary Army (SURA) and began guerrilla operations in several areas of central Shan State. The SLORC responded by applying the Four Cuts on an unprecedented scale. In March 1996, they delineated a huge area of central Shan State and ordered the forced relocation and destruction of every village in the region, whether or not these villages had had any contact with SURA. Over 700 villages were relocated and destroyed, with well over 100,000 people displaced. However, if anything SURA only appeared to get stronger, so throughout 1997 and 1998 the SLORC, now renamed as the SPDC, expanded the target area and also forced people who had already been moved to relocate again into larger sites under more direct military control. By mid-1998, over 1,400 villages in 8 townships had been forcibly relocated and destroyed, displacing a population of at least 300,000 people. Tens of thousands of people were struggling to survive in relocation sites throughout the region, foraging for food and begging from cars passing on the roads. The SPDC provided them nothing. Those who tried to hide in the forests around their villages were shot on sight by SPDC patrols, and in some cases there were systematic massacres of as many as 40 people at a time. At least 100,000 people fled across the border into Thailand; the SPDC troops allowed them to go, happy to see the Shan people leaving Burma
"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)
In 1997 SURA formed an alliance with the Shan State Army (SSA) and the Shan State National Army (SSNA), both of which had ceasefire agreements with the SPDC; the new group goes under the name of SSA, but most observers refer to Yord Serk's group as 'SSA South' to distinguish it from the remainder of the SSA. While the SSA South continues to fight, the remainder of the SSA has retained its ceasefire status with the SPDC. Talks between the SSA as a whole and the SPDC to negotiate a ceasefire have supposedly been broached on numerous occasions, but the SPDC has vowed to eradicate the SSA South militarily, and the resistance army refuses to surrender arms and continues to operate in Shan State. While the SPDC's tactic of destroying civilian villages to root out the SSA South has been a complete failure, the junta's response to this failure has simply been to continue the relocation of villages within the specified relocation zones, and to intimidate or terrorise villagers into not returning to their homes. The village forced relocation region spans roughly 7,000 square miles (18,000 square kilometres) in the heart of Shan State. Since 1998 the region has not expanded significantly in size, but more and more villages within the relocation zone have been cleared, and relocation sites have been consolidated from smaller sites containing one or two villages to larger sites in main towns or near military bases. SPDC patrols roam the region, burning whatever is left in villages and shooting villagers they find on sight. Most of the villagers in this area have been homeless since the operation began, and the displacement is taking a fatal toll.
"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)
The number of internally displaced grows exponentially, as villagers are finding it increasingly difficult to survive in relocation sites. Lack of food is the all-consuming concern for uprooted villagers. Those in relocation sites must compete for work on land owned by other villagers, or farm fields at great distances from the relocation sites. They are issued one day travel passes which are only good from dawn to dusk, leaving them no time to work a distant field which may take hours to reach on foot. As a result their harvest never yields enough to sustain their families. Some farmers have been allowed to return to their villages on a temporary basis, usually during key phases in the rice growing cycle. Most often permission has been granted to villagers who own fields close to the relocation sites in town or along main roads. The SPDC usually has an alternative motive for sending people back; a case in point is Wan Lao village in Kun Hing township, where even non-native villagers were allowed to repopulate the area after the forced relocations had resulted in the SPDC Army being unable to confiscate sufficient rice from the villagers. The military distributed leaflets encouraging people to return, but when they did they were bound by the same limitations and restrictions that had applied in the relocation sites, with the additional burden of taxes and rice quotas to hand over to the SPDC at harvest time.
"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)
Even when the SPDC gives them passes, the villagers are afraid to go far from the relocation sites because of the massacres which have occurred. On several occasions the SPDC military in relocation sites have given passes to villagers and told them they can go back to salvage some building materials and food from their home villages, but when the villagers assembled a convoy of bullock carts and went, they were intercepted along the way, lined up and executed by another SPDC unit. The worst massacres have occurred in Kun Hing township. On June 16th 1997, two groups of villagers headed back to gather things from their home villages with passes from SLORC officers in Kun Hing relocation site. Along their way, both groups were intercepted by SLORC troops, lined up and mown down with automatic fire. 29 villagers died at Sai Khao, and 27 died at Tard Pa Ho. The massacres were later confirmed by the few who had managed to escape and by video footage of some of the remains. [See"Killing the Shan" (KHRG #98-03, 23/5/98).] Similar massacres have occurred since and have been documented by the Shan Human Rights Foundation. The most recent cases occurred in late January and early February 2000 in Kun Hing township. On January 30th, a group of villagers were returning to their village in Keng Kham village tract with permission and passes from Infantry Battalion #246 in Kun Hing relocation site when they were stopped by an SPDC patrol from Infantry Battalion #66. 19 of them were executed, including 3 women. On February 12th, a group of 20 male villagers from Kun Pu village tract who had been living in hiding in the forest were spotted by a patrol from Infantry Battalion #246, and all 20 of them were executed; the same patrol later killed 5 women and children who were hiding in a nearby hut [for further details see below under "Internal Displacement and Massacres: Kun Hing Township"]. Many other smaller-scale massacres and killings have also occurred recently in Kun Hing township, some of which have been documented by the Shan Human Rights Foundation using the testimony of villagers.
"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)
Those in relocation sites must fear the violence of SPDC troops at all times. Villagers are terrified of leaving the site for fear of being beaten, raped, or killed. Across Shan State the testimonies of people living inside relocation sites echoes a palpable fear of soldiers, who have taken people off the streets of relocation sites and beaten them in surrounding forests. Many families, particularly the men, hide when they hear that soldiers are coming through the camps for fear that they will be captured for use as military porters. Forced labour is a constant burden for all villagers in the relocation sites; the SPDC has forced civilians to build military camps, roads, and railways across Shan State since the mass relocation operation began in 1996. The time required to work for the military is also a major factor preventing people from farming their own fields or earning money to feed their families. 
"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)
Due to the difficulty of survival, many villagers are fleeing relocation sites or deciding not to go there at all when their villages are relocated. People often return to the jungle near their former villages, where they are able to forage for food in deserted villages or farm small plots of land in remote locations where they are unlikely to be discovered by SPDC troops. While fighting off the threat of starvation, the daily life of these villagers rotates on the axis of fear. They must constantly evade SPDC troops on patrol, and those who are discovered are most often executed on sight. In the past few villagers have opted to brave a life in the jungle, as SPDC columns regularly patrol the areas looking for 'rebels' and shoot all villagers that they see. Now, however, the dwindling population in the relocation sites indicates that people are exhausted by the struggle to survive the desperate conditions inside them and would rather brave the dangers of living in hiding in the forest than live under such abuses.
In order to survive, well over 100,000 Shan villagers have fled into Thailand in the past four years. The SPDC troops they encounter along the way usually allow them to go, happy to see the Shan population leaving Burma. At some border camps the soldiers even confiscate the National Identity Cards of refugees heading for the border, so that the SPDC can claim in future that they never lived in Burma. The Shan call themselves Tai Yai and are related to the Thais, with similarities in language and culture. There are no refugee camps for them so they cross the border in silent droves, slipping into the illegal Thai labour market on rural farms and in big cities. With nothing to protect them, many are sold into bonded labour or slavery in brothels, sweatshops, or the households of the rich and influential in Thailand. Even so, most of them say they would rather face these risks than attempt to survive the forced relocations. At one monitored border crossing alone in Fang district of northern Thailand, approximately 1,000-1,200 new refugees are now crossing each month. Their swelling numbers have flooded the job market near the border, making it harder to find illegal work to survive and forcing many to head further into Thailand, which exponentially increases their risk of arrest or entrapment into slavery. At the same time, the Thai authorities have been cracking down on illegal labour, making it even more difficult for the Shan refugees to avoid arrest, abuse and possible deportation. Many have called for refugee camps to be established for them, but the Thai authorities refuse to consider creating any new refugee camps on the grounds that it would create a 'pull factor'. Very few foreign governments or agencies are willing to stand up for the Shan villagers, viewing them as though they are all 'narcotics producers' simply because most of Burma's heroin and methamphetamines come from Shan State. In reality, virtually all of the refugees are rice and fruit farmers and have no connection whatsoever to opium, heroin or methamphetamine production
"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)
For a comprehensive analysis, detailed maps, and a township-by-township breakdown of the forced relocation campaign, please see the Shan Human Rights Foundation report "Dispossessed: Forced Relocation and Extrajudicial Killings in Shan State", April 1998. For additional background reading about the relocations, see the Karen Human Rights Group reports "Killing the Shan" (KHRG #98-03, 23/5/98) and "Forced Relocations in Central Shan State" (KHRG #96-23, 25/6/96). In the sections below, we will use the testimonies of villagers who fled to Thailand in February/March 2000 to look at the current state of the situation in three of the townships most severely affected by the forced relocations: Lai Kha, Murng Pan, and Kun Hing. The villagers describe the events surrounding their village relocation and their subsequent experiences living in relocation sites or internally displaced in the forests. Their testimonies are typical of those given by hundreds of refugees crossing to Thailand every month from central Shan State

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)

In March 1996 the SLORC started forcibly relocating villages in Lai Kha township, moving most of them first to sites along the motor road from Lai Kha to Murng Nong, then eventually to either the town of Lai Kha or to Parng Pone where there is a large SPDC military camp. By 1997 the SHRF had documented the relocation of 201 villages and 8,735 households in Lai Kha township, and by now in early 2000 almost all the villages in the northern and eastern part of the township have been relocated

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)
Villages in Murng Pan township were spared in the mass relocations of 1996, but the SPDC began driving villagers out in 1997 when SURA started operating in the township. Through 1997 and 1998 the SLORC/SPDC expanded the relocation area into Murng Pan, and some villagers reported that they were forced to move from one relocation site to another 3 or 4 times as the Army consolidated the population more and more. Many villagers were beaten in the process, including at least one massacre of villagers who had already been granted written permission to return to their village. Villagers from Murng Pan township who were relocated in late 1998 and early 1999 have been interviewed by KHRG, and their stories are very similar with respect to the brutality that SPDC troops used to relocate them. In Nong Harn and Nam Tong villages, soldiers arrested, tortured, and killed villagers before they had even had a chance to gather their belongings. Villages are usually given 3 days to relocate, but sometimes, as in the case of Nong Harn village in the southern part of Murng Pan, villagers have been told to move within the day; soldiers threatened that they would burn the village and kill its inhabitants if they refused to comply with the order. In Nong Harn, when they came to issue the relocation order the soldiers also killed one villager and savagely beat two village heads until they agreed to pay a ransom for their release in gold. Three villagers were killed outside Narn Tong village as troops entered to hand a relocation order to the village head. Terrorised villagers were too afraid to gather their belongings, or they realised that the relocation site was too far from their village to carry the majority of their possessions, so they were forced to leave most things behind for the SPDC soldiers to loot. As a final gesture of warning in Narn Tong, the soldiers burned the rice and paddy, preventing the villagers from bringing along their sole food supply. The SPDC provided them with neither food nor building materials at the relocation site in Hwe Mark Pun; if villagers were lucky enough to have relatives living near the sites they could procure a bit of food, but many ended up in debt after covering the costs of rebuilding their lives in a new location far from home.
"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)
Villagers in Murng Pan township have mainly been relocated to the main town and sites along the motor road. Nam Tong and Nong Harn villages were forced to move to the village of Hwe Mark Pun close to Murng Pan, where they quickly doubled the size of the small village. The main problem they immediately faced was that native villagers in the area already owned the surrounding fields, so the newcomers had no opportunity to farm close to the relocation site. Consequently they were forced to tend fields quite far away, but the military authorities only permitted them to leave the immediate vicinity of the relocation site between dawn and dusk. Many villagers' fields were at least a half day's walk away, leaving them no time to farm by the time they had to return by evening. They were never allowed to return to their villages to collect their stored food or belongings to sell—most of which had already been looted by SPDC troops anyway—and if soldiers caught them trying to return to their villages they were shot on sight
"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)
The other factor preventing people from earning a living at relocation sites is the forced labour they are required to do for the Army, whose officers see the relocated villagers as a convenient pool of forced labourers. Villagers living at Hwe Mark Pun site are constantly called to work, mainly to build military camps in the township. Standard practice is to force civilians to go to villages that have already been relocated, dismantle people's homes and fences, and then use those materials to build the camps. People complain of having to work for the SPDC Army twice as much as they are able to work for themselves, and no one is spared from duty. While typically the men go as military porters, women and children have to fufil the Army's demands for other forms of forced labour, which usually include building and maintaining Army camps, doing unarmed sentry duty on motor roads, clearing scrub from the roadsides (to make it difficult for resistance forces to ambush SPDC columns), and maintaining roads. In the past, villagers in relocation sites have also been used to build railways, such as the track from Shwe Nyaung to Nam Zang, from Nam Zang southward to Murng Nai and from Shwe Nyaung up the hills to Taunggyi. Portering, however, is generally the most feared form of forced labour, because porters are often severely abused and a shift involves a prolonged absence from wage earning; for these reasons, men and sometimes even women and children hide in the forests surrounding relocation sites when they hear that SPDC troops are collecting porters. Villagers living in smaller relocation sites like Hwe Mark Pun are called on for forced labour and portering more often than in larger sites, where the work load can be rotated among a larger population. It is extremely difficult for these villagers to earn enough to survive under such constraints.
"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)
In addition to fearing capture to be used as porters, villagers must also avoid SPDC soldiers who beat and kill civilians without explanation. Extrajudicial killings are commonplace in relocation sites throughout Shan State, and Murng Pan township is no exception; villagers reported six cases within the past year. While all the victims were killed outside the relocation site, some were not far from the sites at all. In several cases recently, people have actually been dragged off the main street of the relocation site to the surrounding bush and beaten terribly, in at least one case almost to death. Villagers have always known that they are vulnerable to the whims of drunken or aggressive SPDC soldiers if caught outside the sites working in fields, selling vegetables in town, or searching for food in forests, but they must even be on guard within the 'safe' confines of the relocation site. Ironically, the SPDC claims that it sequesters villagers in relocation sites so that its troops can 'protect' the civilians against attacks by 'insurgent' groups. It is the SPDC soldiers, however, whom villagers fear the most
"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)

Kun Hing township is divided by the Nam Pang River and bounded by the Salween River in the east. All of the villages in this area were relocated in 1996-97 to either Kun Hing town or along the Kung Hing-Murng Paeng Road. Many villagers chose not to move to the relocation sites, settling instead along the Nam Pang River in remote locations, such as islands that obscured them from view of SPDC soldiers. One man from Wo Long village who was hiding for nearly 3 years explained that it is most often the larger families who decide not to risk starvation in relocation sites, preferring to remain where they can at least fish and forage for food in the jungle. Villagers occasionally emerge from hiding to buy rice, medicine, and other necessary supplies in the nearest town. Although food might be more accessible in the jungle than in relocation sites, it is still not enough because villagers cannot plant more than small patches of crops without risking discovery; their seed supplies are also extremely limited, and they sometimes lose crops when they have to flee to dodge SPDC patrols. The internally displaced live in extremely precarious circumstances, always fearing discovery by SPDC soldiers.

"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.

Even if the SSA South and the SPDC were to reach an agreement that would put an end to the forced relocations, it would take years for the hundreds of thousands of people already affected to rebuild their villages, rebuild their homes and lives, and re-establish their fields and livestock. Such an effort would require a great amount of outside material support, but it is extremely doubtful whether any such help would be forthcoming. The SPDC would certainly provide nothing. In fact, experience with other ceasefires makes it clear that if the SPDC were to reach a ceasefire with the SSA South, the regime would then send even more troops into the region to consolidate its control, and the result could only be ever more demands for forced labour, money and food from the villagers as they are trying to rebuild
"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)
Even if foreign aid donors were to offer to help, the SPDC persists in denying that the problem even exists or that a single person has been forced to move in Shan State. Foreign aid will probably not be offered, though, because at present foreign countries have not shown any interest in helping Shan villagers to rebuild their homes; instead they are looking closely at helping the SPDC to combat the 'drug menace' in Shan State. Conveniently ignoring most of the evidence already available showing the SPDC's involvement in supporting drug warlords, encouraging opium production, taxing the heroin trade, facilitating drug transport and money-laundering, several governments are considering multilateral and bilateral cash payments to SPDC, directly or through the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP), to implement 'drug eradication' programs such as crop substitution. Some of these programs are even targetted at the areas where over 1,400 villages have already been destroyed and relocated. The SPDC recently made it clear that it considers forced relocation as a major 'drug eradication' strategy when it forcibly relocated 60,000 Wa civilians from northern Shan State to the Thai border, and claimed that this was to stop them from producing drugs. Shan villagers such as those interviewed for this report have no involvement in drug production, but if it suits the SPDC's military objectives to relocate them then the regime will certainly paint them as though they are involved. Any 'drug eradication' aid given to the SPDC for the townships affected by the relocations will only be used to justify further forced relocations and the attendant killings and other abuses of the local population, and will thereby help to cut off any possibility of villagers in central Shan State being able to return to their villages and rebuild their lives.
The uncertain future for displaced Shan villagers is also compounded by plans to construct a megadam on the Salween River to divert water and power to Thailand, a project that will cause dire environmental and human devastation if it is built. The plan is to build a 188 metre (617 foot) high concrete faced rockfill dam a few kilometres north of Tasang, the ferry crossing between Murng Pan and Murng Ton townships. The resulting reservoir at an elevation of 350 metres would flood out the Salween River 230 linear kilometres (145 miles) upstream from the dam wall, encompassing 3 large tributaries of the river (the Nam Pang, Nam Hsim and Nam Kha rivers). This would flood out areas of eastern Shan State almost as far north as Lashio. The engineers estimate 640 square kilometres would be affected, but independent observers believe this a gross underestimation of the damage, probably a deliberate one in order to minimise opposition to the project. As a result of this dam, the SPDC would clearly gain not only profits from the sale of water and power to Thailand, but also the eradication of a massive area of Shan State where opposition groups have always been active. According to a draft joint report released in November 1999 by Images Asia and Terra, two independent non-governmental organisations focused on human rights and the environment, the feasibility study for the dam is now complete and the investors are now preparing the "Definite Plans" for the dam. This final survey stage requires a multi-million dollar financial commitment and would take a minimum of 7 months. The Thai company funding the project is GMS Power Plc. Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of the MDX Group of Companies who have also backed dams in Laos, Cambodia and Yunnan province of China. As the Thai Government and the SPDC must have been involved in the decision to proceed with the "Definite Plans" on the Salween, it is important to note that the MDX Group, composed of former senior Members of Thai Parliament and ex-directors of the state's Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), is quite politically influential in Thailand. At present, preparatory drilling work is already underway on both sides of the Salween River at the proposed site
"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)
There have been reports of tight security along the banks of the Salween close to the dam survey, though a villager told KHRG that the SPDC authorities allowed him to pass the checkpoint on his way to Thailand, even without an ID card. The ease he experienced travelling along the river at the current time is most likely attributed to the SPDC's willingness to see Shan people leaving Burma. The SSA and other resistance groups are caught in the difficult position of opposing the construction of the dam for the negative impacts it will surely cause the Shan people, but also needing to stay on good terms with Thai authorities in order to protect their supply lines and keep escape routes open for refugees. Similarly to the Yadana gas pipeline project in southern Burma, the Thai authorities have probably threatened the Shan resistance with reprisals should they sabotage the project in any way. In addition, the investors are almost certainly keen not to provoke action by the SSA as the plans enter their critical final stage, particularly as they try to attract funding for the project from the Japanese Government, the Asian Development Bank and other sources. The need to maintain an untarnished image would explain the relative freedom of travel, decent wages for labourers, and minimal harrassment of Shan people near the site. The truth is that the dam would flood a massive portion of the Salween valley and its tributary valleys in Shan State, thereby destroying hundreds of villages, displacing thousands of people, and forever preventing them from returning to their home areas. Like countless other villagers in rural Shan State whose homes would be destroyed, the villager interviewed by KHRG said that neither he nor the Shan workers themselves knew about the plans for the dam.
"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)
Since the beginning of the forced relocations in 1996 there has been an unending stream of Shan villagers fleeing across the border into Thailand, as villagers try, and fail, to survive in relocation sites or fear the hazards of hiding in the jungle. Although they have heard of both the advantages and hardships of migrant work in Thailand, in the final analysis they believe they are safer there than inside Burma. People attempt the journey in various ways, from walking to floating in rafts down the Salween River, to paying exorbitant bribes to passenger truck drivers. A journey to Thailand will commonly wipe out a family's savings; one recent arrival said he had to pay 10,000 Kyat for each member of the family to get to the border. The main crossing points for Shan, Pa'O, Palaung, and Lahu refugees from Shan State are on the border of Fang Province, where over 1,000 refugees continue to cross each month. In 1997 the SPDC started confiscating the National Identity Cards of all Shans and other minority groups heading for Thailand at the final checkpoints on the Burmese side, issuing receipts and saying that they could reclaim them when they crossed the border again. This is a disturbing tactic which the SPDC also used in the case of the Muslim Rohingyas when they fled from Arakan State to Bangladesh in 1992. Should the refugees later decide to return home, the SPDC can deny that they ever lived in Burma. The lenient treatment that Shans encounter when crossing the border with all their possessions, quite obviously intending not to return, reveals the SPDC's willingness to expel the Shan from the area.
"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)
All indications show that the forced relocations in Shan State will probably not abate any time soon. With no sustainable alternatives for these destitute villagers, more refugees will flee to Thailand, dispersing into fields, factories, and brothels across the country. Though the Shan, who call themselves Tai Yai, are ethnically linked to northern Thais and share a similar language and culture, Thailand has been largely unsympathetic to the plight of the Shan villagers because the Thai population has little or no knowledge of the situation in Burma and the Thai government and army wish to stay on good terms with the SPDC. The Thai government has therefore refused to grant refugee status to Shan migrants or even to recognize their existence, despite the fact that they comprise a huge percentage of the labour force of northern Thailand. As a result Shan workers have no rights in Thailand and are widely exploited in the illegal labour market, from sweatshops to brothels and construction sites in large cities. They are totally at the mercy of their employers, who often pay meagre wages or withold their earnings for unspecified lengths of time. Several years ago, most of the Shan refugees could find work near the border in Thai farm fields, lychee orchards and other occupations, but so many refugees have come in the past 3 years that it is now very difficult for new arrivals to find enough work to survive. The economic crash of 1997 wiped out many construction jobs in Chiang Mai and other northern areas which were always taken by Shan refugees, and few of these jobs have returned as yet. Many have no choice but to head further into Thailand, placing them at much higher risk of exploitation. It has become an employer's market, so wages and conditions have worsened, and the oversupply of labour has also caused the Thai police and border guards to increase the numbers of arrests and deportations and the size of the bribes which they must be paid. Since October 1999, the Thai police have been aggressively rounding up migrants in all parts of Thailand in a nationwide deportation campaign of illegal workers. The future of Shan labourers, as for all migrant workers in Thailand, is at the mercy of the economy—which has yet to recover from the 1997 crash—and on the Thai Government's steadily declining toleration for foreign workers. Until they are granted sanctuary inside Thailand, Shan refugees crossing the border in hopes of a safer, more peaceful life face still more displacement and yet another struggle for survival.
"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)