Flight, Hunger and Survival: Repression and displacement in the villages of Papun and Nyaunglebin Districts

You are here

Flight, Hunger and Survival: Repression and displacement in the villages of Papun and Nyaunglebin Districts

Published date:
Monday, October 22, 2001

Since 1997 the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military junta ruling Burma has been involved in an intensive campaign to consolidate control over the rugged hills and river valleys of Papun and Nyaunglebin Districts in northern Karen State and eastern Pegu Division. The entire campaign has targeted the civilian population rather than the armed resistance. In order to undermine any possibility of resistance and gain complete control over the subsistence Karen farmers who inhabit the region, the SPDC has destroyed over 200 villages, driven thousands of villagers out of the hills to garrison villages, and continues to hunt and kill the villagers who have fled into the hills to hide from the forced relocations. Over 40 Battalions have been sent in, new roads have been established, and all of the villagers now living under SPDC control must do forced labour supporting these battalions. Since 1999 more and more troops have been sent into the hills to hunt out the villagers trying to hide near their villages, and since 2000 these troops have focused most of their efforts on destroying the crops and food supplies which the displaced villagers need to survive. Villagers are shot in the fields at harvest time, crops are trampled or burned, and fields and abandoned villages have been landmined. The situation for the internally displaced is desperate. In the SPDC-garrisoned villages things are little better, as the Army's constant demands for forced labour, money, food and materials and its arbitrary torture of village elders and others drives people to flee into the hills and become displaced themselves. The situation for all of the villagers in the region is becoming increasingly desperate, but there is no sign of any decrease in armed resistance activity and therefore no probability that the campaign will end anytime soon.

Preface

Since 1997 the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military junta ruling Burma has been involved in an intensive campaign to consolidate control over the rugged hills and river valleys of Papun and Nyaunglebin Districts in northern Karen State and eastern Pegu Division. The entire campaign has targeted the civilian population rather than the armed resistance. In order to undermine any possibility of resistance and gain complete control over the subsistence Karen farmers who inhabit the region, the SPDC has destroyed over 200 villages, driven thousands of villagers out of the hills to garrison villages, and continues to hunt and kill the villagers who have fled into the hills to hide from the forced relocations. Over 40 Battalions have been sent in, new roads have been established, and all of the villagers now living under SPDC control must do forced labour supporting these battalions. Since 1999 more and more troops have been sent into the hills to hunt out the villagers trying to hide near their villages, and since 2000 these troops have focused most of their efforts on destroying the crops and food supplies which the displaced villagers need to survive. Villagers are shot in the fields at harvest time, crops are trampled or burned, and fields and abandoned villages have been landmined. The situation for the internally displaced is desperate. In the SPDC-garrisoned villages things are little better, as the Army's constant demands for forced labour, money, food and materials and its arbitrary torture of village elders and others drives people to flee into the hills and become displaced themselves. The situation for all of the villagers in the region is becoming increasingly desperate, but there is no sign of any decrease in armed resistance activity and therefore no probability that the campaign will end anytime soon.

Instead things appear ready to get even worse. KHRG's latest interviews with villagers from Dweh Loh township of Papun District indicate that SPDC Battalions have issued orders to at least 25-30 villages that no one is allowed to leave their villages for the three months from September to November 2001, not even to go to their fields. The rice harvest is about to arrive, but this order means that none of the thousands of people in these SPDC-controlled villages will be able to harvest. People who have just fled these villages say that the people there are preparing for starvation.

Soon after this campaign began it was documented by the Karen Human Rights Group in the report Wholesale Destruction (April 1998). This was followed in May 1999 by the report Death Squads and Displacement, which focused on the situation in Nyaunglebin District and documented the emergence of the SPDC's 'Short Pants' execution squads which were deployed against villagers. This report updates both of those reports, providing a detailed analysis of developments in the human rights situation in Papun and Nyaunglebin Districts from 1999 to the present. It is based on over 300 interviews conducted by KHRG researchers during that time with people in the SPDC controlled villages and relocation sites, in the hill villages, in hiding in the forests and those who have fled to Thailand to become refugees - villagers who have witnessed the destruction of their villages and shootings of their relatives, people who are still doing forced labour and those who have escaped from it. These interviews have been augmented by interviews with former SPDC soldiers, SPDC order documents selected from among the hundreds we have obtained from the region, along with field reports, casualty lists, maps and photographs from KHRG's field researchers and Karen relief workers in the region. The 2,500 pages of direct testimony recorded by KHRG field researchers has been condensed into the 235 interviews quoted directly in this report. All of these interviews were conducted between March 1999 and June 2001.

The area covered by this report covers part of northern Karen State and part of eastern Pegu Division, bordered by the Salween River and the Thai border to the east and the Sittaung River to the west (see Map 2). The boundary between the two districts runs north-south through the hills, but all of these rugged hills can be considered a single area due to their shared geography and the similar situations existing in both districts. Most of the area is mountainous except for the lower Yunzalin and Bilin River valleys and the plains along the Sittaung River. The villagers in the area are almost entirely Karen, living in small villages of 10 to 20 families dotted throughout the hills and surviving by subsistence rice farming, mainly hillside rice. The majority are Animist and Buddhist, with a minority of Christians. In the more central plains on the eastern banks of the Sittaung River, there are also Burman and Shan villages. All of these people are very strongly tied to their land and are trying to cling to it even as the situation becomes more desperate. However, with the SPDC becoming more successful this year at wiping out their food supplies and their ability to produce food, they are rapidly running out of options as their families go hungry and fall victim to disease.

The report below begins with an Introduction and Executive Summary. Following that, we have broken down the detailed analysis into topics under the main sections of The Military Situation, Displaced Villages, Villages Under the SPDC, Flight to Thailand, and Future of the Area. In these sections we let the villagers tell most of the story using direct quotes from their testimonies. At the end of the report are several Appendices: a list of 313 villagers killed directly by SPDC and DKBA soldiers since 1998, a list of 190 villagers injured by SPDC and DKBA soldiers since 1998, a list of 226 villages destroyed or abandoned due to the SPDC's operations, a list of 42 relocated villages, a list of SPDC military units involved in the campaign and finally an index listing summarising the interviews used in this report. The full text of the interviews and field reports upon which the report is based is available as a separately published Annex which is available from KHRG upon approved request.

Additional background on the situation in this region can be found in "Wholesale Destruction: the SLORC/SPDC Campaign to Obliterate all Hill Villages in Papun and Eastern Nyaunglebin Districts" (KHRG, April 1998), "Death Squads and Displacement: Systematic Executions, Village Destruction and the Flight of Villagers in Nyaunglebin District" (KHRG #99-04, 24/5/99), and KHRG Information Update #2001-U3 (9/4/2001). Additional photographs related to the situation described in the report can be seen in KHRG Photo Set 2001-A (September 14, 2001), KHRG Photo Set 2000-B (October 18, 2000), and KHRG Photo Set 2000-A (June 1, 2000).