SPDC Violates the Ceasefire During Karen New Year Celebrations; the Attack on Kah Law Ghaw Village, Dooplaya District

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Published date:
Thursday, February 3, 2005

Karen New Year, the largest celebration on the Karen calendar, was disrupted this year when SPDC Army soldiers once again violated the fragile ceasefire existing between the SPDC Army and the KNU.  Karen New Year was observed on January 10 this year and was commemorated throughout all of the Karen areas.  For only the second time in the village's existence, large-scale celebrations were held in Kah Law Ghaw village of Kawkareik township, Dooplaya District with villagers coming from many nearby villages to join in the celebrations.

On January 11 2005, SPDC forces violated the fragile ceasefire and attacked a civilian Karen New Year celebration with mortar fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Hundreds of villagers were caught between SPDC troops dug in at their village, and Thai soldiers who forced them back across the border after they fled.

Karen New Year, the largest celebration on the Karen calendar, was disrupted this year when SPDC Army soldiers once again violated the fragile ceasefire existing between the SPDC Army and the KNU.  Karen New Year was observed on January 10 this year and was commemorated throughout all of the Karen areas.  For only the second time in the village's existence, large-scale celebrations were held in Kah Law Ghaw village of Kawkareik township, Dooplaya District with villagers coming from many nearby villages to join in the celebrations.

On January 10, a column of soldiers from IB #230, LIB #356, and LIB #545 (all of which are subordinate to Sa Ka Ka [Military Operations Command] #12) had advanced to within 1000 metres of Kah Law Ghaw village.  The soldiers then sent a message to the village head, announcing their intention of coming to the village to join in the celebrations, and that the KNLA soldiers who were in the village should leave immediately.  The village head acted as a liaison between the two sides, being sent back and forth between the SPDC and KNLA a total of five times.  Each time the SPDC repeated their demands for the KNLA to leave, and the KNLA told the SPDC not to come and disrupt the celebrations with neither side appearing prepared to back down.  The villagers attempted to appease the SPDC soldiers by sending a 'gift' of food to them.  This unfortunately failed to diffuse the situation with the SPDC persisting with their demands.  After this, the KNLA commander instructed the village head not to return to see the SPDC soldiers, believing that he would be killed if he did.

Fearing an imminent attack, all 350 villagers fled in the direction of the Thai border, only half an hour away.  This happened in the middle of the finals of the football and volleyball tournaments being held in the afternoon of January 10.  The villagers spent the night hiding in caves on the Thai border.  Most of them were without food, water, or blankets. 

The shooting began at approximately 10:50 am on January 11 with the SPDC Army soldiers shelling the village with mortars and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs).  Once the shelling stopped approximately 60-70 SPDC troops advanced into the village where they were met with resistance from the KNLA soldiers.  The ensuing battle continued for the next four hours, in which time, the SPDC suffered seven casualties while none were reported to have been sustained by the KNLA.

A handful of villagers had returned to the village earlier in the morning to gather what they could when the shelling began, all of who were lucky to escape without injury.  Hearing the shooting, those at the border attempted to cross into Thailand, but were prevented from doing so by Thai border patrol soldiers.  According to those there, the Thai soldiers refused them entry into Thailand for two hours as they awaited instructions from their superiors.  The district head from Umphang, 20 kilometres to the south, arrived on the scene to coordinate the efforts of the soldiers.  He instructed the soldiers to take the refugees by truck to a monastery in nearby Wah Klu Koh village on the Thai side of the border, where they were provided with food, water, shelter, and medical care.  A couple of days later, three monks and a teacher returned to Kah Law Ghaw to assess the situation in the village.  What they saw was that the SPDC soldiers had dug defensive positions by the monastery overlooking the village, and that the village was now host to roughly 300 SPDC Army soldiers and about 170-180 convict porters.  They met with the SPDC Army officer-in-charge, who informed them that the villagers should return to their village; that they would not hurt anyone; and that no one would be arrested.  An unnamed high ranking Thai Army officer was reported to have arrived by helicopter to Wah Klu Koh village soon after and spoke with the monks.  Following this conversation he asked the refugees if they wanted to return to their village, to which the villagers replied, "It is our village, so we want to go back, but we will only go back if there are no Burmese [soldiers] there.  If the Burmese [soldiers] are still there, we do not want to go back".  Either not listening or not understanding the wishes of the villagers, Thai Army soldiers then loaded all of the refugees into two of the trucks from the zinc mine adjacent to Kah Law Ghaw village and sent all of them back to the border against their stated wishes on January 14.  Aware that the soldiers were still staying in their village, the villagers did not dare return.  They instead stayed in the same caves where they had taken shelter earlier.  According to some sources who have been to the area, the villagers from a number of other nearby villages also fled to hide in the caves, bringing the total number of displaced villagers hiding there to around 600.  On January 18, the SPDC soldiers issued an order summoning the villagers home, stating that they would be considered to be enemies if they did not comply.  The villagers finally returned to their village on January 23 after the soldiers had already been gone for a couple of days, giving the KNLA time to check for any landmines which may have been planted there by the SPDC in their retreat.  Some reports state that the KNLA had removed numerous landmines from both around and within the village.  These reports however, are as yet unconfirmed.