PHOTO SET 2005-A: A Short Story in Pictures: Village Destruction, Displacement and Survival in Nyaunglebin District

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PHOTO SET 2005-A: A Short Story in Pictures: Village Destruction, Displacement and Survival in Nyaunglebin District

Published date:
Friday, May 27, 2005

The photos below were taken between mid-November and mid-December 2004, and tell the story of how the people of a few villages in the Yah Aw area of eastern Shwegyin township (see map) responded.  Rather than surrender to SPDC control, they fled into the forest.  What followed, however, was not panic and starvation, but a systematic effort to re-establish food security and other aspects of their lives and communities.  Within a few days shelters were built, lookouts posted, and makeshift schools and worship services were going on, while people continued covertly returning to retrieve food supplies and complete their harvest, all in dangerous conditions and with no outside help whatever.  People's efforts focused not merely on physical survival, but on continuing life with dignity and community cohesion.  They had been through this before, most of them several times. From October 2004 through January 2005, SPDC forces based in the plains of western Nyaunglebin district made forays eastward up the rivers into the hills in an effort to flush out the hill villagers who have thus far evaded their control.  The timing deliberately coincided with the annual rice harvest, and the tactics were simple: seek out the villagers' fields, burn or scatter the harvested grain, destroy the crop still in the fields by trampling or landmining it, or let animals and insects destroy it once the villagers have fled.  Burn the rice storage barns, the houses, schools and churches, and shoot the villagers on sight.  Make life in the hills untenable, so that villagers have to come and live under SPDC control.

From October 2004 through January 2005, SPDC forces based in the plains of western Nyaunglebin district made forays eastward up the rivers into the hills in an effort to flush out the hill villagers who have thus far evaded their control.  The timing deliberately coincided with the annual rice harvest, and the tactics were simple: seek out the villagers' fields, burn or scatter the harvested grain, destroy the crop still in the fields by trampling or landmining it, or let animals and insects destroy it once the villagers have fled.  Burn the rice storage barns, the houses, schools and churches, and shoot the villagers on sight.  Make life in the hills untenable, so that villagers have to come and live under SPDC control.

The photos below were taken between mid-November and mid-December 2004, and tell the story of how the people of a few villages in the Yah Aw area of eastern Shwegyin township (see map) responded.  Rather than surrender to SPDC control, they fled into the forest.  What followed, however, was not panic and starvation, but a systematic effort to re-establish food security and other aspects of their lives and communities.  Within a few days shelters were built, lookouts posted, and makeshift schools and worship services were going on, while people continued covertly returning to retrieve food supplies and complete their harvest, all in dangerous conditions and with no outside help whatever.  People's efforts focused not merely on physical survival, but on continuing life with dignity and community cohesion.  They had been through this before, most of them several times.

Unlike other sections of this photo set which show the most recent photos first, this section follows the progress of the SPDC troops and the people of several villages from mid-November through mid-December 2004.  Since then they have worked to re-establish their villages, but without staying in them due to the fear of renewed SPDC attacks.  Most are now facing food shortages and uncertainty about the coming planting season, without knowing whether SPDC forces will repeat the operation when the next harvest is due in late 2005.  Regardless, they are determined to remain on their land and beyond SPDC control.  For additional information, see Nyaunglebin District: Food supplies destroyed, villagers forcibly displaced, and region-wide forced labour as SPDC forces seek control over civilians (KHRG #2005-F4, 4/5/05).